Part the Tenth—
It was the winter wild while the Heav’n-born child all meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies.
—Milton, “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”
Justin was the first to remark on the huddled group of people outside of the Firefly Jar. He had decided the library was too dark and gloomy, and Daphne kept snapping at him when he whispered what he was reading under his breath, so he had taken over part of the drawing room whenever Lucrece wasn’t around. Harry would often find him sitting in a window seat, a book propped against his legs, as he looked out the window.
“Who are they?” he asked, and Harry would glance over his shoulder and shrug.
As the weeks passed, the number of people likewise grew, all staring at the Firefly Jar as if they expected to see it materialize before them.
“Are you certain no one knows of this place?” Justin asked worriedly over supper one night.
Lucrece looked at him and then toward the stairs, which led to the front door, invisible to all eyes but theirs. “I would never jeopardize Octavian,” she answered as Daphne looked at her questioningly, before she turned to Harry.
“I’ve had to cancel two dinners,” Daphne added wistfully; Harry noticed she didn’t mention if they were Flint or with Krum. “Not that I enjoy going to Muggle Wales of all places.”
“The Order knows, of course,” Harry remarked, “but they can’t see it any longer. I suppose the Malfoys know of it as well, and the Lestranges.”
“Lestranges?” Justin asked with a shudder. “As in Bellatrix Lestrange?”
Harry nodded. “She was a Black, and this is the Black family home—so naturally she knows of it.”
Justin gulped and looked worriedly over at the fireplace. “What about the Floo?”
“No one can get through except for family,” Harry assured him. “The house has been renamed, so even if they knew the address no one would be able to get through.”
Justin looked at him dubiously, but when the sound of the telephone ringing from upstairs echoed down to them, he quickly excused himself with a bright smile on his face.
Daphne followed him out with her eyes, and then settled her napkin down beside her place. “Do you get the feeling that he has a secret girlfriend somewhere? A secret Muggle girlfriend?”
Harry laughed despite himself. “I suppose it could happen,” he admitted, “though I doubt any of us would know her.”
“No,” she sighed regretfully. “Probably not. At least he hasn’t set his sights on a pureblood.”
Lucrece nodded in agreement. “Then again, he really shouldn’t pollute his magic with Muggle influences, although it could be dynastic. His father is a Muggle earl, you said, Harry?”
“Yes,” Harry admitted. “I think he’s a younger son; however, you never know.”
“Like marries like,” Daphne noted, “generally. Look at you and Octavian.”
Harry looked at her in confusion and she sighed. “You’re a pureblood since you inherited the Black title. You have a title, his father has one as does his maternal grandfather. Although you’re both purebloods, you grew up as outsiders to the culture and yet are now both very powerful politically. Like marries like.”
“Your father doesn’t have a title,” Harry observed, thinking of Astoria and Draco. “Does he?”
Daphne shook his head. “We’ve been purebloods, though, for longer than memory, if you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking.” Her eyes gleamed. “Mother also was close friends with Lady Malfoy when they were children.”
“Your family doesn’t have Death Eaters in it, though,” he observed.
“No,” she agreed. “No, that is where Astoria and Draco are different, of course.”
Lucrece excused herself shortly after that, leaving Daphne and Harry alone. Justin’s gentle chatter washed across them, and Harry wondered if he should put stronger silencing charms around the room that was directly above them.
Some days Harry would find himself alone, and dreaming of Octavian. He usually was the one to cook when Dobby had a day off, Lucrece helping by going out to buy groceries on occasion, although Justin had appointed himself as long as he could go to a Muggle market. Whenever he would wait for the food to heat up, his mind would wander to his husband and their unborn child, and wonder at what Octavian was doing at that moment. Octavian had sent him his entire schedule, which Harry had duplicated, and he had a copy preserved and tacked to the wall so that he could look at it and see exactly where his husband was. He also received weekly updates from Madame Maxime on Octavian’s progress and health, as well as whatever steps were being taken to accommodate his condition.
At night, Harry would dream of Octavian slipping away from him, a child in his arms as his black eyes flashed cruelly before turning away. Soon, the sound of his lisping voice became a memory that was almost too unbearable to recall, and he would sleep with all of Octavian’s loving letters under his pillow. Although he had once promised himself that he would not cheapen Octavian by imagining him when pleasuring himself, he found himself doing it without conscious thought every morning in the shower, a moan escaping his lips as he thought of strong lines, golden hair, and pink lips.
He laughingly thought of Bill Weasley’s diagnosis of “le withdrawal français” as the weeks dragged on and still all he had were memories of his young husband and the fresh letters that would arrive, telling him of the Beautiful French coast and the warmth that was just perfect, and a beautiful palace and the sprawling grounds. He knew Octavian was happier at Beauxbatons than he ever was at Hogwarts, and yet could still detect the wistful quality to the letters, when he would end with his pleas to return to his husband, as was his duty and his honor, but still Harry forced himself to write back and refuse, assuring Octavian that they would be together soon, that he was loved, that he dreamt of him every night and found himself waking every morning with Octavian’s name on his lips.
“Soon,” he would often whisper to himself, as he would look at a calendar and see how many more weeks were left until Octavian returned to England and his arms. “Soon.” Still, it was never soon enough for Harry as he continued to wait.
“There’s nothing,” Justin said in exasperation as he came into lunch one day halfway through October, sitting down heavily at the table as Harry served up grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup—a simple and yet filling meal. “We’ve gone through a good fourth of the library and nothing.”
Lucrece looked up from la Divine, a French paper that she had a subscription to which she claimed wasn’t controlled by the French ministry, unlike the Daily Prophet. Her black eyes shone in interest, but she said nothing as she watched the conversation impassively.
“There’s bound to be something,” Harry tried to placate, clearly attempting to convince himself as well as Justin. “There’s always a way. We just haven’t found it yet.”
“A killing curse would forestall the problem,” Daphne noted, “like last time.”
When Harry looked at her incredulously, she laughed quietly.
“There was over a decade of peace, Harry. Don’t discount it.”
“Well, there must be someone with enough hatred to be able to cast it—although that doesn’t seem to be the case,” he mused as he sat down.
“That’s because everyone is too noble,” Daphne responded as she tentatively took her first bite of the grilled cheese sandwich. Her eyes lit up in surprise before she took another bite. “Don’t look at me like that, Justin. We all know that Dumbledore was noble in all the ways he shouldn’t have been. Let’s just let people be sacrificed for the greater good, but not cast an unforgivable when a wand’s at your throat.”
“Well,” Justin said calmly. “It doesn’t seem like You-Know-Who was that happy with Snape’s executing Dumbledore. He went and beheaded him.” He shivered at the thought.
Daphne looked over at Harry, and he saw a knowing glint in her eyes. “That,” she remarked casually, “was purportedly for line theft and rape.”
A spoon clattered to the table, and Harry looked up to see a shocked expression on Lucrece’s handsome face. “I beg your pardon?”
Justin looked between the three of them before getting up. “I think—I think I don’t want to be here for this conversation.” He pushed his curly brown hair from his eyes, it had gotten a bit long as he hadn’t been to a barber since he arrived, and then picked up his plate and his bowl of soup before quietly making his way from the kitchen.
Daphne, similarly, was looking at Harry with a question in her eyes, before she too quietly got up with her food. “I’ll be in the drawing room with the Hufflepuff,” she sighed in exasperation, although her voice belied her unwilling fondness of Justin. “Maybe I can hear all about this mysterious Muggle girlfriend—as I can’t seem to go on a date myself with those wizards hanging about. Next time I’m going to come up with a better alibi than being out of the country.”
The door shut quietly behind her and Harry waited until he could no longer hear her gentle footsteps before he took a deep breath and looked at Lucrece.
“Snape,” he began carefully, “boasted to Octavian sometime before we met that he had cast the Imperius Curse—that night.”
Her jaw hardened and she looked away from Harry, taking a deep breath. “I wasn’t under the Imperius.”
“No,” Harry agreed, “but Lord Malfoy was.”
She shook her head stubbornly, her silky brown hair falling in soft waves about her handsome and yet stern face.
“Lord Malfoy had always maintained that he was as well, though he didn’t know who had done it. When the Death Eaters broke into Hogwarts, Octavian asked Bellatrix Lestrange for Voldemort to punish Snape for the wrongs done to you and to his father, Lucrece. Snape’s beheading was a gift from him to Octavian.”
Lucrece closed her eyes painfully, her hands half-clenching on the tabletop. “And that man—Octavian’s sire—won’t pay?” she finally asked.
Harry looked at his hands, noticing how dry and rough they had become, spending all of his days pouring over dusty books. He should really take care of them, even a little. He didn’t think Octavian would appreciate dry hands running over him when he returned. He adored Harry’s calloused hands, but was finicky when his own skin was dry and maintained that his honey milk helped with it.
“No,” he finally admitted. “No—but I think you’ve been punishing him for years.”
Her head snapped up toward him, her eyes flashing with anger. “Don’t you dare take that man’s side,” she seethed, and Harry shook his head.
“I take neither side—I take Octavian’s side,” he whispered. “Only Octavian’s and my family’s, Lucrece.”
She held his gaze for several agonizing moments and then looked away again, tucking her hair behind her ear. “That is as it should be,” she finally admitted. “I am glad that Octavian has someone like you.” A bitter smile passed across her lips and she stood up, leaving her primarily untouched food behind.
Harry looked at the table blankly for several minutes before once again eating, the food tasteless on his tongue.
Lucrece stayed to her rooms for the rest of the month, not even coming out when one of the mysterious letters—with the two different seals—arrived for Daphne. Daphne began leaving one of the windows open in the library and several times Harry saw owls he didn’t recognize fly in. He never asked Daphne about them, thinking that it was not his place, and soon his mind would once again be occupied with trying to find some way to defeat Voldemort or with Octavian and the slow movement of days until Christmas.
Justin became more and more restless and on Saturdays began going on walks in Muggle London, occasionally not returning until late with a small smile on his face.
“Told you,” Daphne remarked one day at breakfast. “Secret Muggle girlfriend. She’s probably named Emily or Alexandra and thinks that magic only exists in fairytales.”
“Well, she’ll be in for a shock,” Harry agreed, his tone lightening slightly at the unimportant subject.
“They always are, I’d imagine.”
Still, Justin wouldn’t say a thing and instead would grumble about how You-Know-Who seemed to be impossible, and maybe they should resort to Muggle means and crack his skull open with a rock, making Harry laugh freely for the first time since Octavian left for France.
“Maybe we should go after the horcruxes,” Daphne said in frustration one afternoon in early December. “Horcruci?”
Justin groaned. “Please, let’s not start declining third declension nouns,” he complained, causing Harry to laugh when he remembered his own years in the Muggle school system learning to decline Latin nouns and adjectives.
The corner of Daphne’s mouth curled into an almost-smile. “Horcruxes, then,” she relented. “But perhaps if we went and destroyed the other six—“
“Four,” Harry countered. “Two have been destroyed.”
Justin’s eyes widened comically.
“Four then,” Daphne agreed. “That way we have some sort of insurance. In ninety or a hundred years, the problem will be solved when you die of old age.”
Harry grimaced at her. “That’s even less of a solution than cracking his skull open so he becomes a spirit.”
Justin sighed in exasperation, and rolled over onto his back. He had taken to wearing Muggle jeans around the house, contrasting greatly with the robes Daphne and Lucrece wore. Harry was always somewhere in the middle somewhere, leaning toward pureblood fashion and most of his Muggle clothes were hand-me-downs from Dudley and not fit for wearing.
“I got a letter from Ernie the other day,” Justin said, changing the subject. He stretched his arms above his head, revealing a smooth line of his stomach. “Life at Hogwarts is particularly grim.”
Daphne grimaced. “The Carrows?”
Justin nodded. “At least Ernie’s a pureblood and a wealthy one. They don’t want to alienate him. He says they’re trying to recruit him to the cause and he’s hanging on by the skin of his teeth. But Hannah—“ He sighed. “Still, Ernie says she fancies Neville Longbottom, and he’s a good sort. He’ll help protect her a bit, I reckon.” He looked over at Harry for confirmation, who nodded.
“Yeah. Neville’s one of the most loyal blokes I’ve ever met.”
“Dumbledore’s Army,” Justin said fondly. “Can’t get much more loyal than any of us—except the Weasleys, maybe.” He made a face.
Harry chuckled despite himself. “How’s Astoria faring?” he finally asked.
Her eyes dulled and she looked away. “It’s not going well for her, I’m afraid. Still, she says she’s keeping her head down as much as possible, and Draco’s even pulled some strings with Slughorn so that she can sleep in the dungeons so he can keep a closer eye on her.”
Harry swallowed. “That bad?”
She shrugged elegantly, but he could see the hopelessness of the gesture. “She doesn’t complain, and Draco doesn’t say anything in his letters—and I know I’m doing everything I can from the outside to end the situation.”
“Who ever thought the Carrows would be good at teaching?” Justin said disdainfully.
“Apart from the Dark Lord?” Daphne quipped, and Justin sighed.
“I can’t see Sinistra hiring them.”
“The Ministry probably appointed them like they did Umbridge,” Harry sighed, remembering the toad of the woman. “Have you seen those pamphlets that she’s written? One somehow made it through the wards the other day—I guess because this is a legal residence—spewing nonsense about how Muggle-borns steal magic. How can someone steal magic?”
Justin shrugged. “I always just had it,” he said wistfully. “I got so angry at Silver—er, my older brother—when I was about three that I managed to lock him into a room. The key had been missing for decades and they had to call a locksmith to get him out.”
Harry laughed quietly, wishing he had done that to Dudley when they were children.
“Your brother’s name is Silver?” Daphne asked, perplexed. “I didn’t realize Muggles named their children after colors.”
“They don’t,” Justin responded calmly. “It’s short for Silverbridge—my father’s lesser title. If he were a Marquess, Silver would be known as Silverbridge. It’s a bit of a tradition in the family.”
“How—strange,” Daphne finally said, rolling her eyes at the custom. She looked to Harry for further explanation, but he just shrugged. “Those pamphlets are everywhere,” she continued after a pause. “We received one just before I left for here, back at home. I’m surprised it took them so long to get one to this house.”
“They shouldn’t even know it’s here, not really,” Harry responded. “I mean, we all Apparate to or from the front step, even to just get groceries.”
“Yeah, but there are those people across the square. They have to know it’s here somehow,” Justin said tiredly.
“Probably an old census,” Daphne decided. “They probably wanted to make certain that everyone got one and went through old records and cross-referenced. This house must have been listed and then the pamphlet was sent. We’ll probably continue to get more of them.”
“Let’s just hope they’re not pink,” Harry grumbled. Ever since Umbridge, he had truly hated that color. Fortunately, Octavian thoroughly agreed, and they had decided over the summer that Romola would never have anything in that color if they could help it. They’d even gone so far as to curse a blanket that Lucrece was making lavender, though she had only laughed at it and then went out to purchase purple and blue yarn for anything else she might make.
As the weather turned cold, Justin’s walks became fewer and fewer and he spent more time in the telephone lounge, much to Daphne’s amusement. Daphne would occasionally dress in her one or two Muggle outfits and then leave quietly, not saying a word to anyone, and Harry would privately wonder if she was meeting Flint or Krum, and which one always seemed to bring a smile to her face. She still continued to receive thicker and thicker letters, and occasionally Harry would hear Lucrece tease her about it with a knowing glint in her eye before going on her way, putting up Yuletide decorations as it was only a few weeks before the Winter Solstice. Justin had managed to acquire a Muggle radio and had placed it in the kitchen, tuning it to the BBC so that it always played Christmas carols.
“Not again,” Daphne muttered angrily when she came in for dinner one night. “How can Muggles listen to such dribble?”
“It’s ‘Joy to the World,’” Justin responded importantly. “How can that possibly be dribble?”
She scoffed at him. “Evidence shows that your Harry Potter figure—“
Harry gagged at her phrasing and nearly choked on the pumpkin juice he was drinking.
“As I was saying,” Daphne began again, “your Harry Potter figure was most likely born in March. Your scholars say so.”
Justin rolled his eyes.
“The only reason that your Christmas was placed at the end of December was because of pre-existing pagan holidays celebrating the darkest time of the year, when the pagan god is reborn having died at Samhain. Your god’s death and resurrection had been told hundreds of times before that in all notable pagan religions. And you stole our date and our customs—including evergreen trees and mistletoe.”
“I don’t think I like Jesus being called a Harry Potter figure,” Harry murmured to himself, finding the entire conversation suddenly frightening.
“I can’t believe you just said that,” Justin said to Daphne, who pointedly ignored him.
“Why not?” she questioned Harry. “He somehow survived death to rise again when he shouldn’t have and was born to save the world. He clearly is a prefiguration of the entire prophecy situation we currently have. Who knows? In two thousand years there might be a religion surrounding you.”
Harry paled just at that horrifying thought, and was glad that Octavian celebrated Yule. After this Christmas, he would try never to think about those parallels ever again.
“What about angels visiting the shepherds?” Justin asked Daphne defensively. “Or the three kings? I bet you don’t have those!”
“You really think you came up with the kings?” Daphne laughed. “Don’t get me started on the three magical kings. They’re not even human!”
Harry decided it would be best to leave the room before the argument escalated any further.
Later that day he received a short letter from Draco, informing him of a newly scheduled Hogsmeade weekend for all Yule shopping, inviting him to the Three Broomsticks and to do some Christmas shopping for Octavian. At first he was hesitant to accept, but after realizing he had no idea what exactly to get for Octavian—when it was their first Yule being married—he eventually accepted despite whatever reservations he had.
Hogsmeade was covered in a layer of snow, and his mind immediately flicked back to the happy afternoons he had spent with Octavian, feeding each other candy on their first date in order to make themselves sick, holding hands as they walked along and looked into windows, and finally standing among colorful fireflies as the sun fell over Hogwarts after a day spent in the magical village. He remembered so many other afternoons with Ron and Hermione, and realized that although Octavian would soon return, Hermione would never boss him around again, telling him to do his homework, and he doubted that he and Ron could ever really exchange cordial words after his sister’s death. Too much had changed now. Even if Ron could accept his marriage to Octavian, which Harry had doubted, it was all so different that he could never recapture his childhood friendships, which saddened him.
“You look lost,” Draco said in greeting, coming up to him with a smile on his wan face. Astoria, bags under her once bright eyes, looked at him in greeting, her arm wrapped around Draco’s.
“I haven’t seen Octavian in months,” Harry said by way of a reply. “It’s the longest we’ve ever been apart.”
Astoria reached out and squeezed his hand gently. “He’ll be home soon,” she murmured, and Harry nodded. “You don’t have any idea what to get him, do you?” she teased as they walked down the street, several students stopping in shock to see him.
He briefly saw Parvati Patil whispering to Lavender Brown at the sight, and then Caspar Summers was running up to him, his hair bright blue and a smile on his face, quickly saying hello and asking after Octavian before saying he had to go meet his mother and it wouldn’t do to be late. Harry smiled after him, glad to see one of Octavian’s two closest friends again. A flash of ginger caught his eye, and he turned to see a sullen Ron walking through the snow, his shoulders hunched. He was alone and his steps were hurried, and looking at the direction Ron was heading Harry saw Fred hurrying to meet his brother, a secretive smile on his face. Briefly Harry wondered how long they could keep it a secret from their parents.
“No, I’m afraid I don’t,” Harry finally admitted, and Astoria grinned at him with a slight gleam of life in her eyes.
“She already has your gift planned out,” Draco warned, affection making his voice sound light and happy. “At least, I’m assuming she does.”
“Of course I do,” she quipped back, leaning up on her toes until Draco kissed her lips lightly, his gloved hand moving up to stroke her cheek affectionately.
Harry looked dutifully away until he heard Draco clear his throat.
Harry smiled at them. “So, you’re finally together, I see.”
“As if there was any doubt,” Draco mused almost to himself.
“Parkinson didn’t take it so well,” Astoria said airily, a shadow passing over her features momentarily, “but a few hexes put her in her place.”
“Never get on the bad side of a Ravenclaw,” Draco advised. “They can be as cunning as a Slytherin when they want to be, and will put in the necessary research to make sure you’re left on the losing end.”
Astoria laughed prettily and then skipped ahead, standing in front of a small out-of-the-way shop.
“From my father,” Draco murmured and slipped a note in his pocket. “And another from me with a—request.”
Harry nodded, showing he understood.
“He’ll love it, I promise,” Astoria said with happiness as she led them into the shop, which turned out to be full of antiques. Nodding imperiously to the shopkeeper, a wizard in his thirties with a monocle, she led Harry to the back of the shop where there stood a large, antique Grandfather clock. “These are usually estate pieces,” Astoria explained, “but once in awhile one will turn up like this, unenchanted and ready for a new family.”
The clock had several hands, each with a small blank circle at the end, and they were slowly moving, pointing to various words instead of numerals around the edge. It was exactly like Mrs. Weasley’s clock, showing where every member of the family was—at home, at work, at school, traveling, shopping, in mortal danger—except it was grander, older, the wood burnished oak and absolutely perfect for the Firefly Jar.
He had found the perfect Yule present and knew exactly where they would put it.