Chapter 1: Story Notes and Cast of Characters
All warnings, details, plot background and disclaimers are here; there are also cast photos and banner art, so beware that the page is image heavy.
Title: Future's Past
Series: The Future Is My Past; The Past Is My Future
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairings: fem!Harry Potter/Orion Black; others mentioned
Genre: Romance, Alternate Universe, Genderbent, Always a Different Sex, Time Travel
Warnings: Genderbent, if that isn't your thing; canon-level violence (which is pretty violent, let's be real here); character death (offscreen); adult language, seriously people I swear like a sailor and so do my characters; Paganism and non-traditional religious views (because let's be honest, a society that went into hiding because of witch burnings is going to have a slightly different view on the Abrahamic faiths than, say, most of the Western Hemisphere)
Disclaimer: JK Rowling owns everything. Seriously. If you recognize it, it isn't mine and I am definitely not making any money off this work.
This was written for the Rough Trade April 2016 challenge. Rough Trade is hosted by Keira Marcos and her coven of kickass fanfic writers. The challenge was on Second Chances and had a max word count of 40,000 and a minimum of 35,000. I completed the challenge within the parameters, but added some content during editing and probably exceeds than now.
Background: So, imagine Sirius got ahold of the Daily Prophet the summer before Female Harry (hereafter referred to as Ianthe) started first year - right about the time that the Prophet was all fangirly over the Girl-Who-Lived returning to the magical world after ten years exile with Muggles. Cue breakout early, because how much time has passed and what Muggles? Imagine, also, that Sirius actually ran true to the background JK Rowling gave the Marauders: brilliant, powerful and creative wizards that could face Voldemort and survive three times, who invented whole new spells by their OWLs and managed something as students that literally two other people in the entire series demonstrated.
So, Sirius escapes Azkaban and does something smart - he takes himself off to Gringotts, requests Sanctuary, takes a few weeks (and a lot of healing potions) to get his head on straight after years of Dementors, and to plan – because a Marauder always has a plan (not necessarily a good plan, see Halloween attack on the Fat Lady as exhibit A).
Problem: wanted men don’t get custody of their sweet goddaughter. Solution: get a trial. Problem: The Ministry is full of morons and Fudge is Moron‑in‑Chief. Solution: blackmail key members of the Wizengamot into clearing way. Freedom achieved.
Now let's imagine that Sirius, aided by Remus, are unimpressed by the Philosopher Stone, or a reasonable facsimile, being placed in school full of children - curious ones. And also the Ministry. And Dumbledore – especially his secrets. And the Dursleys. And Ianthe’s lack of knowledge of her family and rank. And any number of other things.
Cue the Marauders doing…marauder things. Like screwing with people’s plans and destroying Horcruxes and cockblocking Dumbledore’s Greater Good. Ianthe comes by trouble very naturally. She also learns her Marauder lessons well. Pranking and politicking have a surprising amount in common if you do them right. Hermione is horrified, awed, and impressed. Lucius Malfoy wants to know what the fuck happened to his controlled, well‑ ordered world. Dumbledore is furious that his chess pieces have staged a coup d’etat.
Six years later, Voldemort is still a wraith, the horcruxes are gone, and Ianthe and Sirius are attacked by several Death Eaters and He Who Has No Body. Problem: wraiths can’t be killed. Solution: kill him while possessing a body. Problem: he’s trying to posses Sirius’s goddaughter. Solution: give him someone else to possess. Problem: you need to kill the spirit trying to possess you before he actually does, in a way he can’t escape.
Ianthe does not approve.
In another time and place Ianthe saved her godfather by meddling with time and by breaking two international laws. In this time and place? Ianthe offers her magic, soul and life to change a single moment in time, not only to save her godfather’s life, but to change his past.
The part where Merlin shows up and dumps her in the 1970s? Not part of her plan. Fortunately, pranksters are adaptable.
Jane Levy and Ioan Gruffudd
Ophelia Manus/Ianthe Potter and Orion Arcturus Black
Additional Notes: I’d love to list the stories and authors that have influenced me, but I have read literally thousands of stories over the years, and countless other works inspire my personal canon. I will say that I have read everything that Keira Marcos and Jilly James have written, several times, so if you see their influence here that is why. I also love Keira’s ‘fuck canon, what canon?’ attitude and have adopted it.Also, I have changed birth and death dates in the Harry Potter world. Not all of them – Orion Black is still born in 1929, but Sirius and the Marauders are born in 1968/1969. Ianthe as born in 1990, was orphaned October 31, 1991, and went to Hogwarts in 2001. Honestly, I know very little about the sixties in Britain and wanted to bring the era of this story into the 70’s (and the eighties in future stories). Additionally, it seemed unfair to stick an independent female character back in time to before the women’s liberation movement. Magical Britain’s prejudices are enough to write without adding the muggle world’s. Also, I felt like it. You probably won’t notice, since I’m unlikely to mention exact dates except to give timeline context.
Chapter 2: Prologue
What's a little time travel and ritual sacrifice to the daughter and goddaughter of Marauders?
Ianthe tells off idiots and kills herself. Because of reasons.
August 2, 2007
Ministry of Magic
There were a dozen wizards and witches discussing her like a problem to be solved and it was irritating.
"I'm sure Ianthe will be quite comfortable with the Weasleys. This is a difficult time, and the comfort of friends is important," Albus Dumbledore of the many names and titles twinkled.
"With all respect," Lucius Malfoy said with anything but, "she will be better served in a household which can look after her interests. A witch of some means and of marriageable age is uniquely vulnerable."
"Says the fox of the hen," Amelia Bones snapped. "Your only interest is in getting ahold of the Black Trust and, if you can, marrying your son into it and the Ravensmoor title."
"My wife and son are Blacks."
"And not eligible to inherit the titles or entailed properties as they belong to another House. No doubt you intend to see one of your grandchildren as the next Lord Black, by hook or by crook!"
Rufus Scrimgeour, the current Minister, glared at Malfoy, then eyed Dumbledore balefully. “He’s not the only one who wants to control the girl." He turned a stare that he probably believed was intimidating on Bones. "She must go somewhere safe, Madam; the girl needs protecting."
Ianthe managed, barely, from drawing her wand when he referred to her as ‘girl’. Idly, she plotted how best to ruin his political career and which untraceable hexes would most humiliate him. Severe flatulence was winning so far. She'd save rapid hair loss — full body — for Malfoy. The list of spells she'd like to curse Dumbledore with was a long-running effort. So far it took up two feet of parchment, and was a group effort between her and Siri…
Not now. Not here.
The Minister's office and it's occupants had descended once more into arguing over each other. Bones, the current DMLE Head, wanted Ianthe under Auror guard while they made sure there were no more Death Eaters lurking, looking for revenge. Considering there was one in the room with them, it was a legitimate concern. But the Ministry had never yet managed to deal effectively with the Death Eaters — as proved by the 'innocent' one in the room, meddling in ministry business again — and the second downfall of Voldemort made that no more likely than the first had. Dumbledore wanted what he always had — control of her. Malfoy wanted her vaults; Scrimgeour wanted neither man to have anything they wanted, ever, and would be satisfied with anything that made them unhappy. Augusta Longbottom wanted them all to the devil and wouldn't settle for anything less than Ianthe in a noble household under the care of a proper witch. Three Ministry wizards and a witch who hadn't bothered to introduce themselves weighed in as well. Minerva McGonagall sat stiff-backed and glaring at all of them.
They'd been talking — bickering — for an hour, and not once asked her opinion or even spoken to her except to offer her tea. The grownups, talking about a little girl they needed to deal with.
Voldemort was dead. The masses were already celebrating his defeat — and just like last time, they had already forgotten the cost.
Ianthe Eleanor Potter set her teacup down with a loud click. No one heard it, or the sound of her temper breaking. She was done.
Silence fell, and office looked at her, surprised. Some of them appeared to have actually forgotten she was there. “I will thank you all to mind your own business, not mine."
"I beg your pardon," Malfoy demanded.
A nameless wizard blustered, "Mind your manners, girl!"
"I have not given you leave to speak to me; nor does anyone in this room have the right to decide anything on my behalf. No!" she snapped before several open mouths could speak. "No one here is a relative of mine. Not one of you is in the position to legally decide anything on my behalf. Besides the simple fact that I am seventeen and of age," she stressed, "No one here is in a position to dictate to the House and estate of a noble Peer. I outrank every one of you."
"Dear girl — "
"I am not your dear anything, Headmaster, and my name is Lady Potter or Viscountess Glamorgan. This is not Hogwarts and school is not in session." She glared at the Ministry employees. "As for the lot of you — have you forgotten the last time the Ministry overstepped itself?"
They all winced. In her first year, Sirius had learned just how much time had passed from a Daily Prophet discarded by then-Minister Fudge. The announcement that the Girl-Who-Lived had entered Hogwarts had seen her godfather do the impossible and escape Azkaban. Even as the Ministry scrambled a manhunt — complete with Dementors — and the public panicked, Sirius had sought Sanctuary with the Goblin Horde and set out to use years of accumulated favors, debts and blackmail to get a trial before a full Wizengamot. The innocence of Lord Black, and the fact that a Peer had been imprisoned without even a hearing, had sparked a furor around the world. The ensuing investigations by the ICW, World Court, the Wizard's Council and the Crown had seen nearly half the Ministry fired for everything to lack of qualifications to corruption. Two dozen people had been imprisoned.
"When my parents died, their will and wishes were ignored and overlooked. My godfather learned from what happened then. Ragnok himself witnessed his will and was made executor. Please do continue to court war with the Horde." Ianthe stood, shaking the skirt of her robe straight. "I am going home. None of you are welcome to follow me."
"Lady Potter, you need protection."
"Where was your protection yesterday?" she hissed, enraged. Two of the bespelled windows cracked. "Where were the auror's when my godfather died doing what the Ministry and Albus-fucking-Dumbledore had decades to do — kill Tom Riddle. The Ministry is utterly useless and alway has been. It's a reflection of Wizarding Britain — corrupt, incompetent, ignorant, and more interested in appearance than action. The next person to speak to me," Ianthe continued as several people looked to do so, "will loose their tongue."
The Floo sparked green and ejected a fierce looking Goblin. He looked about the room and smiled, baring all his teeth. "I see."
"Ironfist, I'm going home. Please explain to these people how they've managed to irritate the Chieftain of the Horde today by not immediately executing Lord Black's will."
The door closed behind her, and Ianthe's grip over her magic faltered. She ignored the breaking glass, shattered lights, and cracking plaster that followed in her wake as she made for the library of her godfather's renovated home. The wards locked down tightly; not even Remus, keyed into them, could enter.
Her eyes were dry. Her magic flared around her, and the air held the taste of tears she didn't shed.
Dobby and Winky appeared, wringing hands and ears. "Lady Ianthe… "
“Some people," she mused aloud, "would say that one man dying to end a dark lord is acceptable." The book she sought was exactly where she remembered. Hexes weren't the only thing she had spent time planning today.
"Lord Black would be being happy Lady Ianthe is safe," Dobby said.
"Winky, Dobby, make sure the ritual room is pristine, please."
"What is Lady Ianthe planning on doing?"
"Offering my magic and life in exchange for the chance to reorder time."
Dobby tugged an ear. "Dobby is being afraid of that," and popped away.
Winky huffed. "Lady is having her tea first.
It was an old ritual, rarely used despite how powerful it was. Ianthe had asked Sirius why when she'd first found it.
"Well, for one thing you intention must be pure and in line with the sacrificial aspect of the ritual," Sirius said dryly. "And since many people willing to offer their magic for a single moment are in a rather vengeful frame of mind, it has something of a reputation."
"You can't wish someone dead then."
"The last person to try wished that a man he was feuding with had never been born. All that was left of him was his wand and a bloody smear."
"Ouch." She tapped a finger on the book. "So I couldn't use it against Riddle."
Sirius shook his head. "The only way magic of this kind could be used against him is if you wished he'd never become Voldemort. You'd have to want him to have had changed circumstances, such that he never walk such a dark path. You don't have it in you to wish him well." Grey eyes gazed at her solemnly. "Neither of us do. We want him to pay for all he's done."
"I wish him dead." Ianthe admitted. "I can't even pity the boy he was once. His circumstances weren't great, but they hardly justified even the least of his actions. Besides, considering the things he did as a child, such a wish might come to nothing. He was tormenting other children at seven . Muggles now would label him a sociopath."
"True enough." Sirius paged through the ritual again. "No, I doubt this is of any use to us. The main thing to consider with these kind of ritual magic is that you have very little control." Seeing her confusion, he elaborated. "Most modern ritual magic is very regimented. They're also less powerful. You either succeed, or you don't. Old magicks like this are one part offering, one part wish, and one part faith. They leave the mechanism and the result up to Lady Magic and the gods. They judge your intentions, yes, but they also choose the how of the outcome."
"'You can't always get what you want'," she quoted.
"'You just might find you get what you need'," Sirius finished with a laugh. "Exactly.”
Three days after Ianthe's godfather allowed the Dark Wanker's wraith to possess him and killed the both of them with Fiendfyre, she stood in the heavily fortified ritual room of Grimmauld Place. She'd spent her time preparing for the ritual and writing a letter to leave behind in case she failed. Well, it had started as a letter but had become something of a manifesto of the countless faults of the Ministry, Magical Britain, and a laundry list of the people she'd as soon curse as look at and why. If she did end up as a bloodied smear, she wanted to leave behind one more 'fuck you' to the wizarding world.
"Mother Magic, bless your child. You have seen my trials and my triumphs; granted me victory, wisdom, and luck. You have given me your Gift, and I have tried to honor it. I ask you to guide me, to let me choose the right path."
Ianthe knelt in the circle she’d cast in salt and magic which contained nothing but a lethally sharp blade. There was a faint prickle along her skin, a gentle building of power. It would smite her like the wrath of the Old Ones if she erred.
"My father offered his life for those he loved. My mother offered her own blood to shield mine. My godfather offered his soul to destroy his enemy's. I do the same, with a willing heart." The air weighed down on her like a building storm. "I will walk the path my kin have followed and die for what I believe is right, and for those I love."
She raised the blade. "I offer all I am — body, blood, magic and soul — for a single boon. Unmake me and all I am for a single moment in time remade." She'd chosen carefully; chosen just one thing that might have the repercussions she hoped. All Sirius's stories and family history, all she's read on Voldemort's first rise, of the Ministry's decline into corruption. A single moment that might change all that came after.
"Take all I have and all I am — and let Orion Arcturus Black, Duke of Ravensmoor, survive his wife's attempt to murder him."
"As I will, so mote it be."
Ianthe released the knife hilt; it drove through the air and straight through her heart.
"You've always been terribly dramatic."
Chapter 3: Chapter One
Conversations, prophecy, death.
Why can't she have a normal day? Even dying is complicated when you're a Potter.
Fuck Knows Where
"You've always been terribly dramatic."
The dark-haired stranger’s tone was dryly amused.
He was tall and dressed in archaic war robes. The silver in his hair and modest beard matched the unadorned hilt of his sword. Clearly a wizard, he carried neither wand nor staff, but a three-foot length of entwined wood and metal that looked heavy enough to crack a skull and fairly sang with magic.
"Your ears are bigger than in your portraits."
He huffed, touching the offending appendages, which not even his long hair could hide. His eyes laughed at her. "Shouldn't you be suitably reverent?"
"I think that refraining from curses like 'Merlin's bollox' all my life is all the reverence a man might wish," Ianthe informed history's most famous mage. "Besides, I've had a long week!"
"You get that keen mastery of the understatement from your mother. The dramatics, however, is all Potter."
"Surely you have better things to do than spy on people? It's rather crass."
Merlin laughed. "By the Dagda, I do have much better things to do. Imagine if the afterlife really was just watching the living for eternity."
She wrinkled her nose. "Might as well watch soap operas and read the gossip rags until the end of time."
"Exactly. I'll never understand people who think death is some pastoral bliss either. Haven't they ever spent a day doing nothing ? What a wretched existence." He shrugged. "But then, I'm terrible at doing nothing. Always have been."
"Then what do you do? And where do you do it? Not here, I hope," she indicated the misty, bright expanse of nothing surrounding them.
"Here? No, no, this is… well, I suppose it's a loading screen."
Ianthe blinked. "A loading screen? Really?" Merlin grinned at her. "That sound you just heard is twenty generations of pureblood bigots spinning in their crypts over the greatest wizard in history using a computer reference."
Merlin shrugged that off. "Just because they like to wallow in ignorance is no reason for the rest of us to do so. Stagnation is a death sentence — and bloody boring besides. Regardless, this isn't a place, or even a time; it's a moment. One single moment between then and now, here and there. As for what I do?" He hmmed. "Hard to explain to someone still living."
"Wait, I'm still alive?"
"If you weren't, you'd be dead."
"How often did Arthur threaten to behead you?" she wondered aloud.
"Oh, he prefered to use the stocks, actually."
His severe look was ruined by twitching lips. "Cheeky girl."
"I'm a Marauder, " Ianthe reminded him cheerily.
"You're an instrument of destiny, actually — or 'as well as', I suppose."
Ianthe groaned. "Gods damn destiny, prophecy, and the Fates — as well as their sisters, brothers, cousins and fuck buddies!" She glared at Merlin, who had the audacity to laugh at her curse. "If you tell me there's another prophecy — "
"Goddess, no, none of that nonsense." He sighed. "Mortals always get it wrong. Wizards are the worst, thinking magic gives them some grand insight when all it does is confuse things. Basing actions on prophecy is like listening to an out-of-tune radio full of static, and using the one in five words you hear to dress for the weather. The most logical thing to do is to ignore the muddle and look out the window." He huffed. "Not that wixen are terribly logical. No, Ianthe, destiny is not a grand plan, and fate is not set path to a single goal. Being an instrument of fate isn't fun, but it's not the gods using marionette strings to guide your every act and deed to meet some final purpose."
"Just barmy old codgers."
"Don't get me bloody started!" He exclaimed, throwing out his hands in exasperation. "That idiot wizard! I nearly took up rebirth just for a chance to kick his arse a dozen times! And that foolish prophecy? The damned man missed more than a dozen paths to ending Riddle while he obsessed over it! Grindelwald's downfall convinced him such things always end in grand, final confrontations. Between him and Riddle, that wretched prophecy was bound to be self-fulfilling."
"Then, Trelawney's prophecy wasn't about me?"
Once again calm, the mage shrugged. "Remember the static radio? You and Tom Riddle were both keystones; instruments of fate, anchors, chosen, fixed points, or any number of descriptions depending on circumstance. The flaw is in thinking destiny is scripted, instead of what it is: an endless supply of stones being tossed in a pond, causing ripples. How the stone lands, where the ripples go, what they change and cause — none of that is directed. Just that stone. Well, it's a little more complicated, but a mortal and linear mind can't process it." His eyes went gold, and the mists around him swirled and shifted in the invisible current of magic. "Tom Riddle was to be a portent of change for Magical Britain, a transformative influence, and that's exactly what he was. That the change he wrought was chaotic and destructive was a matter of choice. He might have brought about a new Renaissance of Magic, but instead… " The gold faded, and Merlin look weary. "Instead he brought about the fall of Magic in Britain."
Ianthe closed her eyes. "We were too late to undo the damage, weren't we? The cleansing of the Ministry wasn't enough to save Britain."
Merlin sighed. "By the time Sirius came into play it was too late. Between the first war, decades of corruption, the loss of so many magical places and potential future wixen — a second outright war with Voldemort would have brought it about more quickly, but the end of magic in Britain is coming. Inside of ten years there will be signs of magic fleeing the Isles. In one hundred, there will be none left."
"The rest of the world?" she asked, horrified.
"There's no way to tell. Magic is stable in most places, but if the balance shifts too much or too quickly in enough places, it could cause a cascade." He gazed at her calmly. "That's where you come in."
"Oh, bloody fucking hell."
He smirked. "It could be worse — you could be getting a lecture on meeting your destiny from a dragon."
"Well, in that case; please, continue," was her dry response. "And for Mer — Morgana's sake, don't ever say 'it could be worse' around me."
He smirked a little at her stumbled oath. "I have wondered which trickster cursed your line. You Potters do have the most wretchedly good luck. Or, perhaps, it's extraordinarily bad luck."
"Why don't the histories mention how hilarious you are?"
"Oh, gods, don't get me started on the stories of my life — or Arthur's! We'll be here for weeks. Bloody bards," he grumbled.
"They can't be worse than hack journalists."
"Hack reporters don't use verse, and they don't sing."
Merlin eyed her sharply, before deciding she'd conceded in truth. "Back to the potential death of magic." He pointed a finger at her, and she closed her mouth without a word. "You chose well in the change you made; it will create many possibilities. Orion Black was in a position of influence and power. His death began the downfall of his House, and the loss of a powerful member of the Wizard's Council contributed to the shifting of power from the Council to the Ministry. He could have limited Dumbledore's growing influence, and prevented many families from siding with Voldemort. Many who joined him in the early years of his rise did so because of the Noble Houses diminishing power, which they blamed on muggle influences. But it was actually — "
" — the Ministry," she sighed. "Whose authority grew during and after the war, especially with the loss of so many Houses and the decimated Guilds."
"So Orion Black's survival can keep the Ministry from overreaching."
"No, his actions can. Surviving isn't enough. Whether he acts — well, ripples in a pond."
"Why do I think I'm not going to like what's next."
July 29, 1969
Ballymore, North Glasgow
Tom Riddle was a force for change, but far from the only one.
She woke amid smoke and heat.
Sirius Black was key to exposing the level of corruption in the Ministry. He forced the Wizard's Council to act in a way they hadn't since before Voldemort's first rise to power. He destroyed Voldemort, first by protecting you from being weakened by Dumbledore's manipulations and being used in Voldemort’s various plans; then by attacking his power base and horcruxes and, finally, by killing his wraith.
The stone floor was blessedly cool, the air clearer.
All that talent and cleverness, mischief and loyalty, ruthlessness and skill. All in the hands of a man who loved fiercely, in possession of a progressive mind and the political power to create visionary changes.
Fire. The house was on fire. And she (Ophelia? Ianthe?) was inside, in the attic room.
Just imagine if he'd had more time than the few years. The time in Azkaban, the century more he might have lived. Imagine if he'd taken his father's title at seventeen instead of putting the war first.
Her Apparition failed (Focus. Destination. Determination. Deliberation). The pressure of the wards pushing back stole precious breathe.
If Sirius was a force for change, an instrument, why no prophecy about him? Why was it about me?
The wards were blocking Apparition. The wards were keeping her trapped.
Who says there was no prophecy about him? There are thousands made every year, all over the world. Most are vague, useless things and some cannot even be linked to their events even in hindsight. Some are about things so mundane they never matter at all. A prophet in Fiji might See events in Russia. Using prophecy to guide events is like playing poker in the dark, against an opponent playing a different game.
Her relatives (Not family, never family. Family was Sirius, was Uncle Paddy. Family was her dead parents and the friends she made. The Dursleys — the Crums — two families alike but different — they were never anything but unwanted relations) had changed the wards. When?
Besides, you were Riddle's downfall.
How long had they been planning to murder her? Why? She was seventeen within days (she turned seventeen the day before her godfather died) and would leave the moment she could. They had been the ones who filed for custody when her godfather (Uncle Paddy) had died a month ago. Why do so if they wanted her dead?
Sirius killed him!
Was it for the money? Did they think if she died underage, they would get her vaults, the Manus family’s gold and her inheritance from Uncle Paddy? (Patrick Grimm, french wizard who attended Hogwarts during the height of Grindelwald's power; best friend of Jamison Manus, alchemist) Did they think that Uncle Paddy would have left anything to chance, considering how furious he'd been at how they'd taken her in as a child only so they could live in the grand Manus house and access the family vaults?
Forget the words of the prophecy — pretend all you know is that Tom Riddle and you were the subjects of a shared prophecy. All that means is that you were linked. You were the instrument of his defeat. He was weakened by your family when he chose to attack you. He fixated on you, making him predictable and distracted. He was so obsessed that he couldn't see his way to any method of resurrection but one that included you, which was stopped by Sirius's protective measures. Sirius defeated — killed — Riddle to protect you.
(Ophelia) shivered despite the heat (grey eyes in a beloved face giving way to Fiendfyre), afraid. (Ianthe) twitched her hand, calling her wand (holly and phoenix feather) and it (cedar and dragon heartstring) slapped into her palm.
Sirius is an instrument of fate, a harbinger of change in the world — fine. He already lives in the altered timeline. His life will be different with his father living. Why do I need to be there?
A bubblehead charm (taught to her by Sirius while vacationing in the Mediterranean; by Paddy in Fiji) bought her time. The stairs were surely impossible; why try to kill someone but leave them an easy escape route?
Because you are still the instrument of Riddle's defeat. Your presence causes the ripples.
The windows were too small, and she was on the third floor (the attic room; the cupboard under the stairs and Dudley's second bedroom) .
Am I ‘change’ as well?
Her (Ianthe was Ophelia who was Ianthe) wand glowed with blue light, tracing runes in the air before her. No time for finesse.
No, dear one. You are the spark to tinder. The converging storm. The shifting tides and currents. The unexpected moment.
Rune after rune fell from her wand, forming long threads that wound around her body in a ribbon of light.
You are chaos.
Pressure as the wards and her runes battled. For one moment she was neither here nor there.
What happens to Ophelia Manus? Does she die? Cease to exist? How can I take her place?
The cold, dark night air was a desperate relief. The sound of voices replaced the crackling of flames.
As you are Ophelia, she is Ianthe. Without your choice to change the past, she would die this night. Her soul would be reborn into another red-haired girl born as July dies.
Before, Ophelia might have stayed, letting the neighbours help her; relying on their presence to protect her from her aunt and uncle until the Aurors arrived.
You will not replace her, Ianthe. You are her. And she is you.
Her doubled memories ensured she knew better.
Your lives are shaped by the same events.
She Apparated away from the chaos, and appeared before the white marble columns of Gringott.
What do I do there? Then?
"Can I help you, witch?"
You do nothing at all, but go about the business of living. No plans, no designs. Your existence causes the ripples.
She met the dark, sneering gaze of the goblin warrior. "I seek Sanctuary from the Horde."
Even Goblin faces can show shock, but it didn't stop this one from slamming his spear butt on the stone floor. The doors, open twenty-four hours a day, slammed closed behind her. Deep in the caverns beneath her feet, a drum beat began.
What you do is up to you.
Chapter 4: Chapter Two
News and scandal in Magical Britain. There's a surprise.
Time passes and the Blacks enter the picture. Also, no matter the decade, the Daily Prophet is the Daily Prophet.
THE SEER Sunday Edition
Sunday July 29, 1969
FIRE DESTROYS SCOTTISH FAMILY HOME
Investigation Links Flawed Wards To Fire
by Bhric Wallace
An uncontrolled fire burned in a local magical enclave last night. Neighbors of the Crum family report seeing flames in the family home in the early a.m. By the time members of the Accidents and Catastrophes Squad arrived, the fire was fully involved.
Angus Crum, his wife Moira, and their daughter Rhona managed to escape out of the kitchen door before the fire blocked the exits. Mrs. Crum's niece, Ophelia Manus, was sleeping on the third floor and had no escape route. Fortunately the seventeen-year-old witch kept her head and displayed a knowledge of Runes beyond NEWTs level, as she was required to break through the wards before being able to Apparate to safety.
"We see this too often," Auror Collum MacGregor stated at the scene. "Ward schemes conflict or clash, become misaligned, and cause failures or cascade. Worse, people leave out safety features and failsafes. The wards here blocked Apparition out of the house, instead of just into it."
While the cause of the fire is yet to be determined, investigators have already concluded that the fire prevention ward was improperly placed, leaving weak points. This is in addition to the flawed Apparition ward. Further investigation is needed but the warder, likely either the homeowner or an off-book amateur, faces hefty fines and possible jail time.
"Warding is not for the inexperienced," explains Michael Wachter of the Warders Guild. "People think that warding packages are expensive because ward masters or Gringotts are trying to screw them over, but even a standard residential ward scheme involves as many as thirty layers of wards and runic patterns. It's detailed, exacting work that requires training, experience, and time."
In Scotland alone, some thirty serious injuries attributed to flawed wards have been reported in the last eighteen months. All but one involved amateur warding.
Further Stories of Ward Accidents, pg 6
Interview with Gringotts Edinburgh Master Warder, pg 9
Affordable Magical Security Options, pg 11
Thursday August 2, 1969
MAN CHARGED WITH ENDANGERMENT
Local Set Heavy Fines, Arrested For Role in Home Fire
by Bhric Wallace
Scottish wizard Angus Crum faces charges of reckless endangerment after a fire in his home last week. A house fire nearly turned deadly when the Crum family and a relative were unable to Apparate from the house due to flawed wards.
Crum, age 54, altered the household wards only a month earlier. As he has no warding qualifications and only OWL-level runic knowledge, he created several errors in the ward scheme, including a breakdown of the Fire Ward. More seriously, he reversed the Apparition ward, preventing anyone from Apparating out the house instead of blocking outsiders from Apparating into the home.
By law, all household and public buildings must permit emergency Apparition in case of fire or other dangers. All commercially available ward packages include this safety feature. Angus Crum, and anyone else found to lack this feature, face fines of up to 15 000 Galleons. A flawed or absent Fire Ward — required on any building with a fireplace, thatch roof, or kitchen facilities — can be fined up to 10 000 Galleons. Authorities have levied both fines against Crum.
Additionally, as the fire resulting from the flawed wards threatened the lives of several people, reckless endangerment charges have been filed. One member of the household was underage at the time of the fire, adding special circumstances. If convicted, Crum faces a minimum sentence of two years in The Rattle, Magical Britain's minimum security facility.
While there have been allegations the fire and flawed wards were deliberate, no cause for the fire has been found. Crum's wife and daughter are not facing fines, as investigators have found no evidence of their magical signatures in the ward matrix.
November 9, 1974
Orion Black had more than a few regrets. No man lived forty-five years without them, not even a Peer. His greatest regret was in following pureblood tradition in the upbringing of his sons; leaving them to the care of their mother until age seven, when they left the nursery and came under the tutelage of their father. It was how he had been raised, and Orion had never had reason to complain about his upbringing. Not until he considered how much he had missed whenever he looked at his eldest son.
His third greatest regret was that his grandfather, Sirius Phineas, was dead and couldn't see how terribly he's erred in the marriage contract forced on his grandson. No one but old man, his brother, and Walburga had wanted Orion married to his own cousin; Arcturus had put off the marriage as long as possible, hoping the elder Lord Black would die and the contract be negated. Unfortunately, Blacks were notoriously difficult to maneuver.
The second greatest was not killing his bitch of a wife years ago.
He ignored the healer hovering over his shoulder in favor of watching his son sleep. The Chief Healer of St Mungo's was casting diagnostic charms over Sirius, checking the progress of the potions they'd poured down him.
Orion grimaced as yet another potion was pressed on him, but drank it obediently. Poisoning was tricky to recover from, and he wouldn't risk permanent damage.
"Well?" he finally demanded.
The Chief lowered his wand. At his signal the many assistants vacated the private room. Orion went to stand, fearing bad news, and was firmly pushed back in his chair. Not even to himself would he admit that he permitted it because he was too weak to resist a healer three times his age. "My son?"
"Will recover — as will you, as long as you both behave and take the potions regime we proscribe." Orion was glared at sternly. "Stay where we've put you, boy. The only reason you aren't in a hospital bed of your own is because of your son."
Orion hadn't been called any variation of 'boy' in at least two decades, which made this a novel moment. He respected the old Healer, but that wouldn't stop him from dropping the man if he tried to separate him from Sirius.
Probably best not to say that aloud.
"There's no permanent damage?" Men of his station were expected to show no weakness and few emotions. He ignored a lifetime of training and held his son's hand, squeezing gently. "You're certain?"
"Though he's very young and reacted to the poison quickly, he received a far smaller dose than you did. His rapid symptoms were from a strong sensitivity to Murtlap, rather than the potion as a whole."
Rapid symptoms was a rather bland way to describe a little boy fighting for air while his lips began to turn blue.
"The poison was in my tea, correct?" The healer nodded. "Sirius had more milk than tea in his cup. He's just started to share afternoon tea with me, but he's a little boy despite wanting to be all grown up." Orion couldn't grasp that it was an allergy that saved both their lives. "I wear a ring that should protect me from all poisons, Healer Vervain, but it didn't warm in the slightest."
"Ah, yes," the old healer mused, absently straightening the blanket covering Sirius's small form. His son continued sleeping, little huffs of breath barely audible. The sound was reassuring. "You are aware that some things that are beneficial in small doses can be fatal in large ones?"
"I believe there is a loophole in the warding on your ring, one that many such objects share. The spells are designed to warn the wearer when ingesting or contacting poisons and toxic components — but they rarely react to beneficial potions. Not even ones that, in too large doses, can kill."
"My wife tried to poison us with a healing potion?" He demanded.
"Specifically, a concentrated Wiggenweld Potion, which is a healing draught. However, any dose more than a quarter ounce many be fatal. We found more than twice that in the tea we tested."
If he wasn't so furious, he might have admired Walburga's cunning. Her attempt to murder him was sloppy, and she evidently hadn't cared that Sirius would have died as well, but the method itself was rather elegant. Orion made a note to commision a new piece without that particular work around — for both himself, and his sons.
"What about this Murtlap sensitivity? Will it be dangerous?"
"You certainly need to warn any healer who treats him; I've already notified your family healer. There are a number of potions that use Murtlap, but there are alternatives available. It's not an unheard of reaction."
Vervain warned him once more to stay put and rest, before leaving Orion alone with his heir. His son. Whose own mother had known he would be sharing tea with his father, and still brought poisoned tea to Orion's study.
The Auror's had best arrest her quickly, or he would remove any need to.
The door opened, and Orion's wand snapped into his hand. Fortunately, it was Alphard, his brother-in-law and the only decent child of Pollux and Irma Black. Cygnus, the youngest sibling, was nearly worse than Walburga.
"A little paranoid, are we?" Alphard remarked.
"What is it that the Muggles say? Just because you're paranoid — "
" — doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. I'm so proud, Orion, you actually read a Muggle book."
"Piss off, Alphard."
"Nothing doing, my lord ," the younger wizard cheeked, dropping into a nearby chair. "The old man and Lady Melania have Regulus at the Castle."
"Good." Nowhere in Britain was safer than the Castle of Ravensmoor, often called Black Castle or the Castle. The wards were goblin-made war wards, updated and maintained religiously, and Grindelwald himself wouldn't be able to get past Melania MacMillan Black to a child in her care. His father was no slouch either.
"I can't believe the vicious witch actually tried to off you." Alphard shook his head, baffled. "Why? You've let her to her business all these years, let her run the house and spend as she wished. She loves being the Duchess of Ravensmoor. Why risk it all?"
"Morgana only knows. She's been getting odder lately, especially this last month."
"You mean since you returned from Paris early and took over your oldest son's lessons and started training him to follow you, even though he's only just turned six? Am I the only one who is a little worried about why showing early interest in your heir might be a trigger for my sister's murderous impulses?"
Alphard always had a knack for seeing through to the heart of the matter. "Well, when you put it that way."
Sirius shifted a little, drawing the attention of both Blacks, but the boy didn't wake. Carefully, Orion smoothed back his hair. It was getting a little long, forming unruly curls.
"You didn't tell the Aurors that she poisoned you," Alphard murmured. "You just reported being dosed. You had to have known it was her."
"However unlikely, it is possible it was an outsider. This way, they investigate all my enemies. Who knows — maybe someone is planning to kill me, and this investigation will foil them."
"You slick bastard," Alphard said admiringly.
"Besides," Orion ignored his relative's slightly crass manner of speaking, as he had done for years, "she was surely ready to defend herself from an accusation, and went into the interview with that mindset. That will make them suspicious — why else would someone act so defensively without cause, unless they have something to hide." He was pleased with that particular ploy, which had occurred to him only moments before Head Auror Moody had shown up at St Mungo's to speak to him and bring samples of the tea for the healers to test. "Also, Alastor Moody has known Walburga since Hogwarts and hated her nearly as long. He wouldn't put anything past her."
"You are a scary fellow, cousin. I'm glad I'm on your side."
The DAILY PROPHET
Monday, November 11, 1974
LADY BLACK ARRESTED FOR ATTEMPTED MURDER!
Duchess of Ravensmoor Charged With Crimes Against Son, Husband
IN a shocking turn of events, the Duchess of Ravensmoor was arrested by Ministry Aurors yesterday for attempted murder of her husband, Orion Black, Duke of Ravensmoor, and their heir, Sirius, Earl of Blackmer.
Sources claim that The Duke and his son remain in St. Mungo’s Hospital after admittance yesterday, where they are undergoing treatment for poisoning. One wonders at the circumstances that might lead a pureblood witch of the highest standing to attempt such a thing, if, indeed, Walburga, Duchess of Ravensmoor, did so. This reporter will certainly be keeping watch for the reaction of the House of Black, Most Ancient and Most Noble. Will they rally around their besieged member? Or will they leave her to her fate at the hands of the Ministry and the courts?
Presumably, His Grace will defend his wife of nine years from these accusations when he is recovered. Did the Aurors, who only had the investigation for a few hours before the arrest, take the easiest path and arrest the closest potential suspect? Or is there some kind of resentment at work, targeting one of the highest ranking purebloods of our society in a smear campaign? Rest assured, readers, this paper will not hesitate to shine a light on any potential scandal or malfease. (byline: Rick Skeeter)
The DAILY PROPHET
Tuesday November 19, 1974
LORD Black, Duke of Ravensmoor, petitioned for and was granted divorce yesterday. His Grace and his former wife were married by binding contract in 1966, which requires a Wizengamot ruling to sever. As Walburga Black was recently arrested and tried for attempted murder of both the Duke and his six-year-old heir. Though sentencing is pending, the former Lady Black was convicted Monday. Her actions were a breach of the marriage contract, leaving Ravensmoor grounds to end the contract. His petition was uncontested. Orion Arcturus Black, alumni of Slytherin House, is the Lord of the House of Black, Most Ancient and Most Noble and a member of the Wizard's Council.
Chapter 5: Chapter Three
Orion and Sirius meet Ophelia and a kneazle with a most unfortunate and appropriate name.
Ophelia comes face to face with the past she changed. Scotland is a smaller place than one imagines.
May 20, 1975
Fara Island, Hidden Hebrides
Orion laughed softly as Sirius darted off to find another curiosity to show him. The most recent, a bird's egg split in two perfect halves, was tucked into the spelled bag Orion carried. The egg joined a shed snake skin, an enormous pinecone, an oddly-shaped stone, and a piece of unicorn horn. It was an impressive collection of boyish treasures, especially since they'd left the house an hour ago.
He'd know perfectly well that a walk with Sirius didn't mean a ‘walk’ or ‘with’ Sirius. Orion had learned over the last six months that Sirius was tremendously curious and, like many young boys, a bit of a magpie. A walk in the woods, or along the beach, or even the garden usually became an expedition complete with treasure hunting. There was nothing Sirius enjoyed more than a few hours outside exploring, unless it was showing off his finds to his father and brother.
Orion had once had a wooden box full of a boy's treasures; things an adult would consider junk but were objects of wonder to a child. Eventually the things he collected had changed from rocks to correspondence; toys gave way to tools. Now he had a dressing case full of cufflinks, pins and other jewelry; a desk full of heirloom pens and seals, valuable correspondence and ledgers of business. His old 'treasure' box contained personal letters and ephemera as well as pictures of his sons. The things a man collected changed, but the urge to collect and keep them didn't.
His smile faded. Sirius' cheerful behaviour was pleasure to behold and, fortunately, grew more common every day. A winter spent in the Mediterranean, exploring the family villa and its hills and seashore had done much to restore the boy's laughter and fearlessness. Hopefully a summer amid the rocky cliffs and coasts and woods of the Scottish islands would continue that healing. There were still nightmares, moments of wariness and fear of doing wrong. Months ago, Sirius had found a scattering of sea glass on the shore, and had refused to bring it home with him for fear of being punished. Walburga had burned his first horde of objects because, apparently, Blacks didn't do anything so common .
May the gods damn her black soul to the depths.
But he wasn't bitter. It wasn't like he'd spent ten years married to a woman he didn't like because his grandfather, egged on by his own brother and nephew, wanted to 'ensure the line'. Cygnus had always coveted the Black title, and seen Walburga as a way to the duchy in the hands of his own blood. Pollux and later, Walburga, had been raised with that thought in mind. They'd managed to trap Orion in a strictly-worded marriage contract thanks to the old Lord Black, but hadn't been pleased with Orion's refusal to fall in line.
Orion had hated Walburga from the first, and she hated him in turn for refusing to bend to her will. By the time Sirius was born, Orion had ascended the Ravensmoor title due to his father's ill health. His wife and her father had been furious to learn that he rejected outright any ideas they presented on politics and business, and laughed at the suggestion that Pollux sit on the Wizengamot as his proxy. He had left his children to their mother's care while he managed the estates, family finances, and political duties. HIs only real concern was that Walburga would do her best to raise the boys with her family's beliefs and loyalties, but that could be countered when they were old enough for formal lessons with him. His sons were wealthy scions of an ancient and noble House that stretched back, unbroken, to the reign of the High King. Sirius was the heir of that ancient legacy and should have had an idyllic childhood. Nothing he'd learned about Walburga's treatment of him made sense, and Orion had stopped trying to find the logic in it.
He just wished her dead twice daily. That was a vast improvement over doing so hourly. And it had been at least a week since he plotted how to break her out of prison just so he could kill her.
"Father!" Sirius dashed out the trees towards him. "Father, you have to come!"
All musing forgotten, Orion quickened his pace. He had forgone robes, as he always did on these rambles with his son, and didn't need to worry about the shrub and bramble of the undergrowth tangling him up as he left the path. Sirius didn't seem injured or distressed, but Orion was a father and always worried. “What's wrong, Sirius?"
Small, strong hands gripped one of his and tugged. Orion humored him, and allowed himself to be drawn along. "There's a kneazle in a tree! I think it's stuck! Father, you have to get him down!"
Worry turned to amusement. "And you came to get me instead of climbing up after it?"
"The branches are too thin and skinny to climb."
Undoubtedly the only reason Orion didn't have to fetch both boy and beast from the tree. Sirius was a dedicated climber and all but fearless, tackling trees far taller than Orion would have dared at his age. Fortunately, he was sensible enough to recognize trees and branches that wouldn't hold his weight and could recognize dead and rotting ones.
"Maybe it's lost — or ran away! What’ll we do if we can’t find his home?"
Oh, he could see straight through that question to the hidden one: can we keep it? Sirius had never inquired directly about a pet, but over the last months Orion had noticed his son was fascinated by animals, magical and mundane, whether they were as common as post owls or as fierce as the wild unicorns of Fara. No doubt any possibility of a pet had been quashed by his mother and he was now working up to the topic with Orion. Clever boy, using this situation to explore the idea.
"Perhaps we should fetch it down before we worry about where it belongs."
Orion's playful tone made Sirius grin and eye his father slyly. "You told me that it's best to plan ahead when you can."
He laughed, and Sirius' grin widened. "Clever lad. Cheeky, but clever."
Sirius giggled, pleased he's made his father laugh. Even better, he'd used Father's own words against him to do it! The exchange eased the little knot in his belly that had formed when he brought up the kneazle. His father was laughing and teasing him, and wasn't at all reluctant to follow him to the stranded animal which proved that the whole topic was a safe one. Though, most topics seemed to be safe with Father. He wasn't her or anything like her. Every day that thought was a little stronger and more real, along with the belief that she was really gone.
He knew he couldn't keep this kneazle; he was short not dumb . It certainly belong to someone in the nearby village, or one of the large houses he'd seen on their walks. But , maybe there was a kneazle in his future, if he worked up the courage to ask. It was much easier to be brave now, especially when he tried hard to forget the things from before.
"There's the tree!" He pointed to the spindly thing. It might be tall, but it hardly counted as tree in Sirius's book. Near the top, amid the sparse branches and leaves, golden eyes peered down. "See!"
"Hmm." Father eyed the almost-tree and the kneazle.
"So that's where you've gotten to!"
Sirius twitched at the lady's voice — not her, it was nothing like her — and peered through the branches. On the other side, he could see someone in purple. His grip in Father's hand tightened.
Father squeezed back, and looked him questioningly. Sirius took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders, and bravely rounded the tree. He kept a firm hold on his father.
"Why do you always get into places you can't get out of, Loki?"
They found a witch in short purple robes, with pretty red hair, standing with her hands on her hips and staring up at the kneazle. The cat replied to her question with a loud "merp."
"Excuse me, d'you need help getting him down?"
Ophelia turned, expecting a child. She found a boy, and a man. Definitely a man.
Without layers of robes and fabric typical of wixen fashions there was nothing to distract from broad shoulders, narrow hips and long legs. Thick black hair was tied back simply and exposed a face that an artist might have been chiseled from stone for a lustful goddess to bring to life and, well. An unbuttoned collar and rolled up sleeves revealed throat, lean forearms, and a kink for both that Ophelia didn't even know she'd had.
None of that distracted her from the fact that she knew that face.
Fortunately, she had a ready-made excuse to look away from the handsome older man whose life she had altered. An excuse in the form of a little boy who had asked her a question. A little boy who had been the man who half-raised her.
"Well, while I have far too much experience in retrieving kneazles — particularly this one — from places they don't belong, I would never turn down such charming help."
His giggle both broke her heart and lifted it. Sirius, a little boy who looked so much like his father. Alive. Laughing and, presumably, causing mischief.
Ophelia decided to forgive destiny and fate. Just this once. She'd probably stop referring to them as the bitch sisters. Maybe.
He ventured from his father's side. "Does he climb trees a lot?"
"Trees, rooftops, curtains and assorted drapery, furniture, window ledges and, on one very memorable occasion, a person. Though, I forgave him for the last one because the man wearing the trousers he climbed was very annoying and wouldn't go away until Loki used him as a climbing post."
"I suppose that's one way to be rid of an unwanted suitor," Orion murmured while Sirius laughed.
She blinked in surprise. "How do you know he wasn't an irritating neighbour, or a tax man?"
"Just a guess." The faint curve of his lips told her he was amused, but whether it was over the image of Loki shredding the trousers and skin of a faceless man, like his son, or because of something else he saw was hard to tell. Ophelia was better at hiding her thoughts than she once was — doubled memories, years of Occlumency, and embracing her inner Slytherin had all helped — but she was no match for a consumate snake with years of political experience. The man might be handsome, and she was glad he'd lived, but he was a tall, powerful stranger whose magic she could feel from ten feet away, whose motivations were unknown and whose face she couldn't read. Whatever amused him at her expense, it was probably better and safer to focus on his son and her wayward pet.
Grey eyes brightened as she asked, "Would you like to help me fetch him down?"
"Yes, please!" He looked to his father. "That's alright, isn't it?"
"Of course. You should always offer your help to a lady if you can."
Orion watched as Sirius and his new friend set about retrieving the very aptly named kneazle, the lady by way of her wand and Sirius by calming the animal after his forced relocation. Bribery seemed to work as well on cats as children, because the treats Sirius offered the kneazle settled any hard feelings quickly.
He stayed back and was careful to remain unobtrusive, well aware of the lady's wariness. He had no wish to make a lovely young witch any more cautious of him than she might be of any strange man.
He was very amused but careful not to show it. That she hadn't recognized why he was so amused told him everything he needed to know about her awareness of her own appeal. Such a witch was sure to be plagued by men of only one variety. He had the distinct impression that the male attention she garnered baffled more than flattered her. Half the local men must be ready to line up at her door at the slightest hint she might welcome their attention.
Riotous red curls barely contained by braids and pins, pale skin dusted with freckles and a neat slim figure draped in very modern plum robes — which didn't even account for her face, which was only saved from doll-like beauty by a mobile mouth seemingly on the verge of smiling.
How she got anything done without tripping over a man was a question he was curious to answer.
It wasn't her face, as beautiful as it was, that drew his eye though. It was her eyes — true emerald and almost luminescent. Wixen tended towards intense eye colours thanks to magic; his own family's infamous grey eyes were just one example. Wix eyes could even seemed to glow, but only when casting or using powerful magic. Just smiling seemed to make this woman's eyes light up from inside.
Sirius had settled on the ground with the kneazle in his lap, laughing at the rhythmic purring his petting produced. He looked up at the witch, wistfully. "I guess you need to take him home now."
Her face was full of gentle humour as she crouched next to his son. "I doubt he'll thank me for it, since he's found a willing pair of hands."
"He's a very nice kneazle."
"He's trouble on four legs." Sirius giggled. "Still, he's quite young, so he might outgrow it. But I shan't hold my breath."
"One might mention that you did choose to name his after a trickster god," Orion said politely.
The look she shot him was so aggrieved he couldn't hide his smile. "It seemed appropriate at the time, but I think all I did was tempt the gods — or a mischievous spirit."
"I like his name," Sirius pipped.
"A statement which in no way fills me with a sense of foreboding," Orion said dryly. His son pouted exaggeratedly, making the witch hide a grin. "Pity that, unlike kneazles, boys grow into trouble, not out of it."
Loki's mistress examined boy and feline, who were very pleased with each other. "I could use your help getting him home."
"Well, he's quite happy with you, so if you carry him he might actually make it all the way home without wandering off again. Also, you should probably know where he belongs if you happen to find him again. Which you will," she sighed. "Hopefully not someplace worse."
"There's worse places for him to get stuck?" Sirius asked with unseemly enthusiasm.
"I sincerely hope not," she said, pertly, as she helped Sirius stand up with his burden. Loki promptly wriggled, tail flicking and making Sirius laugh as he arranged himself across the boy's shoulders like a stole. Sirius grinned up at them. "Brilliant!"
"Now that you and Loki have been thoroughly introduced, son, you night do the same with his owner," Orion said gently, careful to keep his tone amused, Sirius could find criticism in nearly anything, thanks to a mother who found fault in perfection itself. Sirius blushed a little and looked sideways at him, checking Orion wasn't upset with his accidental lapse in manners.
Since it was safe, he straightened his back and spoke to the witch who belonged to his purring scarf. "How do you do, ma'am. My name is Sirius Orion Black, and this is my father, Lord Orion Black, Duke of Ravensmoor. May I have your name?"
Her lips twitched, but she was gentle with Sirius's dignity and replied with equal solemness. She curtsied, deeply to Orion and more playfully to Sirius. "Good day, Lord Sirius, Your Grace. I am Ophelia Ianthe Manus, and I thank you for your assistance." Sirius nodded solemnly in response, and then broke out in laughter. "Now that the formalities are observed, may I have you aid in returning my incorrigible feline to his home?"
It didn't take Sirius long to return to his previous explorations. Only minutes down the path Miss Manus directed them down, he wandered off into the trees again, his furry companion along for the ride.
The lady made to follow, looking worried, but Orion caught her elbow. "He'll be back shortly."
"What is he doing?"
"What all little boys do; look for things to poke at, examine and, frequently, bring home in their pockets." He drew her arm through his and kept walking. After a moment's hesitation, she settled her hand on his arm in exactly the correct manner.
"Shouldn't we be concerned?
"Perhaps, if I didn't have two different tracking spells and a magical tether on Sirius." He smiled at her incredulous expression. "It might seem like overkill, but last week he managed to find a ley line and cross it at exactly the right point so that the magical flow acted as a cleansing rite and disrupted every spell on him — including the waterproofing charm on his coat," Orion told her.
She bit down on her lower lip, trying to hide a grin. "It takes a divining spell and three arithmancy equations to locate an overflow conjunction on a natural ley line."
"So you're saying that little boys and kneazles — "
"Are exactly as bad as the other, yes."
She laughed. "I thought it was bad enough that kneazles can slough off foreign magic — I'm forever looking for Loki because he disperses any Trace I put on him. I had no idea children could manage the same."
"Not all of them, but Sirius is an ambitious mischief maker."
Conversation was halted by Sirius' reappearance, proudly carrying his latest finds; a gleaming raven feather went to Orion — who cast a wandless cleaning charm — while the stem of bluebells was shyly offered to Ms Manus.
She accepted it carefully and smiled so sweetly at Sirius that he blushed and looked away. The resilience of youth won out quickly, though, and soon he was darting forward on the path, half skipping and chatting away with Loki.
She twirled the stem between her fingertips, then brushed the flower against her cheek. Orion discreetly watched the petals slide against delicate skin. "That's one advantage of boys over kneazles — my cats only bring me dead mice and gnomes."
"I'll bear that in mind for when the question inevitably arises. I've been expecting the pet conversation for some time, but I imagine today's adventure makes it imminent."
"I would have thought little boys want snakes or frogs or the like."
"Not Sirius." No, he would want something companionable, that could be held and petted and would curl up in his lap or bed.
"Well, if it's any help, they make lovely companions and are almost too clever. A full-blooded kneazle is at least as protective as a crup and twice as smart, and would probably come fetch you if Sirius found trouble."
He'd heard plenty of stories, particularly about how dangerous the animals could be if you crossed them. Orion had been thinking of a crup puppy for Sirius, but… "Truly?"
"Oh, yes. You already heard about Loki running off an persistent admirer, and I have three more at home; Bastet, Sekhmet and Neith. They growl at people who overstay their welcome, kill gnomes and doxys that try to bite me, and even wake me from nightmares."
While he was curious as to why a young, well-bred witch — one of means, judging by the quality of her robes — might have nightmares, it wasn't his business. However, his son's curiosity came from him, so he had to ask: "You named three female kneazles after Egyptian war goddesses? Two of which have cats as sacred animals?"
"Shut up," she laughed. "I lived in Egypt for a year. It made an impression. At least they aren't all named for tricksters."
By the time Ophelia led the Black men to her home, she'd learned a great deal about recent events. Orion made no mention of his former wife, but did say that they had only arrived recently at the Black summer house on Fara after a winter on the Italian coast. It was just Orion, his sons and their nanny, plus several house elves; they hadn't spent any time in the village yet, but had begun to explore the houses' gardens and the surrounding land. Sirius wandered off and back twice more, and chatted away to both Loki and humans equally.
Her nerves were both easier and raw; she now had proof that her actions had changed things, but Orion Black had an intense presence, watchful and canny, and Sirius was so painfully alive. Fortunately, her blended memories of two godfathers, so alike but very different, gave her a little distance. Sirius the boy was not her godfather, Padfoot. Ophelia shared no blood with the Blacks, though Ianthe had been distantly related to them.
She was not Ianthe Potter, nor was she Ophelia Manus from before the fire that would have killed her. A person was a sum of their experiences and that meant she was both women. She had spent her first year in the past coming to terms with that. Meeting the Blacks, however significant, didn't change the truth of her existence.
Marauders always prevail.
"Can you really see dragons here?" Sirius questioned.
"Well, the Preserve tries to keep them on Arach Island, so it's been at least a few years since any landed on Fara. Sometimes they get past the keepers and the wards and you can see them fly overhead, but that's rare. But, there's a great spot on the southern cliffs that looks toward Arach. It's only a few miles, so on a clear day you can see the dragons flying over the preserve."
"Really! Father, can we, please?"
Orion smiled. "We'll find out where to go and try on the next nice day."
Sirius cheered, as enthused as only a child could be at the thought of five tonnes of deadly, and asked, "Will you come, Ms Manus, please? You can show us the best spot, and see the dragons with us!"
"Sirius… " his father cautioned. Ophelia couldn't bear to see him disappointed and spoke before thinking. "Of course."
"Yay!" Sirius danced off along the lane. "We're going to see the dragons!"
"You don't have to," Orion murmured. "If you give me directions, we can find the place ourselves and save you the experience of two dragon-mad boys."
"Oddly, I think I'm looking forward to it." She really was. "Unless you'd prefer I not go with you."
He smiled faintly, and she wasn't quite sure what was so amusing. "As long as it's not inconvenient for you, you are very welcome. I'll send you a note when the weather looks good."
"Is this your house, Ms Manus?" Sirius pointed to a modest stone manor house, just visible over the stone wall along the lane.
"Yes, it is. Though, I think anyone I watch dragons with should call me Ophelia, or Phee."
Sirius looked to his father for approval, and grinned when he got it. "Alright, Ms Phee."
"Lady Phee, I think, Sirius." He glanced at the ring she wore, displayed on the first finger of the hand laid on his sleeve. "She's the Baroness of Fara, I believe."
"Yes, I am, but it's a Scottish Barony, not a noble one. I'm not a Peer, or a member of the Wixmote. I have land and some tenants, but it's nothing like the prestige of Noble House."
"How long has your family held the house and land?"
She huffed. "Since Robert the Bruce."
He smiled. "Lady Phee, Sirius."
Ophelia huffed again. "I'm not even a pureblood, you know — not by your English reckoning, and my grandfather and father tainted my family line with French blood, so I'm not even all Scot either."
Orion hmmmed and said nothing. She gave up, and led them to the gate. Sometimes a witch needed to cut her losses.
As they reached the gate, Sirius' steps slowed. Reluctantly, he extracted Loki from his person to return him to Ophelia. She bit her lip at the mournful expression on both boy and kneazle. Loki made a pathetic noise from Ophelia's arms.
"Thank you for letting me carry him home."
"Thank you for carrying him home for me."
Orion laid a comforting hand on his shoulder, and Sirius leaned into him. "We'll send a note in a few days." The boy brightened a little at the thought of dragons. Ophelia smiled and watched them leave, waiting until she lost sight of them before turning towards her home.
Hours later, after his sons had been fed and bathed and slept under the care of their nanny and a nursery elf, Orion settled in the library with a nightcap. The collection wasn't as large as Grimmauld, and only a fraction the size of the Ravensmoor Library, but it wasn't lacking. The Fara house was a summer home, meant for vacations and house parties, so the books here ran more to a general section; novels and history and interesting magical works, as well as local interest.
He recognized the Manus name, and not just because it belonged to one of the local landholders. He found what he was looking for in Modern Magical History.
Aftermath of Grindelwald: The Lingering War
The fall of Grindelwald did not, however, end the war swiftly. While British magical society no longer faced a threat, this was not true of much of Europe. Grindelwald's highest ranking followers, the Twelve Generals, remained alive. Several were captured or killed immediately, either by resistance forces or their own fleeing troops, while Wilhelm Strausse, the Deathhead, was killed by the Muggle bombing of Dresden. Three fled the Continent, hoping to avoid the manhunt. Three, however, chose to continue Grindelwald's attempt to dominate Magical Europe.
Mahler Franz-Krampen, the Butcher of Lyon, was Grindelwald's general in France, and after the Dark Lord's fall, he maintained control of the majority of the forces under his command. Using the chaos of the Muggle war as cover, he established a fortified command center hidden behind extensive wards. For the next seven years, he fought to seize control of the magical communities of France and establish himself as a new Mage King.
While French forces and their allies managed to drive Franz-Krampen back each time he attacked a magical settlement, loss of life was common. Several attempted assassination where nearly successful, but each time he escaped to his secured compound. Two attempts were made to breach the wards of the compound, hidden in the Pyrenees, but were unsuccessful.
In September 1952, Franz-Krampen led an assault on Beauxbaton and the surrounding settlement of the same name. French Ministry forces and volunteer forces pressed back the attack, and a team of wix engaged Franz-Krampen and his elite guard directly. Anti-Apparition wards prevented the would-be king from fleeing, and a prolonged battle occurred. on September 12, Franz-Krampen was killed in a duel with Jamison Manus, a volunteer Auror from Britain. The son of a French witch and a Scottish baron, Manus lost several members of his family in the Grindelwald war, and lost most of his mother's family when the Battle of Quiberon decimated the magical community. Franz-Krampen was instrumental in the assault.
All of Franz-Krampen's personal guard were captured or killed, and the rest of the attacking force surrendered. Ministry forces used the information they provided to breach the wards of the compound, ending the threat of the remaining Dark Army in France. All the members of the team who confronted Franz-Krampen received the Grand'Croix Baton from France, as well as similar orders from their own homelands, either in person or posthumously. Jamison Manus, who died of his wounds the night of his duel with Franz-Krampen, received the Order of Merlin 1st Class from Britain, France's Dueling Valor honor, and was made a Chevalier posthumously. A plaque with his and all the fallen defenders adorns Beauxbaton, and his name is recorded in the Hall of Valours in Paris.
Grindelwald's Russian general — —
Orion lowered the book, not interested in anything further . A Baroness who had lost an unknown number of kin fighting Grindelwald, with the face of a Celtic Goddess.
He looked out the window and saw only his own reflection in darkened glass. And told himself not to be a fool.
Chapter 6: Chapter Four
Dragons and kneazles and imps, oh my! There are a number of conversations on very important topics.
In which many letters and even more wit are exchanged.
May 21, 1975
Black House of Fara, South Shore
Fara Island, Hidden Hebrides
"Here it is!"
Orion watched his sons, sprawled out on the library floor, paging through a huge bestiary. Twin dark heads bent over the pages of a book nearly as big as his youngest child.
"See, Reggie, this is a kneazle. Loki looks like this one, only his tail is longer and poofier."
"They're even better for real."
"Siri, why don't we got a pet?"
"'Have a pet'," Sirius corrected, and Orion grinned. "Because… she didn't like animals."
He shuddered. "Yes."
"Is Mother ever coming back?"
"No!" Orion straightened, ready to intervene. Sirius could hardly bear to hear his mother mentioned, much less talk about her directly.
Regulus sniffed loudly. "Sorry, Siri."
"It's alright, Reggie," Sirius said softly. "Sorry I yelled. But — she won't be back. Father promised. Look, there are dragons in this book."
"Dragons!" Thoroughly distracted, Reg abandoned all thought of his mother for the fire breathing predators. Orion was frequently surprised at Sirius' cunning. "Look, Siri, Welsh Greens!"
"Trust the two of you to find any book that mentions dragons." Sirius started as Orion crouched down. Examining the moving illustration, he declared, "Impressive."
"They're great, but Horntails are the best!" Reg enthused.
"Really? I always liked the Longhorn. What about you, Sirius?"
He huffed. "The Opaleye is the best."
"It's shiny ," Reg distained. "It's a girly dragon."
"It's not ! It's the most beautiful dragon — everyone says — and it's fire is as hot as a Fireball’s. And its talons are almost unbreakable, and they live in families and hunt together. A group of Opals can even take down an Ironbelly! One Horntail might be more dangerous, but Opals work together."
Before a fight could erupt, Orion made an effort to deflect. "So, one of my sons loves fierce and dangerous things, and the other loves things that are as beautiful as they are deadly." Orion eyed Sirius. "I look forward to meeting your future spouse."
He made a face and Reg proclaimed that girls were 'yucky'. "If only that sentiment would last until you're twenty."
"I don't want to get married until I have to," Sirius grumbled. "You'll pick someone nice, right?"
Hmmm. "Excuse me?"
"Great grandfather Sirius picked her," he explained patiently. "So that means you or grandfather will pick who I marry, right?"
"Why do you have to marry a girl, Siri," Reg demanded, face screwing up.
"'Cause I'm the heir and I have to. Heirs become Lords and need their own heirs, and you get them when you marry a girl."
"Concise and not inaccurate," Orion decided, still following Sirius' logic about his future. "That's long in the future, Regulus, and I doubt you'll find it such a trial then." He looked unconvinced, but was persuaded to return to his dragons easily enough. Orion drew Sirius away so he correct his son's misconception without a running commentary.
"Sirius, I'm not going to make you marry anyone, and neither is your grandfather."
"But — "
"No, Siri, listen to me." Solemn grey eyes stared up at him. "This isn't something for you to worry about yet, but you will chose your wife." Mentioning the possibility of a male consort would just distract away from his point. "Your grandfather Arcturus made sure of it. Not even the Patriarch can make a marriage contract for anyone in the family, not any more."
He bit his lip. "You promise?"
Sirius buried his face in Orion's robe, wrapping thin arms around his waist. He clung for several minutes, Orion rubbing circles on his back and smoothing his curls. No doubt this was yet another topic his son had been lectured to on the 'proper' Black way.
"I don't want to marry my cousin."
It was muffled, by Orion heard it clearly. "Good, I'd rather you didn't."
"I would prefer you look outside our family tree for a wife, yes," Orion said dryly.
Bright eyes appeared again. "Grandfather Pollux said I should marry Cissy or Andi."
"Andromeda is eight years older than you, and Narcissa cries at the sight of a doxy. Even if they weren't your cousins, I'd hope you have better options that that." He couldn't help but ask, "Why not Bella?"
"'Cause he has plans for her."
"Does he indeed? I'll speak to him about his plans. I think we should make a point of politely ignoring Grandfather Pollux whenever possible."
"Politely?" he asked slyly.
"What if it's not?"
"Then we'll impolitely ignore him."
Giggling, Sirius detached himself. Such moments of insecurity had grown less common in the last months, and were easier to calm when they did occur. Perhaps one day his boy wouldn't go pale and tremble at any reminder of his mother. Until then, Orion reserved the right to curse her daily.
"Could we… can I — " he struggled to continue, and Orion rubbed his back reassuringly. "Can I have a pet?" he finally managed.
He hid his own amusement when his son turned pleading eyes on him. So much effort for so simple a request. "I don't think we have room in the garden for an Opaleye."
"Father!" Sirius huffed, then giggled. "Would a Welsh Green fit?"
"Unlikely." He smiled. "But we might find room for something smaller. Maybe."
"A doxy might fit."
"The pond is big enough for a grindylow." Sirius huffed, crossing his arms and struggling to frown instead of grin. It was adorable. "You're right, there's no pond at Grimmauld. An ashwinder?"
"They set things on fire!" he giggled.
"True, that would be a waste of all the redecorating we're doing."
"How about… a unicorn!"
"Hmm, I think the ceilings are too low for their horn."
"Think of the cobwebs."
"Too much sand, and I'm terrible at riddles."
"You are not! You always answer the riddle in the paper, and the runic puzzle, and you finish the crossword too."
Orion hadn't even realized Sirius had noticed his routine. "How about a leprechaun?"
"No way, he'd steal all our gold!"
"We can't have that — how would I afford all the apple jelly you go through."
"You can't have toast without jam," Sirius said firmly and pointed a finger at his father. "And you hog the bilberry jam!"
"Then a leprechaun is definitely out. A troll?"
"We already have Reggie."
Orion laughed. "What does that make you?"
"Trouble!" he said proudly. Orion laughed harder and hugged him. Sirius leaned in happily.
"Then perhaps something smaller and less dangerous might be in order." A nod. "And this pet should perhaps be able to climb trees, since you spend so much time in them." A bright grin. "And it might be something that could sleep in a little boy's bed instead of out in the garden."
Wide grey eyes widened hopefully. "That sound pretty good. But it should be something that likes to be petted."
"And that purrs?"
"Well… " When Orion chuckled, Sirius smiled shyly. "A kneazle might be best, at least until we can get a dragon."
"Fortunately, kneazles are long lived." Sirius giggled even as Regulus clambered up to join them, demanding to know what was so funny about dragons.
Black House of Fara
Fara Island, South Shore
Hidden Hebrides, Scotland
May 25, 1975
Madam Ophelia Manus, Baroness of Fara
Fara Island, South Shore
Hidden Hebrides, Scotland
Should today be convenient for you, we would like to invite you to attend an al fresco meal on the South Cliffs, accompanied by a viewing of dragons. We shall plan for one o'clock. Please send an owl if this is inconvenient, and we will reschedule.
Lord Orion Black, The Duke of Ravensmoor
Lord Sirius Black, Earl of Blackmer
Lord Regulus Black
Fara Island, South Shore
Hidden Hebrides, Scotland
May 31, 1975
My Lord Duke,
I hope you and your sons have recovered from our adventure with dragons. Since we witnessed the closest a Hebridean Black has come to Fara in ten years, I expect you were less enthused than your children. Fortunately, the dragon did not actually reach the island.
Are outings with your family always so exciting?
Please thank Sirius for returning Loki to me yesterday. I don't know why he was hunting gnomes in your garden, and I certainly can't promise he won't repeat himself. However, you will have fewer gnomes, which must count for something.
Since you provided such a lovely lunch on our picnic, I am persuaded by the manners my godfather instilled in me through bribery to return the favour. I invite you and your children to lunch tomorrow at noon. Bring appetites; my elves rarely feed such willing audiences as two growing boys.
Ophelia Manus, Lady Fara
Orion knocked on Haven House gate, feeling the wards respond. Somewhere in the estate, the ward holder would feel the magic 'ring' like a bell.
The gate swung open. Ophelia wore gold and green today. "Your Grace?"
He stepped aside, revealing Sirius and Loki. Both were smudged, leaves and bark decorating hair and fur equally. They both looked sheepish and unrepentant. "I believe this is yours."
"Fortunately, I'm only responsible for bathing the four legged nuisance."
"We climbed all the way to the top of a huge oak tree!"
"Tea, Your Grace?"
Black House of Fara
Fara Island, South Shore
Hidden Hebrides, Scotland
June 12, 1975
Dear Lady Ophelia,
We would like to invite you to dinner at Black House tonight at six. I'd invite Loki, but he is already in the garden teaching Sirius how to catch gnomes and fairies. They are enjoying themselves immensely.
The fairies are not.
Thank you for the book recommendation. I have your copy of The Druid's Path ready to return. I located the Book of Soyga for you to borrow.
We shall see you tonight.
Lord Orion Black, The Duke of Ravensmoor
12 Grimmauld Place
June 19, 1975
Thank you for spending yesterday with the boys; Sirius told me about your quest for powerful magical ingredients when I returned home late last night. He insisted on staying up until he could tell me all about your adventures. I'll remember to combine lessons is herbology and potion ingredients with a treasure hunt in the future.
This is the first time in months I've been away from the boys for more than a single day, and they are having trouble with my absence so many days in a row. I would prefer otherwise, but I've been putting off several meetings for too long and could not delay any longer. The opening of the new Wizengamot session is poor timing, though fortunately my cousin will continue to sit as my proxy as he did during the winter. He dislikes politics, but enjoys obstructing idiots and causing trouble for people who annoy him, so I can trust he'll continue to act in my stead.
I am certain that I owe you a gift for spending all day distracting my sons, and I'm certain today will be spent much the same way. I would order my elves to prevent them from taking so much of your time, but I don't have the heart to. Please tell me if I might be of service to you in any way; I would be happy to retrieve any items or run errands in London.
Orion Black, The Duke of Ravensmoor
Dear Lady Ophelia,
I know you said I can call you Phee, but Father said you should use your best manners in correspondence. Father helped me spell that because it's a big word. I practiced twice to make sure the words were right and my writing was readable. Sometimes it looks like gnome scratch.
Thank you for spending lots of time with Reggie and me while Father spent all that time in London. I'm writing for Reggie too, because he can't hold a quill right yey. It spills ink everywhere, so he uses a pencil to learn his letters. Father said I can be trusted with a proper quill. If I do all my writing practice, Father will get me a grownup quill for my birthday. Should I get a Phoenix feather, or a Hippogriff feather quill?
You might have had other things to do on the days you played with us, but we had lots of fun so I'm glad you decided to play with us instead. Thank you very much. We would like you to come to lunch on Friday to say thank you. The elves will make your favorite foods, and Father has a thank you present to give you.
Say hello to Loki and the Goddesses for us!
Lord Sirius Orion Black, Earl of Blackmer
Lord Regulus Arcturus Black
15 rue de Montmorency
July 3, 1975
Paris is as lovely as ever, and the weather is pleasant. Uncle Paddy's mentor, Nicholas, and his wife Nelle are as flamboyant and generous as I remember. I'm enjoying myself tremendously.
Your letter of introduction worked wonders. Mssr. Rousseau was very gracious and already has a line on the codex I've been searching for. My usual sources for rare texts have been unable to reach the private collector last known to own the book, but Mssr. R has a contact in the same closed enclave the man lives in. Thank you for your help.
I found a pair of books on France's magical creatures, both with beautiful illustrations, and included them for the boys. Please don't demure; Sirius is doing me a great favour by caring for Loki, and I could hardly give him a gift without doing the same for Regulus. Please pass on the books and the notes included.
I should apologize again for Loki's refusal to come with me on this trip; the Goddesses enjoy travelling and are always pleased to see their travel carrier. Loki has accompanied on several trips and never complained before, but this time he simply refused to tolerate the travel preparations. Kneazles are known escape artists for good reason; not even magic can keep them where they don't wish to be. I would have left him with my elves, but he probably would have gone looking for Sirius anyway. Thank you for letting Loki stay with you. I know you and your staff are really doing the work, not Sirius. I'll be sure to bring you a bottle of elf wine in thanks.
Hoping you are well,
Chapter 7: Chapter Five
Friendship and familiars and being a grown up.
Orion and Sirius have a conversation about keeping things and Sirius demonstrates something surprising.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
July 7, 1975
Black House of Fara
"Father? What happens when we go home?"
Orion looked up from the pile of correspondence he was working through. "What do you mean, Sirius?"
His son looked up from where he was practicing his quillmanship. "When we go live in the London house again, what happens to Phee and Loki?"
Bleeding hell, he should have seen this coming. Sirius had very quickly become attached to Ophelia, and Regulus hardly less so. "Ophelia and Loki will still be your friends even if you don't see them everyday, Sirius. You can write letters and even visit. London and Fara aren't that far apart."
"They're my only friends."
Gods damn Walburga for keeping Sirius so isolated. The only children she's arranged for him to play with had been his Black cousins — girls all older than him — and a bare handful of children deemed 'appropriate'. In other words, ones with parents who shared Walburga's opinions and were unlikely to mention any oddities in Sirius' behaviour or treatment to Orion himself.
He left his work and gathered his son up, settling them both on the chaise in his study. "You have your brother and me, and you can write to Ophelia when you like. You'll be getting a pet as well, when we find the kneazle you like, and you'll have a whole, redecorated house to explore." Sirius curled closer to him. "And I'll make sure to introduce you to other children for you to play with. I promise that I won't work the way I did before, and when I am at work you'll have your elf, Poppy, to take care of you. If I have to go away, you'll go stay with your Grandmother Melania and Grandfather Arcturus. You won't be lonely, Siri, I promise."
"She said other children wouldn't want to play with a nasty boy who isn't a proper wizard and she was right. Other children don't like me," he whispered.
"She is a spiteful harpy who is locked up in a tower far away from here. We'll ignore everything she ever said," Orion said calmly, quietly seething. He shifted his bundle into his lap. "And you certainly didn't have trouble making friends with that pair of boys in Italy. The ones you went looking for merfolk with, remember?" At the mention of that particular adventure, which involved stolen wands, gillyweed, and a makeshift raft, Sirius giggled. "What were their names?"
"Titus and Cicero."
"And how often did the three of you find trouble together? Or can't you count that high yet?" Sirius smirked. "And how many letters have you gotten from them?"
"Lots! I sent them a picture from when we went dragon watching. Titus was so jealous! Cicero said he was going to ask for a trip to the reserve on Meropis for his birthday."
"So, even though you aren't within walking distance, you're still friends?" Sirius nodded. "Do you think Ophelia will forget you? Or that Loki won't try to stow away in your trunk?" That won a giggle. "Exactly."
Sirius cuddled closer, looking thoughtful. Orion left him to it, knowing something was brewing in that clever brain. It was no wonder his son was fast friends with a kneazle named for Loki; that deity had surely blessed his son.
"Father, you're friends with Phee, right?"
Oh, hell. "Yes."
"D'you like her?"
"I generally like my friends, yes."
A huff. "No, d'you like her, like her?"
"Sirius, where are you going with this?" He was afraid to ask, honestly.
"Well, if you like her, then maybe… youcouldmarryphee."
Woden and the Green Man grant him patience and the ability to keep a straight face. "Try again, please."
He drew a deep breath. "You could marry Phee, and she could live with us."
"Sirius, Ophelia deserves to marry someone who loves her, and I don't want to marry simply because it's convenient."
"But Phee is nice, and you might marry someone in the future who isn't. And you like her — you invite her to lunch, and take her arm on walks, and you brought her a present from London. You even give her flowers when we go exploring."
"So do you — maybe you should marry her."
He pouted. "I don't want to leave Phee. If you marry her, we can keep her."
Orion sighed and stroked Sirius' hair. "This is very important, Sirius, so listen. You don't keep witches. If you care about a woman, you treat her with respect and affection, accept her choices and support her goals and, if you are lucky and behave like a gentleman, she might choose to stay by your side. Phee has plans and dreams and friends of her own. She's travelled all over the world with her godfather and worked hard to master runic magic. Loving someone doesn't make them yours, it means you give them a little part of yourself, and hope they do the same."
Sirius sighed. "Being grownup is dreadful."
Orion laughed. His son had a long way to go before he was grown, but Orion knew he'd be good man. Provided he learned the difference between loving and 'keeping' someone.
"Father, you never said you didn't like Phee."
And provided his curiosity didn't get him killed before his majority.
July 15, 1975
Forsaken Circle, Fara Island
"What is he doing?"
Orion appeared to ponder her question. "It looks like he'd burying rocks, then digging them up and and burying them somewhere else."
She gave him a dry look, "I can see that, Orion. Why? "
He laughed. "Because he's three years old, and that's what little boys do; they make up games that make no sense and dig holes in the ground."
Reggie was doing exactly that with all the focus of a potions master ata delicate brewing stage. She was too far to hear him but judging by his moving lips, he was either talking or singing to himself while he worked.
"Well, as long as he'd happy."
"As happy as a bowtruckle."
Once more pondering the complexity of the male mind, Phee returned to her notebooks. They were settled on the edge of one of Fara's stone circles, though this one had been broken long ago. She'd been very entertained and impressed by the way Orion had used its existence for a lesson on the dangers of some magic. Sirius had been full of questions when he learned that the ancient Druid circle had been broken by dark magic, the very earth rejecting the space and the natural ley line convergence realigning to avoid the place. The space had long since been cleansed and was a safe and popular place to visit, but though nature had reclaimed the space magic continued to reject it.
Lunch was finished an hour ago, and while the boys ran off their meal, Orion settled against a standing stone with a book and she worked through runic array calculations for her current project. The day was pleasantly warm with a touch of sea breeze to combat the summer sun. Sirius and Regulus had discarded their shoes and played barefoot; Phee wore a robe of thin layers of linen that stopped at her knees and left her arms bare, while her thick hair was braided and coiled around her head. Orion was robeless, white shirt loose and open at the throat. Sekhmet, the only kneazle besides Loki to accompany them, had abandoned Phee to lie in a sunny patch of grass.
Twice Sirius darted over to her, each time bearing flowers. Reggie refused to be left out, and had presented her with a somewhat battered clutch of daisies. Thoroughly charmed, as ever, by this particular habit of the Black men, she's conjured a vase to secure them in. Orion, not to be outdone by his sons, had offered a flower each time the boys did. If they kept it up, she's have to call Tully to retrieve her floral gifts.
Her head snapped up from her arithmancy at Orion's whispered curse. Her "What's wrong?" was accompanied by her wand snapping into her hand.
Orion sat stiffly, staring at the cross stone Sirius and Loki were clambering over. She couldn't see anything wrong. "Orion, what is it?"
"Lady Fara — "
"Gods damn, Orion, I got you stop calling me that a month ago. What's wrong?"
He looked at her and, at the sight of her wand, blinked. "Nothing you need your wand for, I hope."
She narrowed her eyes. "You started cursing and then went all formal on me. I may need my wand if only to hex your for scaring the life from me."
He sighed. "Look at Sirius."
"I don't see anything wrong."
"Look again — watch for a moment." Huffing, she did. It took a moment, but then —
"Did they just share magic?" she demanded.
It was rhetorical, because it was obvious what had happened. The centre stone of the circle's altar was three time Sirius's height, but he was now near the top. As she watched, he climbed the last foot by pressing his bare hands and toes to the vertical stone and sticking, just like Loki could do with his innate magic. At one point, Sirius looked like he would slip; Loki's tail brushed over his hands and a little spark of magic appeared, just before the boy managed the last few inches. Moments later, both boy and cat sat on the top of the stone, beaming.
"Lady Fara, I apologize on behalf of my son." Orion's voice was very formal, enough to draw her eyes from the shocking display. He looked stiff and wary. "He has no idea that he's created a familiar bond with your companion, but — "
"Orion, stop being a stiffnecked arse; if you think I'm going to be upset because a little boy found his familiar in my pet, then you need a kick in the head — or maybe the arse." She huffed. "What are you expecting? A rant about theft, or a demand for gold? Morgana's sake, Orion, I adopted Loki from a wizard on the other end of the island who didn't have a license for kneazles or any idea how to take care of one. I didn't intend to get another pet; the goddesses and my post owl are plenty. I just couldn't leave him in the hands of an idiot, or let the Ministry take him."
The idiot man unbent a little, but looked uncomfortable. "It's presumptuous."
"It would be presumptuous for a grown man to deliberately cause or force a bond on an animal not his own; it's a lovely and charming quirk of fate for a boy to find a companion and familiar in an animal he plays with often. The only thing you should kick yourself over, Your Grace , is that neither of us saw this coming. For heaven's sake, we've both seen Sirius chatting at Loki like they were having a conversation. We never even considered that they actually understood each other, which should have been our first clue." When he looked like he was about to say something else stupid, she reached over and poked him. Hard. "Shut up, take a photo of them up there, and then figure out how to get them down so they don't break their heads. And apologize to me for being an idiot, and for calling be Lady Fara in that tone of voice."
He laughed softly. "I never know what you'll say next."
"Good, predictable people are bloody bores. Fetch your son, Your Grace. I'll get Tully to bring Loki's things to your house. Should have know," she muttered, "when the damned furry nuisance wouldn't leave for Paris."
He stood, then hesitated. "Loki is a valuable animal."
"I will hex you mute and bald if you offer me money, Ravensmoor. I already told you, I didn't pay for him, I wouldn't want gold if I had, and you've used up your idiot moment of the day. Put down the shovel and stop digging," she growled when he opened his mouth again.
Fortunately, the man could take directions shut up long enough to fetch his son down. By the time he returned, she was smirking.
He looked wary. "Ophelia?"
"I just realized, you're responsible for fetching them both out of any trees they climb — and bathing both of them afterwards."
His eye twitched. "Thank Hecate for spells." She laughed at him. He deserved it.
Black House of Fara
Fara Island, South Shore
Hidden Hebrides, Scotland
July 17, 1975
Dear Uncle Alphard,
Guess what? You won't, so I'll tell you. I've got a familiar! Not just a pet, a real familiar. We can do magic and everything! Well, Father said we can do magic on purpose when we're both older, but now we do it by accident. Did you know kneazles can use magic to climb things? Loki can, and I can too because we can share magic. It's completely brilliant! But Father said I can't climb like that without permission and someone to watch me in case I fall and break in half. I said that Loki was there to watch me, and that I'd break in at least three if I did fall.
Uncle Alphard, Reggie and I have a question (Reggie's here too but he can't write properly yet). How do you get a lady to marry you? Father said you can't keep a witch, but if you're nice and respectful she might stay with you. I know you court witches so they'll marry you, but I don't know how yet, Father said those protocol lessons come later.
Father likes Phee, he gives her flowers and walks beside her when we go see dragons and picnic on the hills or the cliffside. We saw dragons! You can see the Reserve from a spot on Fara, and we went twice! The first time, one of the Hebridean Blacks flew towards the island from Arach, but it didn't come all the way or land. It didn't happen again, but we're going again next week so maybe this time.
Is giving flowers to a witch courting? Cause Reggie and I and Father do that all the time. Phee — Lady Phee — likes the purple ones best. Her middle name means purple flower. Will you write to us and tell us how to get Phee to like Father? If she does, maybe she'll marry him and then we won't have to visit her when we go back to London because she'll come with us.
We sent pictures of Loki, and the dragon, and the house. There's one of three kneazles, but they aren't Loki, those are the Goddesses, and one of Phee, too. She's really pretty, and very nice and smart, so please write back soon.
Sirius and Regulus
I apologize for how short this is; I didn't realize until I went to post it.
Chapter 8: Chapter Six
Small towns. Enough said.
Ophelia deals with some 'well-meaning' folks. It does not go well. Until it does.
July 25, 1975
Emrys Cove, Fara Island
Ophelia' first hint that today would be difficult came when Carys O'Cain entered the apothecary steps behind her. The older witch considered herself of the first consequence, being married to the mayor of the largest community of the most populous island of the Hidden Hebrides. She dressed in the finest fashions from Edinburgh, even when those fashions were far too elaborate for daytime in a bustling sea town, and felt that her duty to her husband and the people who looked up to her — and why wouldn't they? — depended on her to know everything about what went on in Emrys Cove and the island, and to see that everyone else did as well. The appearance of the woman a third her age, who seriously outranked her, had upset her sense of her place in the world. She immediately set about trying to take Phee under her wing so that she would remain the centre of local society when it attempted to form around the young Baroness.
Phee had spent a considerable amount of time running her and all the other local matrons who saw her as 'that poor motherless child' or as an unfortunate witch who, thanks to years of wandering under the care of a wild bachelor, had been lost to all good society. Worst of all were the women who saw an opportunity for their sons and brothers to marry wealth. It had taken a combination of strict formality and deliberate rudeness to get rid of them, thus regaining the peace and privacy she had come to Fara for in the first place.
"Are you in the habit of entertaining strange men alone, young lady?" Mrs O'Cain demanded. "What will people think?"
"Whatever they like, and often not at all," Ophelia said cheerfully, before speaking to the proprietor. "I need ten griffin feathers, a half ounce of phoenix ash, a dram of Night Tears, a bottle of Singing Rose oil, an ounce of doxy wings, a pound of shrivelfigs, a scoop of fairy eggs, two knots of fluxweed, a sachet of salt of the earth, nine chimera scales, and twenty-one deathbell flowers. Oh, and two ounces of Witches' Hazel."
The man, who had looked old enough to have been the owner who established the shop in 1666, went about his business, appearing deaf to Mrs O'Cain's voice. Whether he was, or would share everything over a pint tonight didn't really concern her.
"Now, my dear, you really must allow me to advise you in this."
"Since I can't seem to stop you, please, elucidate me." Next time she wanted to get away from her research, she'd send Tully or Razzie to do the errands and just take a walk. Away from the town.
"A strange man appears — "
"Who introduced himself to anyone who asked."
" — out of nowhere — "
"London, by way of Italy."
" — for no reason anyone can see — "
"Other than the fact that he owns a summer home here and it's summertime."
" — and starts making up to a young witch who, you'll forgive me, is far too naive to see what he's about — "
"Making up? Naive?"
" — when those older and wiser can clearly see — "
"Older, yes. Wiser?"
" — that he's after a bit of fun before he vanishes off again, likely to do the same somewhere else — "
"Sure, all practiced seducers go about with a pair of children in tow."
" — he might claim to be a duke, but do we really know — "
"Because making false claims about being a Peer isn't illegal at all."
" — and if he is, well, that proves he's only toying with you — "
"He's lying about being a duke to seduce someone, but being a duke proves he's seducing someone?"
" — not like a real duke would be interested in a simple village girl — "
"That's not what you were calling me the last time we spoke."
" — so it's best you send him off and not entertain him again, certainly not in private— "
"I'll get right on that."
" — before he ruins you completely."
"Because a woman's only value is her chastity, just like in the Middle Ages."
In the corner, two girls snickered and pretended to examine the display of unicorn horns. The proprietor continued to be mute a deaf as he piled her requests on the counter.
"Well, dear, I'm glad we had this chat. You'll come round for my Saturday tea this week, of course. My husband — the mayor, you know — "
" Everyone knows, because you always tell them."
" — has a nephew who's come to visit from Hogsmeade; lovely boy just your age. Excellent prospects, his mother — "
"I beg you, please stop."
" — tells me he's quite the catch now that he's gotten his mastery in Charms — "
" — and she's very eager to see him married before one of the little floozies circling him makes him lose his head — "
" — I'm sure you'll have plenty to talk about, he's been as far as Paris twice!"
Ophelia prayed for patience, mercy, and a lightning bolt. The woman, apparently satisfied she'd made her point and won the day, nodded and left. As the bell run behind her, the girls started giggling loudly, and the old man gave her a sympathetic look. She paid and fled, swearing not to go anywhere near Carys O'Cain's tea even if she had to find a dragon to maul her.
She made it ten steps.
"Just a minute, missy!"
"Oh, for fuck’s sake!" The old man and even more ancient goblin smoking outside The Rose and Wand croaked with laughter. She glared at them, making both laugh harder.
"What was that?" Mrs Frances Younge, who wasn't , caught up with her, seizing her elbow with a bony hand. "You say something, girl?"
"Nothing you want to hear."
"Humph." She actually said the word, giving Phee a brief flashback to Umbridge. Note to self, poison that bitch before she did any damage in the future. "I've a word for you, miss."
"Baroness." She'd be damned if she listen to a this old crone lecture her while being forced to answer to 'missy'. "Also Lady Fara, or Madam Manus. Not miss, missy, or girl."
"Pshaw. You listen to me, girl, fancy English dukes don't court upstart Scottish misses. You just send that man about his business before he makes a fool of you." Phee started walking, hoping to shake to old witch. Pity she was more spry than she looked. "You just take one of the proper Scotsmen dangling after you before they find out you let an Englishman sniff around. You need good Scot blood to dilute that foreign blood of your mother's."
"Weren't you born in Birmingham?" A passing witch laughed, scamping off when Younge turned a beady eye on her. "I think I'm more Scot than you are."
"Humph. I've lived on Fara since before you father was born."
"You've lived on Fara since before my thrice great-grandfather was born."
"What was that?"
"Nothing! This is your house, isn't it? Have a pleasant day," she shook the woman off at the door of the local cauldron shop, unashamed of herself. That was the fastest she'd ever gotten away from the ancient witch.
As she reached the door of The Elder Scroll, a cheery voice called out, "Hallo! Ophelia, dear!" Ducking in the door, she pretended not to hear Fiona MacPhillip.
Behind her, the door opened. "Mister Colm have you seen — oh, there you are, dear! Didn't you hear me call you?"
The widow of one of the two other Barons on Fara Island, Madam MacPhillip of Teith had been the highest ranking woman on the island. She fiercely resented that her husband's barony was the youngest of the three, and was only slightly mollified by the fact that the Baron of Fearnan had married well and moved away fifty years ago. Ophelia's family was the oldest of the three, hence the same name as the island rather than the nearest village, and was far wealthier to boot. The woman had attempted to correct this glaring oversight the best way she knew how — by seeing Phee married to her son, the current Baron Teith.
Since she would rather drink poison then marry anyone related to Widow MacPhillip, this put the two of them at an impasse.
"My dear, I heard the most shocking rumor, you will never credit it. Mrs Long, you know her, dear, that fussy creature who runs the inn in Teith village — well , she had from Mrs Dunn, who had it from Mr Payne who's been paying calls to her — though why, I cannot figure — "
Phee calmly gathered the books she came for. None of them included poison recipes, unfortunately.
" — and she had it straight from Colin MacNeil, who has a little potion farm up on the south cliffs, that you've been out walking with that Sassenach from London." She finished this rambling statement as if she'd uncovered a global conspiracy. Phee with still stuck on the phrase 'out walking'. She'd come back forty years, not four hundred, hadn't she?
" Hmm ? Oh, terribly sorry, did you ask as question?"
The widow puffed up, looking nothing so much like a puffskein trying to look intimidating and failing dreadfully. "The Sassenach, dear child, the foreign duke." Because, of course, London was a foreign land and there was only one person on this island who wasn't Scottish. It wasn't like the Hidden Hebrides were the most populous magical population in the Isles, or that there weren't dozens of summer houses and cottages used by mainlanders.
"Orion? What about him?"
"Orion! Oh, dear girl, no! You can't be familiar with him!"
"Oddly, I prefer to call him the name he asked me to, that to refer to him as Sassenach."
"My dear, he's foreign. "
"Madam, between my French mother, grandmother, and godfather, I'm more French than Scot some days. For example," she said cheerfully over the woman's aghast look, "If this were a village in France, the first thing someone would ask me about the foreign duke out walking with me would be along the lines of 'how good is he' or 'how big is he'." Sadly, this is not France, and you are not a French widow. You might try it; there's a great deal of wine and younger lovers involved."
The only sound she made was a slightly wobbly gasp. Phee stepped around her and up to counter, hoping to escape before the woman started breathing — or worse, talking — again.
Pliny, the proprietor and his daughter, Livia, were laughing behind the counter. She made a face, but said nothing. If it was anyone but her, she'd likely find this whole farce hilarious.
She escaped before Madam Teith recovered. Thank the Gods.
"Ah, there you are, Madam!"
Fuck a diricawl.
Orion wandered along the lane, enjoying a moment of quiet to himself. Regulus and Sirius were both napping, and their nanny elf Poppy was perfectly capable of dealing with any issues that arose, to say nothing of the three other elves. He was idly considering whether to turn down the lane towards Ophelia's home, or continue on to Emrys Cove, when a Gaelic Fury descended.
"What the bleeding hell is wrong with people?" Ophelia demanded, stalking towards him. "Why are they all stupid ?"
"I have no earthly idea." Calmly, as a man must be in the face of a natural disaster in order to avoid panic and death, he claimed her shopping basket and her arm, tucking each one over one of his own. "All of them?"
She huffed. "Fine, not all of them, but more than enough. Every matron on Fara has lost their damn minds. I nearly committed murder a dozen times, and half the village was laughing the whole time. A goblin was laughing, I swear. Granted, he was as old as Gringotts — but, still!"
She ranted for several more minutes as he guided her home. Finally, when she lost some of her head of steam, he managed to ask, "What happened?"
"I told you!"
"No, Ophelia, you gave a slightly disjointed explanation of why people are stupid, gossip is evil, and why you're considering a cloistered existence. Which would be a feat, since you aren't Catholic and nunneries don't take witches."
"I could join the Druids on the Blessed Isle." She huffed, laughing. "Yes, fine, I might have been in a bit of a temper."
Yes, like a dragon had a bit of an appetite. The woman's temperament certainly matched her hair. Wisely, he said nothing.
"I can hear you thinking something snarky."
"Developed telepathy, have you?"
"No, but I have a finely honed sense of sarcasm. It's slightly less sensitive than my bullshit detector." When he laughed, she continued, "I'd say this was unusual for me, but I tend to rant and rave when in a huff. Fortunately, I outgrew breaking things — well, most of the time."
"Most of the time?"
"Sometime you need to smash something, preferably over an idiot's head."
"So, why is half the village laughing?"
Ophelia groaned. "Oh, gods, it's the most ridiculous thing! Though, it is funny, if you aren't the one who was being ambushed. Half a dozen of the matrons on the island managed to 'have a chat' with me — mostly them talking and me ignoring them or making fun — because the Sassenach duke is after one thing and I'll be ruined if I go out walking with the foreigner who came out of nowhere to make up to me — or that's what I took away from the whole thing." She laughed. "I've never heard such old fashioned nonsense in my life! Worse? Every store or sidewalk, there was someone to overhear and laugh, so the whole village knows."
She looked at him and, apparently, saw something of his own temper on his face. "Goddess' sake, Orion, no one with sense believes any such nonsense! Every woman who accosted me has a son or family member to throw at me, or at least at my money. Everyone was laughing because it was like something out a farce or a Victorian novel! Two different women used the word ruin, like virginity is the only thing valued in a woman. They sounded like Muggles — medieval ones!"
She squeezed his arm a little, trying to cheer him. "It was just a bunch or self serving witches with nothing better to do than gossip or meddle. Most of them resent that I didn't join their circle when I arrived, the rest think I displaced them, and all of them would marry someone to my vaults if they could manage. No one thinks you're trying to ruin anyone. Only a fool would take a little bit of talk about the odd Baroness and the duke being seen together and make anything sordid out of it, or think that there's anything but friendship involved." She laughed, disbelieving. "As if you would — romance me!"
They reached the north gate to Ophelia's estate and he returned her basket. "Of course not." She blinked, looking a little surprised — and maybe a little hurt. "Why on earth would a man like me be interested in a brilliant, beautiful witch of rank and breeding, with mages and kings and heroes in her blood; a woman who’s well-travelled, well-read, whom my sons adore?"
Ophelia's face was a blank, her eyes huge and shocked. "You… "
"What possible interest could a woman with magic to burn, a mastery in Runic Magic — "
"I haven't completed my master work yet!"
" — the face of an siren, with a fiery temper and a heart as fierce as any dragon's — "
"I do not!"
" — a sharp tongue and wit, canny and cunning and sarcastic, who made friends with a little boy and gave him a valuable gift out of kindness — "
"They have a magical bond!"
" — who I can speak to for hours and drives me half mad with lust and longing and things I have no business feeling for a witch twenty years younger than I am — "
"Twenty years is nothing to wix… wait, lust?"
" — who doesn't even notice when someone is courting her even though he's been doing it for weeks and is so obvious about it that his children are trying to help him!"
She went completely still. "You have not been courting me."
He huffed. "Yes, I have."
"No, you haven't! I would have noticed!"
"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" He said wryly, suddenly aware of the humor in the whole thing. He'd just fought with a witch over whether he was attracted her. Alphard could never know.
"But — you — "
Gently, Orion caught her chin and tilted her face towards him. "I can quite assure you, Ophelia, that I am courting you, my feelings are romantic, and that in another time and
place, the thoughts I have about you would be ruinous." He offered her the gift he'd been carrying for days, waiting for the right moment. A flower, this one made of amethyst and moonstone and silver, to be pinned on her robe or cloak or in her hair. A declaration or interest.
Her fist closed around the gift. Wide eyed, she stared at him. Orion laughed softly. "For such a clever witch, Ophelia, you can be terribly obtuse." He kissed her cheek softly, brushed his thumb over her bottom lip as he released her, and left her standing at her own gate.
Hours later, as he brooded over the possibility of being rejected, Izzy brought him a letter delivered by owl. He hesitated a moment before opening it; if she rejected his overture, protocol forbade him renewing or even speaking of the offer without her explicit permission.
When he did open the letter, he laughed joyously. She hadn't sent a demure response, a polite acknowledgment and acceptance. The envelope contained a cloak pin in the style of a plaid brooch; a circle of silver set with jet and emerald. A gift for a gift.
Ophelia hadn't just agreed to let him court her; she'd offered to court him in return.
Chapter 9: Chapter Seven
In which Orion is a Slytherin. Plans are plotted; gifts and letters are exchanged.
Ophelia had no idea what she was getting into.
July 25, 1975
His Graceful Dukeness of Ravensmoor,
Black House of Fara
Fara Island, South Shore
Hidden Hebrides, Scotland
A bright little star told me you've lost your head over a pretty Scottish lass. Flowers and picnics and walking arm in arm? Awfully chummy with this witch, aren't you cousin?
For shame, Orion! Not for your pretty company, of course, but because you apparently have so little game that your sons don't trust you to snare them a stepmother if left to your own devices. Your boys wrote to me for courting advice; apparently they feel you need a little help to seal the deal.
You are thinking long term, I presume? Not that I don't think an affair would do you a world of good, but if that's the case you might need to explain the difference between courting a wife and making a friend who offers pleasant benefits.
So, Cousin, do you need advice? I'm happy to pass along my accumulated wisdom!
July 21, 1975
Concern yourself more with the upcoming Wizengamot vote and less with my personal business. I might seek your advice on how to conduct an affair with a married witch; convincing a woman to marry, however, is the opposite of your skill set.
Do not encourage my sons. They need no help in being outrageous.
I suggest you not share this letter or Sirius' with another family member. Don't test me, cousin, I've been out duelling you since we were children.
P.S. As the lady in question accepted my initial declaration and returned the gesture, I believe you and my sons have no need to be concerned.
BRICK, MORTAR and STONE
Magical Contractors, Renovators and Architects
145 Diagon Alley
July 24, 1975
To His Grace, the Duke of Ravensmoor:
As to your request, sir, the additional renovations and alterations to 12 Grimmauld Place are very possible. Enclosed are the plans for the changes you requested to: the fourth floor south bedroom, the master bedroom suite, mistress bedroom suite, ground floor ballroom, the addition of a study and workroom, expansion of the library, and expanded nursery and schoolroom into the attics. We can begin work on these as soon as you approve the changes.
In regards to these changes, the original completion date given for your initial renovations would no longer be met. Whereas before our company offered a completion date of August 15, the extended renovations will not be completed until October 1. We hope you are not inconvenienced by extending your absence from the residence.
Many of the alterations requested are cosmetic and decorative in nature. The second enclosure includes the plans, drawings, samples and estimates for materials to decorate the rooms as requested.
As always, Your Grace, any changes you wish to make should be sent directly to our offices. We appreciate your business.
July 28, 1975
Neith announced the arrival of a visitor to her workroom by way of chattering and chirping, as well as the thump of her tail against the shelf she'd claimed. Ophelia looked up in surprise, focusing on Sirius.
He stood in her doorway, head cocked. "Phee, what're you doing?"
She shook off her hyperfocus and set aside her runic pen. "Working on a rune project."
"Can I see?"
"Yes, but don't touch anything please."
He clambered into a chair, examining the many pieces and parts in various stages of completion. "What is it?"
"My Mastery project, though it obviously isn't finished yet."
"It looks like lots of pieces of fabric."
She laughed. "That's because it is, for now at least. I have to mark every piece with the runes that will form the arrays, then I assemble it and create more arrays. Each rune has to be in the right place so that it only affects the other runes I want it to."
He nodded. "So you're making a puzzle when it's in pieces, and then you'll put it together?"
Ophelia smiled and ruffled his hair. "That's a good way to look at it, actually."
"It will be far more wicked when it’s done — provided it works."
He gave her a patient look, one only a child used on adults who made things complicated or couldn't see something perfectly logical. "Of course it will work, Phee; you made it."
The absolute faith of a child. Had she ever believed an adult was unfailable? Yes; her godfathers — both of them. They'd had to die to prove her wrong.
"Well, we'll see. I'll show you how it works when I'm finished." She urged him gently from the room before his curiosity could overcome his manners. "What brings you by?"
"We're going on a boat ride!" If we're really lucky, Father said we might see Selkies — or even a Panlong!"
"That's lovely, Sirius. Don't forget to use Solar Philtre, though."
He nodded. "Father gave Reggie and me one already."
"We have a picnic and everything! Mr. MacNeil said you can sometimes see Panlong north of the island, so we're going there. Father said you don't like boats?" he questioned.
Knowing he would work around to inviting her, Ophelia told him gently, "I don't like deep water; not since I nearly drowned when I was fourteen. Your father already invited me but I declined."
"Oh!" Sirius looked sad. "Maybe we should do something else then." He looked torn, and disappointed.
She smiled at his earnest face and straightened his collar. "Maybe you should enjoy your boat ride without worrying about me while I get more work done." He looked skeptical. "Tomorrow we'll have tea in my garden."
"You're sure ?"
"I'm sure I'll have tea and that you're invited, yes." He huffed. "Yes, Sirius, I'm sure."
Sirius sighed. "Alright, if you're sure." She didn't laugh, however adorable his reluctance to leave her alone was. "Oh! This is from Father; he sent me to deliver it." He extracted a package from his satchel.
Since it was tied with a red ribbon instead of twine, Ophelia was sure it was courting gift of some kind. Having his son make the delivery was a deliberate choice; though nothing prevented owl delivery and giving her letters and presents in person was perfectly acceptable, sending such things by way of family and friends showed their approval.
She eyed Sirius. "Do you know what this is?"
He gave her a look of complete innocence. "It's a letter and a present." She wasn't fooled. He wasn't a Marauder yet, but everyone started somewhere and a few months of exposure to a young Sirius was proof that he'd started very young. Under her gaze, he shifted a little and tried a winning grin.
Ophelia laughed. "Don't ever try it, boyo."
"It's worth a try!"
"Only with someone who doesn't know you."
"Phee!" He grumbled something about no respect under his breath, and she managed not to grin. "It's an early present for your birthday. Reggie and me picked one too, but it's not wrapped yet, so I'll bring it tomorrow. Oh, and Father said 'this is only an overture'," he quoted seriously. "He said that the real present has to wait."
Oh for — "Tell your father not to go overboard."
Sirius shook his head and grinned. "Nuhhuh, Phee, Father always goes crazy with presents. Even when he spent all his time working and we never really saw him, there were always lots of presents for our birthdays and Yule. Last winter we got a gift on each of the twelve days of Yule."
Suddenly aware of where Sirius had learned his extravagant gift-giving from — because a professional quality broom was only the beginning — she scowled. "You can tell him — "
"Phee, I can't tell my father what to do, it's rude," he told her cheerfully. "And so's being late, so I'm going to go. See you tomorrow!" He left her holding a package that was surely expensive and over the top, and no one to vent at.
Resolutely, Ophelia returned to her workroom and set the package aside in favour of her work. Picking up her pen, she paused, trying to decide where to start.
She did not glance over at the gift.
Neith made a sound not unlike a chortle. "You are not funny." She lifted her pen again. Stopped. And cursed the cat and herself as she untied the ribbon.
I shouldn't be surprised by your reaction to my offering; the only thing about you that never surprises me about you is just how often you surprise me. Only you, lovely, would see a courting gift as a challenge.
I do wonder if you quite know what you have opened yourself up to. Perhaps not; you have little knowledge or interest in the pureblood families of England. I suppose I should be a gentlewizard and warn you of what others already know of the Black family.
I'm tempted not to; less to avoid scaring you away, since little seems to do that, and more because I look forward to your reactions in the future.
The Blacks are known for their tempers, ruthlessness, and and unrelenting enmity. No one crosses a Black willingly, at least no one intelligent or sane. No one has started a Blood Feud with us in nine centuries because no one has dared to. The last ... well, most feuds last three generations; that one lastest ten years. We won, needless to say.
But, while these are the first things mentioned about us, they are not the only traits we are famous for. Our political power and the will to wield it; our interest in the esoteric and unusual magics — not Dark Magic, as some believe, but the rare and odd and unknown. Which is not to say there are not Dark practitioners amongst us, or even though who delve into the true Black Magic. They are not the rule, but they exist. I will not deny it. I don't approve, but the truth cannot be avoided.
We covet. Knowledge, magic, power, ideas and experiences; whatever we have, we wish for more. Some of us are a little better at controlling or balancing it, others less so. It helps explain the number of vaults filled with artifacts and relics, the fact we never seem to throw away anything, and the size of our libraries. Nothing like fifteen hundred years of rapacious collecting to expand a book collection.
We suffer no fools, no interference, and tolerate the rules only when we choose to. Authority is there to be worked around, circumvented and undermined, and, most of all, to be taken over. It's a good thing we rank so high; insurrection is entirely within my forefathers capability.
We love completely and utterly. Many of my kin avoid love like a pox, aware of its power over us. The worst of my family have been those who completely rejected love, or who lost those they love. Anyone is dangerous when grieving; a Black, with access to generations of knowledge, wealth and power, is particularly deadly. The Blood Feud mentioned above? It was started by a Black male who was in love with a young witch bound by contract to another wizard. Her name was Freyja, and she and Cetus Black had five children and were married for ninety-seven years.
I am every inch a Slytherin and a Black, Ophelia. I contrive and plot, talk my rivals into their own doom, and would kill an enemy without hesitation. Walburga has no notion how lucky she is to be in prison, because my plans for the day she leave Torr Prison are detailed and extensive. If Sirius had died that day, I would have made London look fondly on the Blitz.
Now that I've listed all my worst faults, I should warn you of more minor ones; namely a perverse sense of humor — which you have experience with — as well as the habit of falling back on formality which I've already demonstrated.
Oh, and I give ridiculous, extravagant gifts for the most minor of occasions. Now that you've acknowledged my suit, I am unrestrained by protocol. Enjoy your first birthday present.
P.S. Don't even try to give anything back, lovely. You can hiss at me over your gift , though, if you like. I do admire your temper, particularly when you start ranting and your eyes brighten.
P.S.S. I would like to escort you to a private dinner on the evening of the 31st. We can discuss the details when you appear to shout at me for my high handedness.
Torn between laughing and throwing something, preferably at the head of arrogant bastard of a wix, Ophelia flipped open the box accompanying the letter.
"That fucking lunatic!" The man needed a mind healer!
Against black silk, a coiled mithril serpent rested, diamond and emerald scales radiant in the light.
Debrett's New Guide to Etiquette and
Modern Magical Manners
An Indispensable Guide For Everyday and Occasion
Updated Edition for the Modern Wix
Author's Note on the Updated Edition and Modern Style
Part One — Rites of Passage
1 Birth, Name Days, School Acceptance Letters and Other Celebrations of Childhood
2 Courtships, Engagements, and Betrothals
3 Weddings, Handfastings and Ritual Marriages
4 Separation and Divorce
6 Deaths, Funerals, and Memorial Services
Part Two — Social Life
7 Royal, Diplomatic, Noble, Political and Other Formal Occasions
8 The Written Word: Letters, Contracts, Business Documents and Owl Post
9 The Spoken Word
10 In Private: The Conduct of Personal Relationships and Sexual Intimacy
11 In Public: Manners Out and About
12 Entertaining: Wix and Muggle Events and Occasions
13 Magical Manners: Wand and Magic Use, Ethics, and Rights
14 The New Relationship with Domestic Staff and House Elves
15 Business Manners and Contact with the Goblin Horde
16 Table Manners: Wix, Muggle, Goblin, Elf, Fae, Veela, Dwarf and Six Other Magical
17 Dress: Daytime, Formal Business, Dress, School, and Modern Muggle
A Correct Forms of Address, Wixen
B Correct Forms of Address, Muggle
Courtships, Engagements, and Betrothals
(or, Why the Old Days Were Not Better and
You Should Be Grateful Marriage Contracts Are Passé)
Regardless of what members of your family or acquaintances may say, things were not simpler when marriage contracts were the norm; "this modern nonsense" is not more complicated, and you should be very grateful for it. Contrary to the revisionist history you have been told, marriage contracts that bound two strangers were never the norm in Britain. They were, in fact, more common prior to 1900, but even in the time of the Founders of Hogwarts, contracts were not everyday occurrences.
This is not to say that arranged marriages were rare; the binding of wealth, family, land, and magical gifts was very common. However, two people were introduced, in person or by correspondence, and would generally partake in a modified courtship period. The modern courtship protocols are a blend of this arranged courting, and those of the more organic 'romantic' courtships of the lower classes. Betrothal contracts were very common; they involved the negotiation of dowry, property, inheritance, and the rights and responsibilities of both spouses and their families. Nor were they limited to Peers and Nobility; Guilds have historically negotiated on behalf of their members on such occasions.
True marriage contracts, binding virtual strangers with no room for negotiation or period of courtship, were primarily brought about by Blood Feuds, violent disputes over land or resources, by Royal Decree, or as part of diplomatic actions with foreign societies. Now, however, Wixen have more civilized methods of dealing with potential war, which is to go to war. The modern wix should be very grateful of this.
There are several stages of formal courtship, though a more informal and casual relationship may not make distinction between these. Before we discuss the actual courtship, there is a point to be made. Despite the old fashioned language used to describe the rules of a publicly conducted relationship, the protocols of courtship are primarily meant to ensure compatibility, polite conduct, and, above all else, consent. Courting can be ended by either party at any time; there is no protocol that allows one party to force the other to bear attentions they do not wish to. Nor are there any restrictions on the intimacy engaged in, beyond the ever present expectation of consent and respect for choice.
In other words, wixen, sex is permitted; sexual intimacy does not end a courtship, nor does it hurry the conclusion. Be grateful for your magic, which permits safe contraception and sexual health and hygiene. Muggles have only had the same for decades, whereas wix have had a society shaped for more than a thousand years by the ability of a witch to control her fertility. This, paired with our lack of patriarchal religions, paternity spells, and having magic as an equalizing force between genders, means that witches in Europe have long had an equality that modern Muggle women are only just receiving.
Embrace the freedom and respect that being a witch had granted you. Courting sounds old fashioned, but it is an institution built on respect and choice.
Stages of Courtship
Here we will discuss the stages of a courtship and the protocols of same; first in brief overview and then in greater detail. While sexual intimacy will be mentioned in regards to courting, detailed discussion on the etiquette and manners of sex in contained in Chapter 10.
Attraction: This is the casual interaction of two (or more) wix by means of public interaction. It includes finding if another is attractive and attracted to you through shared company. Flowers and simple gifts may be exchanged, as well as time spent on dates. Exclusivity is not explicit in this stage. If those involved are underaged, there may be a strict expectation of remaining in public, or casual chaperonage. Sex is not forbidden, though it can be frowned upon depending on the length of acquaintance; underaged sex discouraged, unless one partner is an adult, and then it is illegal.
Declaration: Also the Intent stage, demonstrated by an offered gift referred to as a Declaration of Intent. One wix offers a gift that demonstrates a desire to engage in a more formal, more serious relationship. The gift, which is freely given and not returned even if the Intent is rejected, should be of some but reasonable value. It is most often jewelry or something personal, but not intimate. Young wix often give modest jewelry; lockets or bracelets or similar tokens. Gifts that are very expensive or flashy are considered presumptuous or in poor taste, while generic items are looked on as lazy or lacking. The greater the thought given to the gift, the greater the affection and respect behind the gesture. Remember, this Declaration is a demonstration of intention and feelings, not an attempt to buy affection or sex.
If the gift is accepted, the two wix are now considered to be in an exclusive relationship and proceed to the next stage of courtship. If the gift is rejected, it should be done politely. The exception to this is if a Declaration is made when the gifter has been told they are not welcome or has been previously rejected and not invited to renew their attentions. In such a case, rejection can be made forcefully, even publicly.
Intimate Courtship: This does not automatically include sexual intimacy, though it is permitted between consenting adults. The intimate stage involves personal interactions and both public and private engagements. This stage may last months or years. While it does involve gift —giving, these gifts are meant to be expressions of love and respect, proof of feelings and not a substitute for attention and time spent with your beau.
This stage does, however, include gifts that show an understanding of the recipient, demonstrate respect for them, and express feelings and the ability of the gifter to provide in the future. Note that while wizards are generally the gifter, witches may not only return the gestures but may initiate them. Nor is this wholly a demonstration of wealth; while the noble and wealthy Houses may make gifts of value and extravagance, anyone regardless of their age or status may present gifts such as flowers containing detailed meaning and messages of love and respect.
Not all couples strictly adhere to the guidelines and protocols outlined in this chapter; many modern relationships blend the stages of courting together. There is nothing wrong with this as long as the underlying intentions remain; consent, respect, affection and honest feelings. Those who do follow protocol explicitly are often traditionalist; however in relationships with substantial differences in rank, fortune, or age, strict protocol demonstrates respectful devotion and sincerity of intentions. Famously, Tristan Beroul, a wix soldier of the 12th century, courted Lady Iseult of Tara for five years, adhering to the strictest of courtship protocols to demonstrate his sincere love despite their different classes.
Chapter 10: Chapter Eight
Nerves and opinionated companions. Also, Alphard.
Orion and Ophelia have their first date.
July 31, 1975
Ophelia had gotten used to being naked in front of an audience. The moment she stood before her wardrobe, debating options, the Goddesses inevitably showed up to make their opinions known. All three lined up on her bed, loudly sneering several choices of robes and demonstrating distain each time she muttered about overbearing wizards with too much gold and not enough sense.
The light flashed off of the diamond serpent on her vanity, laughing at her.
Huffing, she glared at it, along with the other gifts Orion had sent her over the last few days. The bastard had taken the wind right out of her fury the day after Sirius delivered the snake bracelet; his second gift was a very functional Rune pen, perfectly crafted and sure to last a lifetime, along with a dozen platinum tips and crystal ink and potion wells. The flat case was made of cedar — her wand wood, a choice meant to show his attention to detail respect for her craft — and beautifully carved. Expensive, yes, but functional and something a Rune Master could use everyday in the pursuit of their craft. Sneaky.
The third gift, which had arrived today — the boys had monopolized yesterday, with flowers gathered from their garden and faerie glass collected from the island's Faerie Pools — had seemed simple at first glance. A golden dragon pendant containing a modest fiery opal and matching earrings. It was the kind of thing she might wear day to day, or with black formal robes.
Until Tully had clapped excitedly, exclaiming about Lord Duke being a proper wizard with a proper sense of what Tully's Lady was due.
"Oh, Lady, that is being a dragon opal; very magical and rare. Touch it with yous magics." Reluctantly, she'd brushed her magic against the burning stone — and felt it gather the energy she touched it with, storing it and glowing brighter in the process.
"See? Dragon opal gathers magic, not just what yous give it but magics from all around you. Lady Ophelia can be using the magics later, for rituals or if bad things happen. Very powerful, very useful." Tully nodded, pleased with the Lord Duke's obvious understanding of his Lady's worth.
Very expensive. A Floo call to Stonewill had informed her that dragon opal was the third rarest magical gemstone; the one Orion had given her was worth more than the diamond pavé bracelet and the rune pen set.
The man was a lunatic.
She held up a pale gold robe. "What about this one?" Sekhmet sneered and Neith sneezed. "You three are not helpful." Bastet growled. "I don't even know where we're going! What if we end up in Muggle London?" At the Goddesses baleful glare she sighed. "Fine, that's unlikely."
Ophelia didn't know while this was hard. She had two sets of memories involving lessons in how to dress for every occasion; both the men who raised her had been clothes horses and experienced in many social milieus. She might not know where Orion planned to take her, but she had a good idea of what a pureblood Duke would consider appropriate for a formal dinner date. Yet, each robe she reached for was too casual or too elaborate.
She was stalling and she knew it. Ophelia hated being indecisive.
It came down to how she intended to respond to Orion's initial moves. She'd returned his declaration, but he'd wrongfooted her with his recent gifts and Phee hadn't regained her balance. Venting her temper had amused him, and despite the over-the-top gesture, his gifts were beautiful. All but the serpent were functional, as well, and very obviously intended for her instead of being generic. Also, the extensive protective spells and poison wards on each piece of jewelry was quite sweet, if moderately paranoid.
She could return the gesture with expensive gifts of her own, but that was both repetitive and ridiculous. The beginning of a plan for a future date in response to this one was already taking shape, but that still left her at a loss today.
"Right. If I were a wealthy pureblood lord who who decided to court a witch, what would set me back on my heels?" Hands on her hips, she turned to the Goddesses. "Any ideas?" Sekhmet posed regally, eyeing her, before she began to groom. "Hmmm. And you ladies agree, I see. Alright then." Ophelia turned back to her wardrobe. "Knocking him on his arse it is, then."
Orion's hands didn't falter as he fastened his cufflinks, but the mirror informed him he looked a little tremulous. He should be; he hadn't had a date in twelve years. Nearly nine of them he'd been married and, while he could admit to several brief affairs during the time, it was hardly the same thing. Once his grandfather had bound him by contract, he'd considered it an insult to date any woman who he could offer no future to.
Fixing his the white linen and lace of his cravat, he considered whether this was what insanity felt like. He was forty-six years old, young for a powerful wizard, divorced and a father as well a Peer who controlled the vast wealth of an ancient family; and his stomach was knotted like a schoolboy's over a date with a woman half his age.
A woman whose formidable temper still made him grin days after it had broken over him like a wave. Orion chuckled softly at the memory of Ophelia's epic rant about idiot wizards with more gold than good sense, and who thought an appropriate birthday gift was ten thousand galleons of mithril and diamonds. The runic pen had won him a huff and a soft warm look; Sirius and Regulus had earned an afternoon of her undivided attention for their present.
The dragon opal, however, had gotten him a very earnest look and a question of whether he needed a mind healer. He hadn't laughed so hard since… well, he didn't know when.
"That's better, Cousin, you looked pale for a moment."
"Alphard," he sighed.
"In the flesh," his cousin replied cheerfully from the doorway to his dressing room. "I thought I'd pop in for dinner, but my darling nephews were very eager to tell me all about your big date. Pulling out all the stops, are we?" he questioned, pointing to the silver and black damask waistcoat in Orion's hands.
"Just because your idea of a date involves being naked, doesn't mean others do." He buttoned the waistcoat, refusing to second guess his choice. An hour in front of his wardrobe was enough for any one day. His watch chain was attached to the front and slid in his pocket, and the emerald stickpin at his throat adjusted minutely.
"Everyone's idea of a date should involve being naked — or at least end up that way. Don't tell me you don't have plans leaning that way, cousin." Alphard's chuckle faded under Orion's glare. "Alright, then, nevermind."
"Do occasionally remove your mind from the gutter, Alphard, and join the rest of us." He settled his black damask robe on his shoulders. The style was more of a knee-length jacket than a traditional full-length and layered robe, but the more modern style was appealing and slowly gaining ground. Ophelia tended toward modest but modern fashions.
"Very stylish, old man, and shockingly modern. What will the rest of the Sacred Twenty-Eight think?"
"The only people who take that nonsense seriously are the Nott family, since one of their own came up with it. Even most of the Sacred Twenty-Eight find the term ridiculous — particularly as the only families so named are ones that the Nott family married into." The box of floral hair pins he'd chosen in place of a bouquet went into his pocket.
Turning to his cousin, Orion arched a brow. "Just happened to pop in for dinner, you said." Alphard grinned unrepentantly. "Excellent; you can stay with the boys tonight, then. I'm sure they'll enjoy your company at dinner — don't forget bedtime at eight."
Alphard scowled. "I flew right into that one, didn't I? Ah, well." He smiled slyly. "I notice you're wearing an emerald pin instead of your usual diamond one. That would happen to have anything to do with a certain lass's eyes, would it?"
Orion had only a moment to register that Ophelia was wearing the serpent bracelet before his thoughts became tangled. She was magnificent.
A dark green robe that should have been both stark and modest, with its high collar and floor length skirt, was made exceptional by the lush velvet fabric, fitted cut, and subtle beading at the collar. But it was the narrow, slashing vee from collar to waist that drew the eye. Against the bare skin between her breasts, Ophelia wore a flashing diamond pendant on a delicate silver chain; more diamonds littered her hair, piled at the back of her head and tumbling down her back in a cascade of flame.
After pausing to give him the full effect, she smiled, catlike. "Will this suit? Or should I change?"
He seized his rioting thoughts, rolled his tongue back up, and sternly told his cock to behave. "Vixen."
The seductress disappeared as she laughed brightly. Her honest amusement made her all the more alluring. "You deserved it and you know it."
He caught her hand and brought it to his lips. Her laugh became a blush; the siren, shy. "If this is how you respond to gifts, I'm going to send you one a week." She huffed. "Perhaps two."
"Liar." He wasn't, but best not to tell her that. "Now can I know where we're going?"
Smiling, he said, "Patience, lovely." He offered her the box from his pocket and nearly laughed at her reflexive step back.
"For Hecate's sake, Orion!" She glared at him, drawing her hands behind her back. "Put that away!"
Now he did laugh. "I promise you this box won't bite, and nothing inside of it is expensive." He shook the box.
Scowling, Ophelia accepted it. "It's not a priceless magestone, or a chunk of merlinite, or a soul beryl, is it?"
"No — why, would you like those?"
"No!" Her lips twitched. "You wretched man, stop teasing me. It's unnatural to be wary of presents, but that's what you've reduced me to." Opening the case, a slight glow illuminated Ophelia's smile. "Oh! They're lovely." There were two dozen charmed hair pins in the box, each with a flower made of faerie glass; the clear shards collected in Faerie Pools and, when gathered, would glow gently for years afterward.
"Am I forgiven?"
She huffed. "Yes, Orion, I forgive you for giving me forty thousand galleons worth of presents in a matter of days. Though whether I forgive you for making me act like a madwoman is another matter." She pointed her finger at him sharply. Her coiled serpent flashed in the light, sparkling. "But if you give me anything more expensive than these pins between now and Yule, we will have words ."
Her senior elf, Tully, appeared and accepted the box. The elf examined his mistress carefully before nodding. "The Lady looks very pretty. Yous has everything? Yous wand? Is Lady needing a cloak?"
Laughing, she told him to, "Stop it, you fussy old thing! Yes, I have my wand; what kind of witch would forget that?"
"Is always a first!"
"Go find someone else to scold, Tully." The elf sniffed and popped away, leaving Ophelia giggling.
When she turned back to him, Orion offered his hand. "Will you let me Apparate us?" She nodded and took his hand, then blinked when he drew her against his body instead of holding her arm in the more typical stance for Side-Along Apparition. Hesitantly, she pressed against him. "Close your eyes." When she did, he brushed his lips against her hair, focused, and Apparated.
When the sensation of Side-Along faded, Ophelia reluctantly drew away from Orion. She opened her eyes and found him staring at her intently, his hands resting on her hips.
After a moment, he stepped back and she looked away for something to distract her. Immediately, she found it. "Where… is this Underhill?"
The path they stood on shimmered with mist, and above them thousand-year old trees formed a dense tunnel. Fairies danced in the branches, flickering lights darting among the leaves. In front of her, a ring of stone opened into a hill, golden light spilling out.
"Yes. The Tuatha De Danann created this faerie space for Ireland’s Wixen when they began to hide from Muggles. I considered Paris," Orion mused, "but it's so cliche." She laughed and accepted his arm.
Inside the Underhill, a large town sprawled out through the vast and layered caverns. There was no lack of light, even in the evening; instead of dark soil, the underside of the hill above them gleamed with crystal and white translucent stone. Part of this artificial sky burned with a reflected sunset; on the other side, white moonlight glowed. Darting fairy lights were common, as were witch lights of many colours.
They drifted through the narrow streets and market; past a park erupting with muggle and magical plants and houses that rose, crooked, above the cobbles. Restaurants, pubs, storefronts and vendors abounded, as did wixen of every variety. All in a space that didn’t really exist but was as real as the Aboveground.
Orion had a destination in mind, keeping them meandering the same direction as they explored. Eventually they left the streets and entered a green, as large the vast parks of Dublin. Paths and trees abounded; Orion lead her along a cheerful stream.
"You have to bring the boys here."
He smiled. "We came for Yule. Italy was lovely, but snow is necessary for a proper celebration. We stayed in an inn overlooking this park, there," he pointed out a building in the distance, "for two weeks, and Sirius managed to find every sweet shop in the East End."
"Where are we going?"
"Somewhere I didn't take the boys."
He pulled her through a stone arch, and into Faerieland.
"Welcome to Titania's, Your Grace." She didn't hear the conversation between Orion and the hostess, too busy gazing at the the outdoor restaurant. It certainly seemed to belong to Titania; a lush garden of a Faerie Queen, wild and overgrown and barely tamed. Each table was tucked into a bower of greenery lit with candles and witch lights and fairies. Nearby, a glittering waterfall cascaded through a series of glowing Faerie Pools.
The hostess led them to a bower on the far side of the garden and left them with a smile. Ophelia accepted Orion's hand and let him lower her into the scattered pillows. As he joined her, a small blue fairy drifted down from the branches.
The little creature settled on her shoulder, reaching out and touching a loose curl. It hummed and chittered at her and she said, "Thank you; you're beautiful too." The fairy glowed brighter and darted away.
Orion was watching her again. She might have scolded or deflected, but found herself far too charmed to be embarrassed by his obvious regard. "So I definitely forgive you, and you get points for tonight, Your Grace."
"How many points?"
"All the points; Slytherin is definitely in the lead." He laughed and poured sparkling Veela wine from the bottle that appeared on the table. "Do we order? Or have you already?"
"It's a series of platters, like a tasting menu. Everyone gets a little of everything, from appetizer to dessert and everything in between."
He meant everything. Dishes of cheese and meat; tiny amuse bouche, tapas platters and bites of exotic flavours. There were thimble-sized cups of coffees and liquors to match chocolate nibbles, and glasses of sherry paired with cured ham. Fish and meat, grilled vegetables, mundane made magical and wixen ingredients fit for the Faerie Queen. The desserts were, quite literally, beyond her ability to describe.
As they ate through all of Europe and beyond, they talked. Sirius and Regulus, her travels and his past; Walburga and Orion's marriage and it's ending. They continued conversations that were already ongoing, and opened new ones over the most amazing meal she'd eaten in two lifetimes.
"Wait, you took all your NEWTs through the ICW?"
"Of course — it wasn't like I went to a regular school. My education was international; it only seemed appropriate that my grades should be. Besides, Uncle Paddy thought it was important, and even though he was gone by then, I wanted to honour that."
"No, lovely, how many NEWTs did you score, not take."
"I told you."
and: "Father will probably live a long life, and he can cast magic without trouble, even duel. But the weight of the Family Magic, especially since there are so many of us, causes fluctuations in the magical core that his can't regulate properly. He could probably manage for a while with monitoring charms, but eventually his core would destabilize and kill him."
"So you took up burden."
"Well, I haven't had Badenburg's Disease, so it isn't much of a burden, but yes. And, since I had taken the Patriarch role, he insisted on abdicating the title as well. He is still Lord Black of the House of Black, but outside the family I lead the House."
"And I'm sure that didn't cause any tension at all."
"Oh, no, why would a son taking over his father's role while the man is still alive cause any trouble at all?"
or: "I don't know if I should thank you for introducing Loki and Sirius, or wish you to Hades."
"Oh, this sounds like a story I want to hear."
Eventually the food stopped coming and the wine ran dry. She found herself wandering along the Faerie Pools with Orion; she slid her hand from his arm to link their fingers. He looked surprised for a heartbeat, then smiled and continued walking.
"For what, lovely."
"Well, how about not changing your mind when I was a lunatic over a beautiful gift."
"You mean the ridiculously extravagant gift I knew would make you lose your temper? Or the other one?"
She laughed. "Both."
"I promise to limit my attempts to spark your fury in the future."
"You could promise to try not to do it at all."
"Impossible. You have no idea what you look like full of fire and rage."
"I look like a banshee, and I sound like one as well."
"Not a bit, though you are quite terrifying. More like a Fury."
"Sane men avoid Furies."
"Lovely, no one would accuse a Black of sanity."
"I'm going to push you in this pool in a moment," she told him seriously, firming her lips against a smile.
He examined her carefully. "Not tonight, but you can try if you wear white next time. That way, when I pull you in with me… " he trailed off, suggestively.
"Alright!" she laughed, "Remind me not to wear white." He helped her over a trickle of a stream. "So much for a gentlewizard."
She found her chin caught in his grip and tilted upwards. "Ophelia, very little of the gentile occurs to me right now." Carefully, he touched his lips to hers.
Her eyes fluttered opened as he withdrew. Reluctantly, he stepped back. "That, I think, is all the temptation I can manage for one night."
Whatever happened to her, whoever she was now, one thing remained true about Ophelia Ianthe; she was a Gryffindor at heart. And that? That definitely sounded like a challenge.
She smiled at Orion, and seized him by the robe. "I wasn't finished." Then hauled him back into a kiss.
There was nothing gentle this time. Apparently he'd been telling the truth, because she found herself seized in return, held in a fierce embrace, and kissed breathless. It was amazing. Teeth and heat and, gods, the man could kiss. She wasn't inexperienced, but she also wasn't the expert Orion seemed to be. Ophelia intended to take tuition from the master. Repeatedly, and at length.
Eventually they needed to breath, and broke off, exchanging shorter, softer kisses. Orion cursed under his breath. "Not quite what I planned."
She nipped his lip. "Such a Slytherin. Do you think you were the only one with plans? Because this is pretty much what I had in mind when I put on this robe."
He blew her mind with another long kiss before saying, "Where did you get that robe, and are there more like it in your closet."
"You'll just have to find out."
"I look forward to it."
"Orion?" He hmmed at the hinge of her jaw. "Hold on."
"Why — " His question was cut off by Ophelia Apparating them both from Ireland to her bedroom.
Chapter 11: Chapter Nine
(bow chicka wow wow)
Also, real plot development. After the sexy times.
August 1, 1975
Haven Manor, Fara Island
Orion had not intended to end the evening this way, but the lady had made her wishes known. What kind of gentlewizard refused such an invitation?
"Why do wizards wear so many bleeding clothes?"
He laughed against her throat. "So we have time to enjoy it when a witch wants to tear them off us."
She shoved his robe off his shoulders and attacked his waistcoat. "You could help me."
"Actually, I'm fine right here." He nudged her high collar aside and pressed sucking kisses down her neck and collarbone. Her hands faltered slightly, then resumed. His cravat and shirt followed after his outerwear.
Ophelia's blunt nails scraped across his shoulders before he abruptly turned her, trapping her back against his chest. She hissed at him in frustration, then gasped when his hands slid into the opening of her robe to cup her breasts.
"I've spent all night thinking about just what this robe offers."
She arched against his hand as he toyed with her nipple. "It was designed for someone with actual breasts."
Ophelia was, admittedly, small breasted and delicately built. That hardly mattered, though. "I promise you, the desired effect remains." While she was distracted by his right hand, his left slid lower. The merest silk separated his fingers from her clitoris and did nothing to protect it. She moaned as he explored her.
There was something visceral about being half naked with a woman who was fully dressed, and the fact that she was at his mercy only ramped up that feeling. Orion kissed her jaw and throat as he worked Ophelia through an orgasm, her sighs and shudders arousing him further. When she stiffened and cried out, he gentled his touch but didn't remove his hands from her. Eventually, she sighed, "mmmm."
He caught her earlobe in his teeth. "Tell me what you want."
He smiled, "A little specificity, please."
"Oh, for… you need instructions?"
He pinched her nipple in retaliation. "I'd like you to make your wishes and desires clear so I can fulfill them, yes."
She turned her head and kissed him, then informed him pertly. "I'd like us to both be naked and then I want you to fuck my pussy with your cock, Your Grace. I'll leave the exact position and location up to you."
Orion was fairly sure he'd never laughed while throbbing hard, but Ophelia seemed to excel at introducing him to new sensations. "As you wish, Baroness." A wandless spell left them both naked, and he lowered both of them to her bed.
Ophelia tugged him back into a kiss, and they spent several long minutes indulging. Hands tangled in each other's hair, their legs entwined, and they used teeth and tongue to good effect. He brushed his fingertips over the curve of her breast and down her side; Ophelia squirmed and laughed at the tickle then moaned when he nudged the head of his cock in her pussy. "Fuck's sake, Orion, please!" The last word caught in her throat as he bottomed out.
"Fuck," he groaned. "Ophelia." He withdrew and thrust back, making them both shudder.
He set a fast pace, encouraged by Ophelia's sighs and fierce urging in his ear. He shifted to kneel, lifted her arse into his lap, and fucked her hard while her back arched off the bed. She cursed him in French and ordered him to "stop holding back, fuck, am I fragile ?"
"What will it take to shut you up?" he wondered.
"For you to fuck me like you mean it!" Orion took her challenge, and did so until she was reduced to incomprehensible noises; he moaned greedily when she came around him, shifting positions so he pound into her.
"Come on," she panted, digging her fingers into his back and rolling her hips into each thrust. Magic drifted along their skin, responding to their need and emotions in the adult version of accidental magic. Little sparks caused flashes of heat, driving them both higher until they both came with shouts and awash with golden light.
"So," he sighed against her breast later, "that's what stops you from being cheeky with me."
Ophelia laughed quietly. "And it takes being naked and ordering you to fuck me before you stop being so damned formal."
Kissing his way along the curve of her breast, he smiled to himself when she shivered. "You could try begging instead of ordering this time."
"What — fuck!" Orion sucked the nipple he'd just bitten and shifted, driving his still-hard cock deeper. "Oh fuck me! Again?"
"That's rather the point, lovely."
Ophelia hummed softly as she braided her hair in a loose plait. "Thank the Goddess for magic." Hair care spells were the only thing that made her wild curls manageable even on a good day. After a few energetic romps in bed? Hacking it off would have been easier than physically brushing out the tangles. "Being a witch is so much more comfortable than being a muggle woman." Tossing the braid over her shoulder, she accepted the glass of wine orion had poured for her.
Propped up by a mound of pillows and headboard, they sipped pale wine and basked. Orion kissed her shoulder, asking "You enjoyed your birthday?"
"Which part? The expensive and thoughtful gifts? The amazing evening and food? The orgasms?"
He nipped her in punishment. "I know you enjoyed the orgasms."
"You weren't complaining earlier."
"Actually, I remember making several complaints — mainly about being treated like a timid virgin in a romance novel."
"There's nothing timid or virginal about you, especially when you're naked."
Ophelia frowned playfully. "Are you saying I'm shameless?"
He kissed her pout, tasting of wine. "You enjoy and own your pleasure.. That's a powerful and appealing thing. Trust me, lovely, there's nothing less arousing than passivity in bed."
"Oh! Is this the part where we discuss past lovers? Or do you need to be dressed for that, so you don't feel inadequate in comparison?" His glare made her laugh. "I'm kidding. Mostly." The man had nothing to feel inferior about, either in technique or measurement.
"Finish your wine, Lia."
She swallowed the last sip. "Why?"
Orion smiled darkly, her only warning. In short order, Ophelia found herself flat on her back, gasping at the cool wine trickling of her breasts and stomach. Before she could curse him, Orion discarded his glass and chased after the cool liquid with his mouth. The chill followed by the heat of his tongue made her squirm. "This is — oh — not hygienic — "
"Would you like me to stop?" he breathed against the damp skin of her belly. In response, she tangled her hands in his hair and held on.
Orion licked a path down to her bare pussy and then settled in like it was his job and he wanted a bonus. He tongue fucked her until she was panting for breath, then used his teeth on her clit. Ophelia cried out, arching as she came.
Rather than move away, he kept working her with his mouth and fingers. Soothing her through her first orgasm — this round — soon became a race to the next. "Son of a — fuck — most men roll over and pass out, you know." Ophelia shouted when he retaliated for that with a firm slap to her thigh. "You know I'm right. " Apparently Orion was tired of her cheek, because he shut her up the best way he'd found — his cock.
"Magic is the best thing," she told him sleepily, curling into her bedding.
"Besides hair and makeup spells — ‘cause I'd have hair two inches long and have blinded myself with a mascara wand without magic — and not having to wear a bra, not that I really need one, and Permanent Hair Removal charms instead of having to shave, and contraception spells, and all the sex health and hygiene stuff," she waved a hand, indicating the stuff and making Orion chuckle, "and, you know, magic — what was I saying?"
He kissed her, unable to resist her while she was warm and cuddly, half asleep, and rambling. "Magic is the best thing," he reminded her.
"Right! Magic is the best thing, cause it means a powerful healthy wizard in his forties has the stamina and recovery time of a muggle in his early twenties." She smiled at him. "That's not a challenge, 'kay? Tomorrow."
Laughing, he assured her: "that's not a challenge, just a compliment. Go to sleep, lovely."
She drifted off and he watched her for a few moments before carefully rising from the bed. A flick of his wand gathered the diamond pins scattered in the bed and on the floor; he found her dress robe and shook it out, draping in over a chair back. There was no need to risk the velvet being ruined; Orion hoped to see that particular robe in the future. He restored the jewelry she'd removed earlier to the jewel case on her vanity.
Finished stalling, Orion returned to the bed. A twitched finger called one of the floating witch lights closer, illuminating something he'd seen earlier. In the centre of Ophelia's back, directly over her spine, a series of black concentric circles formed an elaborate ritual diagram.
He wasn't a rune master or an arithmancer, but after his primary interest in defensive and offensive magic, rituals were a major focus for him. Much of the mark was too complicated to decipher at a glance, but he recognized some aspects of the diagram.
Runes for love, sacrifice and offering. An array for blood magic and ritual. The mark of Isis, Horus, and Ceridwen; the greek signs for Hades and memory and safe passage. Egyptian hieroglyphs for death and rebirth and judgment; the sigil of Ma'at and the weighing of the soul. And, in a central point of the converging array, the symbol of Time.
Orion brushed his fingers down Ophelia's spine. And wondered.
Alphard loved his nephews-slash-cousins — gods, pureblood families, honestly — but he was very glad to see his cousin-slash-ex-brother-in-law return. And not just so he could tease the man until Orion was ready to curse him — though that would be fun, too. Children were exhausting, and the clever ones were the worst. Since there was no doubt of his nephews’ cleverness, he was very tired.
Who knew children woke before seven in the morning? He renewed his vow to limit his child-rearing to spoiling his various nieces and nephews.
"And where have you been, young man?" he smirked at Orion. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"
Orion arched a brow. "Forget the tempus spell again, have you, Alphard?"
No one got the best of Orion, but fencing with him was a pleasure. "Certainly not, which is why I know you got in at half ten. That’s AM, Orion, not PM."
His cold-blooded cousin continued to sort the correspondence that had piled on his desk. "Yes, Alphard."
"What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Enjoy your time with the boys, did you?"
Huffing, he dropped into an armchair. "Merlin, do they ever wind down? Reggie finally crashed, but Sirius and that creature of his were in and out of bed until almost eleven."
"Sounds about right."
"No doubt you were up even later." Alphard waggled his eyebrows. "Well?"
The cold, flat stare that earned him would make an enemy of the House of Black piss themselves. "Step cautiously."
"I only wanted to know if your evening was worth the anxiety." Because any witch who made the Duke of Ravensmoor that twitchy about a dinner date sounded interesting. "And when I get to meet this Scottish rose."
"Yes, congratulations, Orion, you can tell time. I meant — "
"You can meet her at lunchtime," Orion drawled. "And since that's now, she's in the parlour greeting the boys."
Alphard leapt from the chair. "Well, what are we doing in here? You can't keep a lady waiting, Orion! Honestly, your manners." He headed for the study door.
"Alphard." That was the Duke's voice, so he gave Orion all due attention. All teasing aside, he respected his cousin's strength, ruthlessness, and ability to come out on top. "If you cross the line with her, you won't have to worry about me ending you. Ophelia will serve you your own liver as pate."
"Sounds like your kind of witch."
They heard the boys before they reached the parlour, chattering happily. Regulus was settled in the lap of a pretty witch, explaining something earnestly, with frequent interruptions from Sirius. Orion went to them, patting Sirius' shoulder and bending to kiss the lady’s cheek.
"Sirius asked Izzy to set up lunch in the garden," she told him.
"That's fine." Orion plucked Reggie up and offered her his hand. "As long as it's soon. I'm starving."
Sirius giggled. "That's what I always say!"
"Well, you certainly eat like you are."
Alphard wandered over to offer his arm. "Alphard Black, the handsome cousin."
Sharp green eyes laughed at him. "Is that what they told you?"
"Ouch! Orion, you didn't tell me your witch had such a vicious tongue."
Orion snorted. "I have to have fun somehow, don't I?"
Alphard leered playfully at both his cousin and Ophelia. " 'Fun'? Isn't that what happened last night — "
Ophelia pointed a finger at him. "Unless you want to be the one to explain s-e-x to a seven- and three-year old, stop talking."
He remained silent until they reached the luncheon table in the garden, not because the threat frightened him — Orion would never let him be the one to explain such a thing to his boys — but because Orion's pretty witch had Silenced him.
Wandlessly, wordlessly, with a single gesture. Impressive.
Orion drew him away as the others settled at the table, exclamations over favorite foods covering the Black lord's scolding, "Alphard." He drew his wand and ended the silencing spell, to Orion's surprise. "What… ?"
"Congratulations, Cousin, on finding a witch who can leave a man speechless, literally. I only have a few questions." Orion arched a brow. "Where did you find her, and are there anymore like her? What does she see in you? And, how the devil did a woman like that stay single long enough to meet you?"
Orion laughed. "Shut up, Alphard."
He was only a little kidding. "No, really, she travelled all over the world, right? The swath of broken hearts — and erect cocks — in her wake must be extensive."
Orion glared. "Alphard, you aren't allowed to talk about sex, cocks, or anything connected to either while you're within a mile of my sons."
"I'm Sirius' godfather — I'm pretty sure corrupting him is my job," Alphard smirked.
"Not until he's an adolescent."
"I don't seem to remember that particular caveat." Orion growled. "Yes, fine, if only to avoid having to be the one to explain what sex is to him."
"Orion, stop enabling him and come eat." Ophelia called out.
"What's enabling mean?" Sirius wanted to know as they came to the table.
"It's what your father does when he lets your uncle tease him instead of just hexing the man."
Alphard laughed as he took a seat. Sirius looked confused. "I thought Father let Uncle tease him ‘cause he always wins."
He sputtered. "Please, Sirius, I let your father win when we argue."
Both boys looked at him, patently unbelieving. He turned to Ophelia. "You believe me, don't you, Lovely? Ouch!" A silent stinging hex made him jump. "What was that for?"
" Don't call me ‘lovely’, Black."
"It's a compliment!"
"That's what Father calls Phee sometimes. You shouldn't use it," Sirius scolded. "You should call her Lady Ophelia."
"Not Phee?" he asked, amused. Either Sirius had picked up some of his father's formality, or he was feeling a little possessive.
"No, Phee is what Reggie and I use. She's our Phee."
Ophelia — Lady Ophelia, apparently — laughed into her napkin. Orion sighed. "Sirius, we discussed the fact that you don't get to claim witches."
"I didn't say we were keeping her, just that she's ours." Regulus nodded, and both boys looked baffled at the adult laughter that followed.
The DAILY PROPHET
Saturday, August 16, 1975
The reclusive Lord B— of R— was seen last night in Vienna in the company of a very charming witch previously unknown to Society. The Peer and lady in question were seen at a famous and notoriously private restaurant in the Magical District; a source of the Prophet overheard Lord B— make mention of the theatre, but the pair could not be seen in the audience. Perhaps one of the private boxes played host to the English Peer and his companion during the performance of The Veela's Lover . The witch in question, a redhead seen wearing a daring robe from Mme Peignoir's new collection, which has been decried as modern and muggle by fashion-minded society matrons of Britain. Lord B— has been out of society since the shocking events of last November, when he divorced W— after her conviction and imprisonment. Perhaps this is a sign that the gentleman is ready to return amongst society; pureblood witches should be prepared for competition in seeking his favour.
Great House of Black
333 Chipping Cross
Old Market, Yorkshire
August 18, 1975
Charis Black Crouch
You have, of course, read the scandalous gossip in The Daily Prophet . I'm certain it is nonsense; Orion knows what is due to The Family and his position and would not be seen in public with whatever lowly creature he is satiating his baser desires with. Still, that the Prophet would dare to gossip about a Black!
Obviously, it is up to The Family to ensure that Orion make a suitable match now that he is so distressingly single. The Unpleasantness of the fall is done, for the better or worse. My husband and I remain certain that the entire matter was misunderstood. Walburga would have never poisoned Orion on purpose and, besides, it isn't like he died. The shame of the divorce! I can hardly hold my head up amongst our Peers. However much they proclaim that there is no scandal in Orion's divorce, I know that they speak of nothing else.
Just last week, Alphaba Moody dared to mention to me that her sister, Alkyone, hoped for an introduction to Orion when he returned to London. The affront! The Moody family may be pureblood by some measure, but they are hardly one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight! No, this cannot stand. You must think of the appropriate witches you know, and I will do the same. I shall write to our cousins and ask them to do the same so that we can find a proper wife for Orion. He will appreciate being able to avoid interest from such vulgar creatures.
Druella Rosier Black
Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire
August 22, 1975
Lady Lycoris Black
North York Moors, Yorkshire
Dear Aunt Lycoris,
Well, Druella's lost her damn mind. Again. You won't have gotten a letter, because she only wrote to those who married into or out of the family. She's just smart enough to know that most of the born Blacks find her pretensions and airs more ridiculous than entertainly foolish.
Apparently someone, somewhere, saw Orion in public with a witch, so the Daily Prophet gossiped about him leaving seclusion and his eligibility — but only after stating that said witch wasn't 'known' and that she was dressed in something that would send the old biddies in a twit, and declaring her 'charming'. Not an English pureblood, wearing an expensive robe from a famous Parisian mantua-maker, and physically appealing. They all but spelled out that she was a mistress.
That, and apparently some of the purebloods have been feeling out Druella — and a few of the others, as well — for introductions or information on when he'll return. Druella got all up on her pegasus about the affront, and how dare these pretenders who are hardly pureblood aspire to one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight — as if she was a Black, instead of a Rosier who bought Cygnus and his status with her ridiculous dowry. Pontius Rosier may as well have written an advert 'Pureblood wife for sale, inquire within'.
I sent you a copy of the gossip, and one of Druella's letter. Cedrella, Callidora, and Lysandra got the same thing. Apparently, we are supposed to choose Orion's next bride for him — and by us, I mean Druella — and present her, au fait accompli , for which he will thank us for saving him from the score of witches willing to comfort him. I'm sure her overly dramatic letter will amuse you. Sometimes I think she really believes she lives in a Gothic romance novel. The Morrigan only knows how those girls of hers will turn out, listening to her diatribe.
I sincerely hope Orion is enjoying the company of any witch he likes. After Walburga, the man deserves some decent company. If not for the incessant curiosity about his return, I'd hope he and the boys spend a decade wandering the world. Every letter I've had from Sirius is full of adventures and 'Father says'. Orion's are full of his boys and their mischief, as if his pretend exasperation weren't perfectly transparent.
I'll keep you updated of Druella's efforts, and warn you of any recruits she makes so you might warn Mother and Father. I'd tell them now, but Mother is more likely to send Druella a cursed letter than to find the humor in this and I'd rather she not bring an end to my enjoyment.
Yours in good health and humour,
Lucrecia Black Prewett
Zakynthos Island, Greece
August 30, 1975
Orion had been… not intimidated… wary. He'd been wary of Ophelia's proposed date. There were plenty of magical beaches all over the world; wixen had hidden any number of islands that Muggles had never found or believed were misdrawn on their early maps. There were several such places in the Mediterranean, including Meropis, an entire island nation hidden from Muggles since Antiquity. So why venture to a Muggle beach in Greece?
"It's good for you to expand your horizons." Ophelia told him calmly. "Besides, I'd get stared at on a wix beach."
Orion had no idea why that might be, it wasn't as if either of them would be recognized amid the crowds of a tropical location. Still, he cooperated, even wearing the garment she provided to 'blend in'. It wasn't that different from what he was used to.
His first shock was the number of people. Even in this remote location and vast expanse of sand and sea, there were more Muggles than he'd seen on the most popular beach in the Maldives. "There must be two thousand people."
"Yeah, it's a good thing this is such a quiet place — I was in Nice one summer and the crowds were insane." Apparently, his face showed his confusion. "Orion, you do know that there are four billion people on Earth, right?'
There were only ten million wix, and an estimated two million members of the magical races. "I knew there were hundreds, if not thousands of Muggles for every wix, but… "
"Honestly, the population would be larger if not for the Second World War — the Muggle war during the War with Grindelwald," she clarified. "More than sixty million died for various reasons. Or maybe there wouldn't be," she mused. "The end of the war led to a huge boom in birthrates all over the world."
Orion was still trying to calculate the numbers. He followed Ophelia's lead, laying out a blanket and erecting an umbrella — redheads and the tropical sun were mortal enemies — and setting down their belongings. Nothing overtly magical, but everything was spelled; even the beach covering prevented sand from getting everywhere.
His shock, and his lingering reluctance at venturing from his own world, was broken when Ophelia unbelted her thin cotton wrap. That was why she'd be stared at in a magical location. Witches did not go sea bathing dressed like that .
It was called a bikini , he learned. He also learned several other reasons to appreciate Muggle clothing design when they ventured off to a secluded lagoon. Ease of access, for one.
Attn: His Grace, The Duke of Ravensmoor
Wizard's Council, Speaker
September 12, 1975
Here are the remaining documents requested. They pertain to the first and second fiscal quarter of 1975. Along with the earlier papers, you now have a complete financial and budgetary picture of Ministry operations for the last completed fiscal year. I do not know what you are looking for, Your Grace, but I hope you find it.
Junior Ministry Clerk
Office of Malfease
As to the request of the Duke of Ravensmoor, Speaker of the Wizard's Council, herein are contained the documents and account numbers of the specified accounts. As per our agreement with the Council, financial data not strictly regulated by privacy requirements is subject to forfeiture. Additionally, no seizures of illegal assets or fines for violations of Goblin-Wizard accords will be enacted until the Council's investigation is completed. At that point, Gringotts will levy sanctions against several account holders contained in the included documents.
May your enemies quake at your name and you gold be unadulterated.
Chapter 12: Chapter Ten
There is paperwork, car rides, dragons, and several surprises.
Can Magic die? Or does it need someone to kill it?
The DAILY PROPHET
Friday September 19, 1975
A CERTAIN Lord B— was seen in the company of his mysterious Lady again; this time in Prague. The pair were seen visiting the Prague Orloj. Both Peer and witch were dressed very casually, Lord B— in a red waistcoat and black coat made by Westons of Diagon; while his companion wore a very modern short robe of layered lace in shades of brown and gold, designed by Scottish dressmaker Tartain. Both went without overrobes, in keeping with the location's open access and the mild fall weather. A source overheard a discussion on the merits of Muggle vs Magical dining and, indeed, neither Lord B— nor his lady were observed in any of Prague's fine magical dining locations. Did they dine in private? Or venture into the Muggle world?
"Is 'very modern' code for 'too Muggle', or 'like a slag'?" Ophelia wondered aloud.
"In this case? Likely both."
She grinned at his disgruntled expression. "Calm down, Orion, there's no need to set the Prophet — or its' offices — on fire. The Society pages are more a joke than the political cartoon for most people — and a big part of the joke is how seriously the writer's take themselves."
"Some people that that drivel seriously."
"Yes, and they're as much the butt of the joke as the articles. Drivel is right — no wonder The Seer and the Wixen World Times have been increasing in readership for years." Ophelia shook out the broadsheet and returned to laughing at the Society pages.
They were tucked up in Orion's study after a pleasant lunch. Regulus was napping while Sirius and Loki were on a quest to discover a long-lost weapon of great power — an ornate quill knife that was hidden in the garden — under Poppy's careful eye.
Ophelia chuckled her way through gossipy tidbits on affairs, pregnancy, fashion choices and business decisions. Wix had no idea how similar they were to Muggles; the Society section could have been any gossip rag published between 1800 and 1975.
Orion muttered to himself, frequently cursing, as he waded through stacks of papers and scrolls at his desk. After a fierce "What the buggering fuck?" she abandoned the Prophet and her seat to join him
"What has you so worked up?" Wordlessly, he passed her a parchment covered in scribbled figures. "That's… a lot of gold. I know this isn't your accounts, so at least you didn't lose this much money."
"The Ministry did." At her confused look, Orion slumped back in his chair. "That is, as near as I can figure, the amount of money missing from the Ministry budget. It goes into their accounts, is dispersed, but doesn't seem to go to the divisions and projects assigned. The gold moves around and then… disappears."
They'd never found this in the previous future. Corruption and bribery, malfeasance and incompetence, even low level theft, yes. Embezzlement on this scale? Either it had stopped entirely and remained hidden far enough in the past that the none of the investigators had uncovered it — unlikely — or someone very good at hiding financial data had gotten involved.
"Orion, this is millions of galleons. How long has this been going on?"
He dragged a hand through his hair, further disordering it. "I have no idea. This? This is only the last year."
"I know." He looked furious. "I knew money was going missing; that's why I started looking into this. But, so much? If I'm right, as much as a quarter of the operating expenses disappears. Some departments are working on a little as fifteen percent of their assigned budget." He looked at the papers despairingly. "I don't even know if I'm right — I'm not an accountant. A cousin mentioned something Muggles have for this type of situation — a 'forensic' accountant?"
"Yes, I know of them."
"I might need to approach Gringotts, but I don't know if they have such a thing." Orion sighed. "Worst still, I can't find where the money goes. It transfers to various vaults under any number of names — all Ministry employees of random positions — and either sits there for years, or gets transferred out in small amounts. Whoever is behind this, the goblins can't find where the money goes afterward."
Ophelia examined the lists of accounts. "Orion… are you sure these people aren't all involved?"
He blinked. "There are dozens of names. They can't all be involved — can they?"
"Look — these three people are in separate departments, right?" Snatching another document, she pointed out a line. "Here, three years ago, they all worked in the same department, under this wizard, whose name is on another account that's been receiving money for — fuck, more than ten years."
Taking the sheets, he snapped upright. "Here, this one — he's a middle manager in an obscure division that's missing only minimal funds, so I assumed someone was using his name — but three years ago he was a senior clerk in the Dispersal Office! Exactly — "
" — the kind of wix you'd need to bribe if you were embezzling gold!" Ophelia finished.
"It's not one or two people stealing millions, it's dozens of people stealing various amounts and paying even more off to hide what they're doing! A few wix started this, and they each brought in or bribed a few people — who carried on with the same. They spread out through the Ministry, continuing the pattern."
"Like roots," she mused, "or cancer — Muggle disease that spreads from one system to the next if not caught," Ophelia explained. "They couldn't have bribed everyone who found out; what happened if an honest person discovered the thefts?"
On another list, Orion scrawled a line 'investigate Ministry employees missing or dead'. Then, 'go back 30 yrs'. "There's no way this is only a matter of years. So much money and so many people? There are decades of decay behind this." He continued to write. "I need to requisition the records… write to Gringotts; no, in person is better… speak to Marius… "
As he planned his next steps, Ophelia struggled with the implications. Orion had investigated missing funds; if he'd died, as he might have, would anyone have continued to investigate? Would the inquiry have vanished, or would someone less subtle than Orion tip the embezzlers off, letting them cover their tracks?
Decades. The corruption in the Ministry was already decades old by Voldemort's rise, would have had even longer to flourish under Bagnold and Fudge. Is this why magic in Britain would have died?
"Hmm?" He must have seen something in her face, because Orion abandoned his pen and tugged her into his lap. "Lia?"
"Please be careful. You already believe people have died over this," she explained.
"Very true. I'll be cautious — even paranoid." He kissed her cheek. "You've gone pale, lovely."
"Secondly, several of the names on the accounts the Goblins found who aren't a part of the Ministry, but who receive money at the same intervals — I recognize some of the names from the Board of Governors."
He hummed. "Presumably they would not hesitate to steal from Hogwarts, as well. I'll look into it. Perhaps it's time the House of Black sought a position on the Board."
"And, thirdly — do you remember the Burkhardt family?"
"A Prussian House, very old, related to the Grimm clan. A century or more ago, the House dissolved when their Family Magic broke."
Leaning her head on his shoulder, Ophelia spoke quietly. "Yes. Over the course of many years — nearly half a century — a number of members of the House broke oaths. Some were personal ones, matters of honour, others were oaths of service. The Head of the family violated a longstanding alliance. A daughter of family betrayed her marriage vows and killed her husband when caught with a lover. There were even rumours of a few duels where the rules were broken."
"At first, those who broke their oaths lost much of their magic, as was typical of oathbreakers. But the more it happened… " She paused. "Eventually, so many members of the family violated magical vows or acted in bad faith that, one day, the Family Magic fled." His arms tightened. "Those who still had magic were alright — but their ancestral magic was gone. It took years of abuse, but ultimately they broke their magic."
"Everyone knows that story," Orion murmured. "It's proof that even purebloods answer to someone, if only the magic and ancestry they hold so sacred." He kissed her hair and asked, gently, "What do the Burkhardt's have to do with this?"
"All these Ministry employees, breaking contracts and oaths and acting in bad faith." Feeling her way through the logic, Ophelia continued, "They take oaths to Britain, and to Magic. Years of violating the spirit, if not the word. Some of those names are members of the Wizengamot — who vow to serve Albion, her laws, people and magic. The Board of Governors." She let that thought linger as Orion drew a sharp breath. "All those broken promises, sealed by magic, breaking faith with Her. If the magic of a House can break — could a nation's?"
"No," Orion managed. "No, it isn't… it couldn't. Magic is anchored to the land itself. The ley lines, the convergences… the places of power like the Blessed Isle, Stonehenge, Hogwarts and dozens of lesser places. "
"There are fewer priestesses on the Isle than ever before. Hogwarts depends on the magic of those within her, and those who feed the wards — like the Board. There are less students than a century before, largely because the population is still recovering from Grindelwald. Fewer students to feed the land a castle. Stonehenge? The Forsaken Circle here on Fara is proof magical spaces can break. The ley lines rearranged themselves to avoid the tainted space — like the Burkhardt magic did." Hesitantly, "The Council rules in the High King's stead, under the Regent — but the House of Windsor is a squib line who cannot perform ritual magic or take magical oaths. Instead, the Council holds between them the tie between ruler and the land. If even one member of the Council was suborned, on top of all the rest… "
"Blessed Mother of Magic," Orion breathed, horrified.
Ophelia knew she was right. That was how magic would have died in the future's past. She knew it.
They sat together for a long time, until Sirius' triumphant crowing drifted through the window. Ophelia rose. "I’ll head him off."
Orion caught her wrist. "Ophelia… "
There was something in his face as he searched hers; some knowledge she didn't understand. "Do you believe that Magic could really die in Albion?"
"If the conditions were right? Yes."
They stared at each other. Finally, Orion drew her back to him in fierce kiss. When it ended, he murmured, "It won't happen, Lia. We won't let it."
Ophelia left him staring at those damning papers, feeling oddly like he knew the future better than she did.
To Marius Castor Black:
Enclosed are the documents we discussed; there will be more to follow. Please ensure their confidentiality; no one but you and the accountant you hired on my behalf should be aware of this. Gringotts will be conducting the same investigation independently.
Cousin — this must be done swiftly, accurately, and discreetly.
Lord Orion Black, Duke of Ravensmoor
The DAILY PROPHET Sunday Edition
Sunday, September 28, 1975
THE mystery of Lord B—s current amore deepens. The redheaded witch seen repeatedly in the Peer's company since August continues to remain unknown. However, this week Miss E— Y— was heard to claim that she was the lady in question. Recently seen sporting the very contemporary fashions of Mme Peignoir and Tartain, she told several friends in strict confidence that she felt marriage was imminent. Investigation by this reporter, however, finds that Miss E— did not patronage either dressmaker until after they were mentioned in relation to Lord B—s companion.
October 1, 1975
So far each Muggle ideas that Ophelia had introduced him to had turned out well for him. Bikinis and takeaway and The West End; On the Origin of Species and The Rights of Man had turned out to fascinating and lingerie… had been a revelation.
"Are you sure about this?"
She huffed at him. "I'm sure that a billion Muggles use these things every day; that this one is a thousand times safer than a normal one, thanks to all the safety spells and charms Uncle Paddy and I applied. I'm quite sure that I wouldn't risk the boys if I wasn't certain."
"I notice you said nothing of my safety in this… contraption."
"Of course, I'm only dating you for your children."
"I made note of that, yes."
"I'm very sure you'll enjoy this." He continued to look skeptical, at least partly to tease her. "Honestly, Orion, are you a Hufflepuff?"
"Ouch!" Sirius and Regulus laughed. "That was a low blow, lovely."
"I don't know about that — your ego takes up so much space that it's hard not to hit it."
Acknowledging the barb, he continued to examine the machine she'd unshrunk. "This looks different than the ones I see in London."
"Those are family model transport brooms — this is a top of the line racer." She patted the blue hood. "Cars like this sweet thing are designed for speed and mobility, and aren't meant for the stop and start of city driving. That's why we're in the west of Ireland — lots of roads, little traffic, and beautiful scenery. Magical communities don't even have paved streets." She grinned. "It was here, or Italy. Italy is a place made for sports cars, which is probably why they make so many."
It was sleek and pretty, he supposed. Like a racing broom, with streamlined curves and lines, and the interior was all slick leather and wood panels. Sirius seemed to find nothing to be wary of, climbing in to examine it more closely.
"Orion, I let you put me on pegasus last week — this doesn't have a mind of it's own."
A fair point. He let Ophelia settle all three of them in the 'car'. As he buckled the safety harness, Orion told her, "I am not a Hufflepuff."
"Of course not, darling." She slid dark glasses over her eyes, hiding their laughter, and turned a key. The rumble startled him and surprised shouts from the boys. She laughed — and a moment later they flew .
The sleek car — an Austin Healey, according to Ophelia — shot down the lanes and roads of the West Counties, hugging turns and accelerating along the straight thoroughfares. The boys laughed and exclaimed over the car, the scenery, the muggle animals they passed, chattering to each other and occasionally questioning Ophelia. After the first time they swung past another vehicle and the driver and Ophelia exchanged wave, the boys joined in with exuberant waves of their own.
Orion had settled back in his seat, enjoying the spanking pace without the split focus that flying a broom required. "Yes, alright, you win. Again."
Ophelia grinned at him. "As if there was ever any doubt." They passed through a series of high hedgerows and emerged from the green tunnels into the sunlight. Beyond the green fields, the ocean was just visible on the horizon.
They drove for an hour, zipping along at speed beyond the most expensive broom. Soon enough they reached to coast, racing along the sweeping cliffs and crashing waves. Enthralled, Reggie fell silent. Sirius leaned forward, audible only because of the spells diffusing the wind. "I want one."
"Not until you're sixteen, my love," Ophelia told him with a laugh. Orion sighed, hiding his amusement.
"You can teach him to drive this beast." Laughing, she agreed, leaving Sirius and Orion both smiling, for different reasons.
The boys grew quieter, lulled by the warm sun and tired from the excitement. Reg dozed lightly in his raised seat while Sirius lay his head on the seat cushion and watched the world.
"For a daily commute or a very long distance, I wouldn't want to drive," Ophelia explained when he questioned her on owning the muggle device. "Apparating is faster for local trips, and long car rides are tedious. But an afternoon with nowhere to be but where you find yourself? Good weather and roads? Driving beats out magical methods then."
"But it doesn't fly." He'd yet to see her on a broom, but knew she loved to fly.
"Actually, I knew a man who enchanted a car to fly — and my godfather had a motorbike that flew, complete with sidecar for passengers."
"Relax, Orion, this one doesn't fly. Not in the air anyway."
They passed through a muggle village, and then another which was mixed — the discrete wards around the place were a giveaway — and were soon following the coastline again, waves chasing them as they whipped down a sweeping head. Finally coming to a stop, they left the car and walked over a stony field to the cliff's edge.
"This is Slea Head, and that's Dunmore Head," she pointed to the other arm of the shallow bay. "The farthest point westward in Europe. There's nothing beyond here but ocean until you reach the Americas."
"Can you fly there?" Sirius asked — typically.
"If you had a few weeks to spend and were immune to cold and exhaustion and impervious to weather." A pointed look. "That is not a dare."
"I know that — look!"
Out to sea, the waves erupted. Rising from the water, a huge Panlong, blue and silver and grey and scarred with age, rose up. He shot out of the sea and towards the sun, coiling and twisting his sinuous body, shedding water in gleaming cascades. Against the sky, his wings unfurled and caught the light.
"The Great Serpent, the King of the Sea," Ophelia breathed, awed. They all were. To witness a sea dragon break the surface with head or tail was one thing — to see the legendary creature rise completely from the depths, displaying itself in the sunlight was something out of stories and tales of old.
"Won't Muggles see him?" Sirius whispered, eyes huge with wonder. They had passed by a few small groups of people further along the head.
"No, they'll see the waves break and think that it's a whale." Orion assured him.
"Or see his shadow over the ocean and feed the myths about sea monsters."
With a haunting cry — part whale song, part rumble of thunder — the great dragon twisted in on itself, folded his wings, and dove, sending water shooting into the sky behind him. The boys exclaimed, loudly.
"That was brilliant! Did you see how big he was?"
"Yes!" Regulus affirmed. "He had lots of scars, too — from fights with other dragons!"
"The Shaolin Mages say that the Panlong, the water dragon, taught the whales to sing, and their brothers, the thunder dragons, taught the Phoenix to fly," Ophelia told the boys, still watching the ocean. "The serpent dragons are neither snake nor dragon, but the ancestors of both magical species." She sighed, leaning into Orion. "I've never seen anything like that."
"No one has seen anything like that in the last fifty years, I imagine."
Ophelia started laughing. "The most magical thing most of us might ever see, and it happens on a day we went Muggle!"
Eventually, they left Slea Head, backtracking to a hilly green field containing the ruins of a tower and an old well. They ate a late lunch from the picnic Ophelia's elves had packed in the car boot, making sure to leave bread and salt at the well for any Fae dwellers. Sirius and Regulus had to be reminded to eat several times, so exited by the Panlong and, in Sirius' case, the car as well. In between questions and exited, hand-waving chatter, they managed a full meal.
Afterwards, Ophelia stretched out in the sunlight and the boys scrambled over the ruin, defending their fortress from Dark Wizards and taming Great Serpents to ride; Orion sat, listening to his sons and watching his family.
Chapter 13: Chapter Eleven
Crazy men, hallucinations and puppy dog eyes.
Ophelia promises to make Orion miserable by loving him forever.
Apparently, hallucinations were a thing now.
"I know I didn't hear you say that."
Grey eyes smiled at her. "I said, marry me."
The man was insane. "You're insane. I can't marry a lunatic."
"Of course you can, or half my kin would be single."
Ophelia struggled to think, mind spinning. "We've know each other for four months! We've only been formally courting for two! You can't ask someone to marry you after four months!" Orion opened his mouth. "Do not tell me about a family member who met and married a spouse in six weeks!"
"You… how… gods!"
"It's your own fault for being extraordinary," Orion told her cheerfully — further proof he was a madman. "I intended to go about it properly and take my time. I was going to return to London and court you from a distance, and give you just enough time to miss us before I invited you to visit; once I got you in the same house… well, a year from Declaration to betrothal is proper, but I figured I might make it to Yule."
She stared at him. "That's properly?" Seriously? The man made plotting a bleeding hobby.
"For a Slytherin."
"You… what if I don't want to live in London?" she demanded. "Have you thought of that, smart guy?"
"We could stay on Fara, of course, or Edinburgh — I know you have your godfather's house there, or we could buy another if the memories are too much — and I can Apparate to London for work." He toyed with a lock of hair that had tumbled from her wind-torn braided chignon. "Or we could live in France, if you like, or somewhere else. There are a dozen Black properties unoccupied — or we can buy something of our own." He grinned. "I could make Alphard my proxy and we can run off to Greece. We'll find a house on the beach and spend every day barefoot and half naked. Do nothing but swim and drink wine and laze about."
"We'd go mad from boredom in a month."
Orion's smile was lascivious. "What a month."
She could almost picture it, against her own will. If only the an would let her think instead of looking at her like that, and offering her ridiculous, sweetly tempting possibilities. The whole thing was mad — he didn't know — but the lunatic just kept countering her very rational objections.
"I'd alienate half the purebloods in England — "
"Probably the half I can't stand."
" — and hex half your House — "
"Half of them deserves it."
" — and spend all day in my workroom or the garden instead of attending ladies teas or what not — "
"So would I, in your place."
" — except I wouldn't have a workroom, so you'd have to renovate the house, again — "
"No, I wouldn't, because I already have."
" — and… what?"
His mouth quirked up, wryly. "The renovations should have already been completed. I added a dozen new alterations two months ago — including updating the library, adding space to the nursery, and a workroom and second study."
Her brain just… stopped. "You — "
" — added months of work to the renovations so I had an excuse to stay on Fara, and made changes to an ancestral property with a woman I'd just started courting in mind? Yes."
"You really are mad," she told him, wonderingly.
"I love you."
She sucked in a shaky breath. Two sets of memories, and only two people had said those words to her. And both had died by the time she was seventeen.
Ophelia closed her eyes, hiding tears, and felt Orion gather her into his lap. She pressed her face against his shoulder as he hushed her softly, stroking her back and kissing her temple. "Oh, Lia."
"Are you sure you're doing it right, Father?" Sirius piped up. "I don't think she'd supposed to cry."
"We shoulda asked Uncle Alphard," Regulus supplied.
Hidden tears became muffled giggles, which she lost control of when Orion, sounding very put upon, told his sons that "Alphard is the last wizard in Britain with knowledge of proposing to a witch."
Small hands patted her. "Don't cry, Phee." She turned her head to find two pairs of solemn grey eyes. "Don't you want to marry us?"
Above her, Orion chuckled softly. "Don't laugh!" she hissed. "I can't believe you asked me in front of them — how do I say no to those weapons-grade puppy eyes?"
"That's the point, lovely, you don't."
She glared up at him. "I should say no and make you deal with the fallout!"
"Then I'd have to move on to the next stage of my plan."
Warily; "Which is?"
"What do you call the last several months?"
Goddess help her. "Is there a stage after siege?"
"Yes, but it involves begging."
"It would serve you right if I held out until you do beg! A little grovelling would do you a world of good!"
Reggie tugged her sleeve. "If you marry us, do we live with you? Or will you live with us in London?"
"We can stay on Fara, if you want," Sirius told her earnestly. "We don't have to live in London; we don't mind staying."
"This isn't a siege?" she muttered to Orion.
He smirked. "No, you haven't seen a siege until you've been forced to extract them from the garden for a bath and bed." Ophelia could only imagine.
"Phee, you like us, right?" Sirius.
"And you like Father?" Regulus.
With a sigh reminiscent of one bound for the gallows, she nodded.
"Then, don't you want to stay with us?" Sirius again.
" — " She could hardly say no to their double act.
Orion squeezed her. "Let us be your family, Ophelia." She shivered. "Be our family." Tears welled. "Let us love you." Spilled over.
Through her tears she should see the horrified looks on the boys faces. Before they could accuse their father of getting it wrong again, she wiped her eyes clear.
"I'm going to make you miserable, Orion Black. I'll scandalize London society regularly, insult the entire Sacred Twenty-Eight, dress in the most modern robes I can find, and wear torn denim in public. I'll wear Muggle designers to Pureblood events and scold you for every expensive gift and spend a fortune on books. I'll teach your sons to drive Muggle cars, and play rock and roll music in your ancestral halls, and write the most liberal bills any Peer has ever seen and make you push them through the Wizengamot. I'm going to spend your whole, long life driving you absolutely crazy." Ophelia swore.
Throughout her whole rant Orion's arms grew tighter and his smile wider, until it was something that — on a Gryffindor — would be a grin. "So that's a yes."
"Yes, we're both crazy?" He pinched her. "Yes, you lunatic, I'll marry you — " She was cut off by the fierce press of his mouth. Sirius and Regulus danced about with cheerful expressions of disgust at their display.
"I love you," he murmured against her mouth.
Softly, she breathed, "I love you, too."
They lay entwined, naked and still joined. Orion pressed soft, lazy kisses along Ophelia's neck and shoulder while she toyed with his hair.
"Did you come forward, or back?"
She stiffened. "What?"
He almost regretted asking. "Did you come forward in time, or backwards? I think it must be back, but I don't want to assume." She was silent for a long time, but he didn't push.
He'd been certain, but confirmation was useful. "If I ask a few questions, can you answer them?"
"I don't need to know who you were, Ophelia," he reassured softly. "I don't care about the past except if it hurts you."
"I'm lying about who I am."
"Are you Ophelia Manus?"
"I — yes, but no."
"You have someone else's memories?" There were several time travel rituals, but they rarely sent a person back in time; thoughts and memories to your younger self, or an object to an ancestor. Anything that sent flesh or soul required an extreme sacrifice or divine intervention.
"Ophelia was ." She murmured softly. "And so was — another girl. And that other girl wanted to change something, so she did a ritual. And at the moment when Ophelia would have ceased, the other girl and Ophelia became. And they became someone who was both, and neither, and someone new. And that's… me."
He rose up on his elbows, hovering over her. In the dim light he could just make out her features. "Lia, did you send memories back — or a soul?"
She breathed out softly. "I didn't intend to send anything, Orion. That was never my plan. I only wanted to change a single moment. What happened after was up to Magic, and She did this."
"What ritual did you use?"
"The Sundering of Time and Being."
Horrified, he hauled her upright and into his arms, clutching her tightly. "That's a ritual of — you killed yourself?" Burying his face in her hair, he managed, "Lia… what… what was worth that ?"
Gentle hands stroked his shoulders, soothing. "The man who raised me died to kill a monster who had hunted me all my life. He ended a blood war before it began, but that was only a fraction of the problem. There had already been so many deaths and nothing was solved, because a Dark Lord was only a symptom of the problem."
She'd died — both pieces of her had died. The fire would have killed her before they'd ever met. "Your godfather?"
"Both of them — the memories blur together in places, and some are so similar… the different ones are distinct and the rest overlap together. I went to Hogwarts, but I didn't; I lived in France, but I only visited during the summer. Occlumency keeps everything aligned together."
He couldn't… knowing what she'd done would take some time to process. Ophelia was going to have to deal with him being very overprotective for a while. "The Ministry? The potential loss of magic in Albion?"
Her silence spoke volumes. Finally; "Keep doing as you have been, Orion. You've already done more than was done before."
"Is there anything else I can do?"
After a moment, Ophelia asked in a very light tone, "Did you know a Tom Riddle at Hogwarts?"
"Yes, he was a few years ahead of me."
A Dark Lord who wreaked havoc, and an old classmate obsessed with power and bloodlines. Bloody fucking hell.
"Two more questions." She nodded. "Are we related?"
A chuckle. "Worried about marrying another cousin?"
"It's a legitimate concern."
"This body has no relation to the Black Family I'm aware of, not directly. I did have a grandmother who was a member of a Black cadet branch, but you'd have to go back ten generations to find a direct relative — and that flesh isn't this one." Hesitantly, "I was half-blooded in the future."
"I don't care." Absolute truth. "I wouldn't care if you were a half-blood now. You'll have to try harder to get out of marrying me."
"Worth a shot." She smirked against his lips as Orion gave her a nipping kiss. "Last question."
"What House were you in at Hogwarts."
She laughed. "Gryffindor."
"But, apparently Slytherin could have helped me to greatness." He was unsurprised by her two options. "I have a question — how did you know?"
"Ophelia, you have a ritual mark on your spine."
Huh. Apparently, she hadn't known. It was the first time Orion heard her use Merlin's name in a curse, though.
Chapter 14: Chapter Twelve
October 7, 1975
Emrys Cove, Fara Island
Ophelia risked a trip into Emrys Cove, hopeful that the presence of Sirius and Loki would keep the Nosy Witch Brigade from poking at her. She needed several things to prepare for the ritual she and Orion had chosen for their marriage, and was stubbornly determined that she not be forced to shop in Glasgow when everything was available nearby.
Sirius skipped alongside her, Loki trotting beside him like a loyal hound — which she would never say aloud for fear of a kneazle scolding — pleased with the errand. He had used up several crayons and was in need of more, and had eagerly volunteered to help her in exchange for a chance to purchase more with his pocket money.
Ophelia smirked at the thought of purebloods all over Britain buying their children Muggle art supplies. Though, as Orion had pointed out, there weren't enough anti-spill charms and cleaning spells in the world to deal with a child, a quill, and coloured inks. That wixen had wholeheartedly embraced crayons was, perhaps, a more sensible piece of logic than most seemed capable of. Though, apparently, the worst purists would only buy wixen-made crayons, insisted on calling them Wax Colours and occasionally claimed that the clever objects were obviously a wixen idea that Muggles had stolen.
"You have your money, Siri?"
"Yes!" He grinned up at her. "I'm going to buy the biggest box there is. I have lots to draw." Sirius spent some of every day drawing and doodling in a thick black book that he called his grimoire. The Panlong had been worthy of pages of colorful drawings and printed descriptions; just yesterday Sirius had solemnly copied the Younger Futhark alphabet into it and had begun to create 'spells' of his own. Orion claimed it was good practice for keeping records and schoolwork, but at least part of the reason he'd gifted the grimoire to his some was because the whole thing was adorable.
"Are you happy, Phee?"
Ophelia caught his hand, swinging their joined ones together. "Very, Siri."
"Good." He squeezed. "I'm glad you're marrying us."
They acquired crayons first, securing two — one for Reggie, of course — 64-pack boxes at Flaxworth's, before heading into Distilled Scents for the oils and wax she needed to make a ritual candle. Loki sneezed at the doorway and Sirius eyed the elaborate vats, glass tubing and brass pipes that ran through the front of the store. "Weird," he proclaimed.
"I buy my perfume here, you know."
"You smell pretty, but this place is still weird."
She had the salt and ash wood to create the circle needed, and Orion was responsible for the floral wreath, and Tully had set about gathering the wheat and greenery. The private, solitary ceremony needed no witnesses and no celebrant to direct their magic in creating a marriage bond; they had, very deliberately chosen an old handfasting ceremony full of ritual and meaning instead of the modern pseudo-ritual that was more about elaborate preparations and a party than bonding.
"Right then, Haber and Dasher's is next, then — "
A hand on her arm cut her off and, shocked, she was hauled around to face a ruddy-haired wizard. "There you are, lass."
She shoved. "Do not touch me, Donal MacPhillip!"
He scowled and ignored her. "Here now, I've had enough of your cold shoulder, Ophelia. I let you keep your distance and flit about all summer because you weren't ready to marry, but these rumors of the London fellow sniffing at you are past enough."
"Are you concussed? Livy," she called to Pliny's daughter, watching in shock from the bookstore's doorway. "Send someone for Healer MacBride; Baron Teith isn't well."
"What are you on about, making a scene?"
"A scene? A scene is grabbing someone without warning from behind and accuse them of being a whore and a jilt!" Sirius pressed closely against her legs and Loki's fur was puffed up, tail twitching. "I don't know what's going on in that head of yours, nor do I want to! You have no call to question me, judge my behaviour, or speak to me with such familiarity! Just because your mother latched on to some scheme for you to marry me for my money doesn't mean it was ever going to happen!"
He crossed his arms, obviously trying to make himself bigger and more intimidating. "I paid calls on you."
"I made a concerted effort to run you off, and so did my kneazles. I never made you remotely welcome. You certainly didn't make an effort to get to know me — just showed up, scowled, and talked at me about things I wasn’t interested in or didn’t need explained! If that counts as any kind of courting behaviour, I'm a hippogriff!"
"You'll never get married with those blasted beasts around."
"Any wizard who can't make friends with my pets isn't worth having!"
"Enough." He glowered and crowded her, obviously not aware of the growing audience. "All that tramping about gave you ideas above yourself, lass. You're a Scottish witch of good, if tainted, breeding. It's your duty to marry a wizard and carry on the family lines. I'm your equal in rank — the only on this island — so it's obvious what comes next. You're being missish, refusing to see sense. My mam's idea is sound, and everyone expects a wedding." MacPhillip caught her shoulders in heavy hands. "What, you think that duke will marry a witch who spread her legs all summer? He'll be gone soon enough; are you going to follow him to London as his mistress?"
Ophelia snarled, shoving her wand tip into his belly. "I told you not to touch me !" Finally looking appropriately wary, he released her. "This is not the sixteenth century, and I can take as many lovers as I wish, whenever I wish. My business is not yours, I wouldn't marry you if you were the last man — wix or not — on the Goddess's green earth, and if you touch me again I'll hex off your arms and send you to the middle of the Irish Sea to feed the krakens!"
"You stay away from Phee," Sirius shouted. "You're rude and stupid and don't talk about Father like that!"
"Hold your tongue boy, and don't talk back to your betters!"
She jabbed him, making him shout with a wordless stinging hex. "Don't talk to him — and you don't outrank anyone. The Earl of Blackmer and the future Duke of Ravensmoor can talk to you however he likes. Glare at him again," she dared. "I'll end your whole bloodline in a single spell."
Furious, he drew his own wand. "You'll marry me, lass; you can't see sense but it's the right thing. I'll even forgive you for letting that duke have you."
"I don't need anyone's forgiveness." Loki, deciding he'd had enough, arched and yowled, furious. Magic sparked off his fur. Against her side, Sirius grew warm. Surprised, she risked a glance, and could see a faint glow drifting along his skin. "Sirius, you need to calm down. This moron isn't any threat."
"I hate him! He's saying stupid things about you and Father and he wants to take you away and your our Phee!" The fall air grew cooler, a touch of frost hanging on their breath.
"Someone get this arsehole away from us!" Ophelia commanded. Sirius was so worked up, and Loki with him, that they'd begun sharing magic again — but Sirius had also begun to draw on the Black Family Magic — something he was years too young to do. "Loki, come here."
The kneazle slunk closer, still arched and staring balefully at MacPhillip. Frost touched the tips of his fur; the Black temper was famous, not for it's heat, but it's coldness.
"Someone is going to tell me what the fuck is going on."
Fantastic. A second furious Black was just what she needed.
Orion had already slid past temper to the ice-cold rage his ancestors were famous for. A man twice the size of his lover was crowding her, wand pointed; Ophelia had her wand out, and his son was so overwrought he'd begun drawing on his Family Magic. It was both dangerous and infuriating. Several bystanders had discreetly drawn their wands, as well, eyeing the red headed man with concern.
He pressed his wand tip against the base of the man's neck, making him freeze with shock and caution. Even a simple spell could paralyze him in this position. "Who the bleeding hell are you, and why should I let you live?"
"Donal MacPhillip, Baron of Teith," he managed.
"Excellent — they can put that on your grave marker. Why is my son so furious he's doing magic ten years too old for him?"
It was Ophelia who spoke. "Because Teith is a moron who can't take a gentle hint, and Sirius is overprotective. Orion, come settle your son before he disrupts his core."
He walked around MacPhillip, keeping him in view, and gathered up his son. "Siri, calm down." Carefully, he drew the magic Sirius had called up away from his skin. Slowly the glow faded and Sirius slumped against him.
"I hate him," he cried softly. "He wants to take Phee away. He wants to keep her. You said a wizard can't keep a witch, but he wants to. He said bad things about you and Phee. I hate him."
Orion gathered his crying son in his arms, settling him on his hip and holding tightly. Loki rubbed against his leg, rumbling with worry and ire. MacPhillip was a dead man.
Ophelia stepped forward before he could, jabbing her cedar wand into the man's throat. "Go away, Donal. Don't speak to me, of me or about me — ever. Don't even think of me, or Sirius, or His Grace. If you see one of us coming, walk the other way. If you ever come into my sight again, I'll spread your limbs across the islands, and feed your cock to my kneazles. If you're lucky ," she hissed. "If you aren't , the father of the little boy you made cry will prove just why his family is so feared."
MacPhillip glanced at Orion — and paled. "I… you don't understand… "
"I understand that I'm going to kill you if I ever see you again."
"You can't — you'll go to prison," he managed.
"I'm a pureblood English Peer and a member of the Wizard's Council. I could spend a week ritually murdering you in front of an audience and people would shake their heads and go about their business."
Frantically looking for aide, MacPhillip found half a dozen people frowning at him, and several glares. With no allies, he began to back up before turning in place and Apparating away.
"Fucking coward," Ophelia muttered, sheathing her wand. "Loki, here." Sirius's familiar leapt into her basket and was collected before she stepped up to Orion — still glaring at the spot MacPhillip had disappeared from — and pressed against them. "Orion."
He wrapped his free arm around Ophelia, tightened his grip on his son, and Apparated them home. Behind them, the village of Emrys Cove erupted with noise and speculation.
October 16, 1975
Haven Manor Estate Woods
Of all the varied rituals of magic, none is so profound yet overlooked as marriage.
He set a wreath of flowers over her brow; iris, rose, and heather, apple blossoms and asters, camillas, amaryllis, lavender and myrtle. Each chosen to represent her, them, and all their hopes going forward.
It is performed everyday in various forms, yet is rarely considered a ritual in the same vein as rituals of power.
Within a circle of ash branches and salt they stood above a small wooden altar, barefooted. He wore white linen, she blue lawn. A single candle illuminated the falling dusk.
Few consider the color choices, the flowers as full of symbolism and superstition. They follow traditions, but forget that there is power there; that traditions are the trappings of ritual.
Sections of her hair were braided with ribbons holding tiny silver bells. They chimed sweetly as she moved.
Marriage is a time of celebration, yes, but more than that, it is a joining. The binding of two parts in a whole; the touching of magic.
He offered her a tiny, intricate silver key. "My house is yours. Let us build a home together."
There are only three ways to touch the magical core of another: in the womb, when mother and child share magic, when lovers join together, and when two wix wed.
She held out a blade of goblin steel and dragon bone. "So you may defend our home and family. Let us fight together."
The celebrant guides that joining, but is only truly needed because so few treat a wedding as a ritual and, therefore, do not consider themselves to be casting magic.
Ribbons were draped over their clasped hands. Each vow caused a new knot, another twist and weave in the pattern.
We forget the power of making two things, however briefly, one.
"I will be your wife, your mate, your lover. I will stand beside you and make a home with you. I will fight your enemies, love your children, and hold your heart in mine."
We value the dress more than the offering of self; the speaking of the vows more than the magic that they stir inside us.
"I will be your husband, you mate, you lover. I will stand beside you and build a home with you. Your enemies are mine, and my children are yours. I will hold you heart and offer my own."
We hold a ceremony — lovely, meaningful — but not the powerful ritual magic it should be.
Hands bound, they lifted a cup of wine to each others mouths and drank. The light of the candle brightened. The ribbons tightened. They touched lips together, and felt their magic bloom. In the dark, two bodies glowed with golden light and embraced, becoming one.
Chapter 15: Epilogue
There are no fairy tales.
Happily ever after is a lie. Life is so much more than a fade to black.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Ophelia woke near dawn, thirsty. Carefully, she extracted herself from Orion's embrace. A moment's search found a silk and lace nightwrap to cover her naked skin.
On the second step, the wooden stair became stone. The walls around her appeared rough hewn rock, flickering with torchlight. On the third, her hand was settled in the crook of an arm.
"Hello, dear one. Keeping busy?"
She huffed at him. "Bloody mage."
"Now you sound like Arthur."
"Would you like to explain how I could have a ritual mark that I didn't know about? And that no one else saw — until Orion?"
"That would be telling." At her glare he laughed. "You didn't see it because it hadn't settled yet, and because you hardly spend you time examining yourself in the mirror."
That was fair. "I've changed everything."
"From what? Your past is the future, which means it hasn't happened yet. You can't change anything. You can only act."
Ophelia said nothing for several steps. "What do I do now? Is there a plan, a path? Something I need to do?"
Merlin snorted. "I know you had 'destiny' shoved down your throat by Dumblearse and Wixen Britain, but you need to let that kind of thinking go, dear one. There is no path — only options. You take each one as it comes, just as you take each step and crossroad."
"But you can get a map for what's ahead."
He flicked her forehead. Hard. "You know what might happen in an unchanged future. What more of a map do you want?"
She rubbed her forehead. "Mean."
"Well, sometimes you seem to learn best when there's pain involved, I've noticed." He patted her hand gently. "This isn't a story, or a guided playthrough — "
"First computers, now video games?"
"Hush, you, I have a lot of time on my hands." He frowned playfully. "This is your life, dear one. You live it. That's all. You hate fairy tales," he said, seemingly at random. "Why?"
"Not all of them, but so many are… heavy-handed attempts to teach subjective morality. The rules are different," she grumbled. "Morality should be the same for different people. Not set in stone, but in Muggle fairy tales, the rules are different for men and women. In wixen ones, they're different for wizardborn and muggleborn. That's not morality, it's societal constraints."
"Big words." He grinned at her glower. "All very true, but there's another reason."
"The curtain comes down, happily ever after. That isn't real. Happily is work; ever after is, what? A decade, a century? Life is every day, every moment. It's work."
"Exactly. You married a man… happily ever after. Except, not."
"Of course not! Bloody hell, that was the easy part!" Ophelia looked around. "How long is this staircase?"
"As long as it needs to be."
"You spent too much time with that prophetic dragon."
"Oh, I know." He wriggled his brows. "But I affected him more than the other way around, I assure you."
"I just bet. I married a man," she continued. "A stubborn man, with a busy life and a large family, many of whom I may end up killing. A man who's investigating corruption — which means I need to keep him alive, because I doubt people who embezzled millions will meekly accept the end of the golden goose." She sighed. "And that's just the next few months. We need to move houses, deal with his relations, the Ministry, society at large… Greece looks better and better."
"Because happily ever after is a lie. And so is 'do this one thing, fix everything, fade to black'. There's no 'thing' for you to do, Ophelia. You live, you make choices. You do what moral, sensible people do, and try to make the world a little better than you found it."
Quietly, she asked, "Can I tell him?"
"Why wouldn't you?"
"Because it could… change… "
"Which you can't do because… ?"
"There’s nothing to change until it happens. Right."
Merlin smiled a little. "That's not what you're afraid of."
"What if he — "
"The man who figured out you'd travelled time by some fashion and, not only asked you to marry him anyway, but very deliberately didn't ask you anything about the future that would tell him your identity or benefit him directly?"
"It sounds stupid when you say it."
"Dear, it was always stupid."
"Shut up." He hummed cheerfully. "You never said what you do now."
"No, you told me that my puny mortal mind couldn't understand, but you didn't explain."
"I wait," he said quietly. "One day, my King will wake. I wait for that day. I chose to… stay aware, I suppose, instead of entering the normal cycle of life and death. When Arthur wakes, either because the world is ready or because Albion is about to fall, I will be ready, with all the knowledge I've accumulated. The price for that is to serve Magic in a different way than I did in life. Well," he chuckled, "there is still a great deal of meddling and poking my nose in things, only I do it at our Lady's behest instead of to save a royal idiot from himself."
Despite his humour, there was a distant sadness in his eyes. Wix legend held that Merlin and Arthur were lovers, despite both fathering children. Of course, the mothers of the their children were the same — Gwenhwyfar, Morgana Le Fay, and Niniane of the Isle each bore two children, one by Merlin and one by Arthur. That kind of symmetry could only be by design.
"How long will you wait?"
"Until the wait is over — really, Ophelia, for a clever witch you are quite oblivious."
Sympathy evaporated. He was exasperating. "Funny."
"I thought so," he told her cheerfully.
She fell silent, walking with him down the endless stairs. He seemed content to say nothing. Finally, she asked, "Just… live?"
Merlin stopped and turned her towards him. "Live. Love your husband. Raise from a child to a man the man who raised you as a child. Give your man a few more children — daughters, if you can, because that image is hilarious." She grinned. "Live, laugh, love, fight and fuck — that's the meaning of life, as far as I can tell. But there is one vital thing you can do." At her solemn look, he smiled. "Make mischief wherever you go. The world needs a little shaking up, wixen more than most."
"That,” Ophelia told him, "is something I can do."
"Well, then." He turned her and nudged her forward. When her foot fell on the next step, she felt wood under her. The stone staircase was gone, and she stood on the bottom landing of the Black House of Fara.
She went to kitchen and got a drink of water, then returned up the, perfectly normal, staircase. In the room she shared with her husband, Ophelia stripped off her wrap and crawled naked into bed and slid close to Orion.
His arm shifted, curling around her. Sleepily murmured.
She soothed him gently. Curled closer. Closed her eyes.
— — —
In the morning light, Ophelia kissed Orion softly. "I have something to tell you."
In the Marvel Movie Style:
Second Epilogue / Teaser
Hidden in the moors of England, a grand castle and great estate sprawled out behind ancient wards. Late morning light streamed in the tall gothic windows that lined the High Gallery. Arcturus often walked this way, choosing to follow a path that took him past the relics and images of his ancestors instead of a slightly shorter route to the library. Good or bad, dark or light, his family was his family and they had made him, and the House of Black, what they were.
In the centre of the back wall of the Gallery, an intricate and detailed Family Tree was etched in stone. The first name on it was so high up a ladder — or a broom — was needed to see it. The Tree spread out as if a living plant, sprawling out in all directions. It did not follow the direct line of descent, but included every cadet branch and line of the Black Family. Every bastard born had a place on the tree, if only to keep track of potential resentful enemies. Often such lines merged back into the Family by way of marriage to a different branch. No need to waste blood and magic just because some wix couldn't remember a simple contraception spell.
The Black Tree was the most intricate family record in western Europe. The secret of it came from an ancestor who had served Rome before its Fall — the first one, when the Christian Betrayer turned the Empire on its loyal wixen. Each Black line had a representation of the original which showed their own relations, but only the main Tree born every name and line.
As he always did, Arcturus skimmed over the Tree. He didn't know every name — no one could, without a year's dedicated study — but his habit of late involved checking the status of his close kin. HIs son and grandson's brush with death had made him paranoid.
His wife of fifty years settled her hand on his arm. "Checking again, Arcturus?"
He huffed. "If the boy — "
"He's forty-six, dear."
" — would stop gallivanting about and come home I wouldn't have to."
"Leave our son alone, Arcturus, he needs a little fun in his life."
"Apparently his fun is redheaded."
Melania Black, nee MacMillian chuckled. "Druella must be going mad with frustration. Lycoris, Cassiopeia and Lucrecia are enjoying torturing with her far too much."
"Do they know that you know?" he asked wryly.
"Of course not, I deserve some fun too."
" 'Fun', hmm?" he leered playfully. "I — wait a minute." Something on the Tree caught his eye. He might not have the whole thing memorize, but he knew this particular branch and been a little smaller days ago.
"What is it, dear?"
"I know the name of Orion's redheaded witch."
"Have you been holding out… no." She peered forward. "He didn't."
Arcturus sighed. "Of course he did."
Oh look, it's the lead in to the next story. Which doesn't exist. But hopefully will.
Thanks for reading! This is also posted at darkseraphina.wordpress.com, and I'm adding artwork as I finish it.
Now to work on the next!