Title: Future’s Past – Chapters Seven – Twelve
Series: The Future Is My Past; The Past Is My Future
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.”
“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.
— — —
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.
— — —
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 virginial 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.
— — —
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.
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.
— — —
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.
— — —
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 gravemarker. 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 House 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.