Part the Twentieth—
But oh! as to embrace me she inclined, I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night.
—Milton, “On His Deceased Wife”
Harry held the small golden Snitch in his hand, turning it over carefully. He was surprised when he had received a summons from the Ministry of Magic earlier that week and had had it handed over as part of Dumbledore’s Will along with a small copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard. It was a newer copy than the one from the Potter Vault, which itself had been a first edition and autographed by someone claiming to be the Bard himself.
“So sorry for the delay,” the witch in the tiny office had said when he had come to collect them. “There was some dispute over the Will that finally got sorted out—although it’s now April.”
“A small dispute?” Harry had asked, picking up the first Snitch he had ever caught during a Quidditch game.
“Yes. A few members of a knitting club the Professor put together—the Order of the Phoenix—disputed some articles in the Will, and then of course one of the recipients, a Miss Granger, was not only dead, but under the new Ministry laws could not inherit as she had stolen magic. Oh, and Minister Scrimgeour held it up last summer—something to do with flesh memory and the Snitch.”
Harry had stilled. “What was Granger to get?”
“The book,” the witch admitted. She was wearing oval glasses that made her white-blue eyes seem too large for her small, weak face. “The Ministry decided to award it to you as you have a child who might enjoy it.”
“Oh,” Harry had finally said after a long minute. “Yes, of course.” He didn’t even make it back to the Firefly Jar with the book, instead stopping by an owl post office and wrapping the book up for delivery. He had decided to send it to little Elissa, a gift from her sister beyond the grave, as it were, and he and Octavian had their own copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard already, a family heirloom that was precious to them. It wouldn’t be a loss and he didn’t feel right accepting something that should have belonged to Hermione if she had survived that night.
He hoped Elissa would enjoy it, and maybe read them to her own children one day.
He hadn’t put a note in it or even signed his name. Hopefully she would understand the message and the kindness behind it.
The Snitch had surprised him. When he touched it nothing had happened but, remembering how he had won the game by nearly swallowing the small magical ball, he placed it to his mouth and watched as the words appeared on the gold surface: I open at the close.
He didn’t understand it and part of him wondered if he ever would.
Harry hadn’t shown it to anyone when he finally made his way back to the Firefly Jar. Justin was in the telephone room, as usual, and Daphne and Astoria were making havoc of the third floor. Flint had, of course, proposed and Daphne was wearing a large engagement ring. An official announcement had already appeared in The Daily Prophet and they were planning on a quiet ceremony as soon as Daphne officially returned from France. Harry had never seen the sisters happier.
Harry’s mind turned to the past and to the great man that had been Albus Dumbledore before his single-minded dislike of Octavian and their marriage, before Harry had ever read The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, which made his heart quake in anger when he even thought about it.
“For the Greater Good.”
He had never heard any catchphrase so entirely sinister—so many wrongs justified, including wanting Harry to die in order to destroy the horcrux within him. The entire thought sickened him.
A letter was waiting for him and he looked at it impassively, recognizing Lord Prince’s writing. It had come then, the ritual. He, Justin, and Daphne had learned it could only be performed by one of them and it had been decided that Harry would bring all three of the kings’ gifts together as he had managed to gather the three of them and it should react better to him. Carefully opening the letter, he looked at the archaic words in a language long dead that he couldn’t understand. He only hoped that Lord Prince was correct.
“Tomorrow,” he promised himself. He would do it tomorrow. He was too tired now.
In the distance he could hear Astoria moving about in a tiny sitting room she had appropriated as her own. She would only be here for another two months before Draco returned from Hogwarts, recently graduated. He wondered why her father couldn’t keep her safe, but he knew nothing about the Greengrasses apart from the knowledge he had gleaned—their mother was French, but seemed to have lost all love for her children when her only son had died shortly after she gave birth to him and their father, sick with grief, spent more time in his club than looking after either of his children. Perhaps it was better if a man like that didn’t know that his daughters were in distress, that they be kept safe by their fiancés instead. Draco would move heaven and earth for Astoria, he knew. All you had to do was see him look longingly at her even when she was sitting beside him. And Flint, well, if his aggressive courtship was anything to go by, nothing and no one would ever get close to Daphne without his permission.
Justin was once again in the small telephone room, his quiet chatter wafting down the stairs, too indistinct to understand a word he said. Winky, most likely, was in the kitchen cleaning up after supper. Harry had gotten the summons just before the evening meal and, at Octavian’s urging, had hurried out, promising that he would pick up something to eat and would be home as quickly as possible and was intent to find his husband and his child.
Quietly, he ascended the stairs, the Snitch still in his hands. Romola was a little young to play with it. She could easily suck on it and try to swallow it, harming herself, but he would put it on a shelf in her room and one day he would teach her how to fly, letting her catch a toy snitch until she gained confidence on her child’s broom. A smile flitted across his lips and he didn’t notice the small Snitch’s bent wings flicker helplessly in his loose grip.
He checked their room first, but apart from the fireflies flickering in jars, it was empty, unearthly and cool in the changing glow of blues, greens, and purples. The grandfather clock stood near the mantle, chiming quietly in the twilight. All three hands pointed to “Home,” showing him that his husband and child were near, that they were safe.
Walking through the room carefully, he paused at the door that led to the nursery and opened it quietly, smiling when he saw Octavian sitting in a comfortable rocking chair with Romola in his lap, a book open in front of them.
“Ze centaurs looked to the sky and saw ze future, knowing zat death was to come where it was not wanted. Zey went to ze forests on ze tallest mountain and zere spoke with ze old gods ‘oo were dying,” Octavian read carefully. Romola pointing at a picture that Harry couldn’t see you. “Zat’s a centaur, yes,” Octavian agreed, leaning down and kissing the light spattering of golden hair on the top of her head. “And ze gods saw ze truth in zeir hearts and gave zem a casket of the nectar of ze gods, Ambrosia, which we call Frankincense, and said zat it would protect against death or take life away as long as zeir ‘earts were true, but such gift ‘ad a price and with every gift granted or taken, another life would ‘ave to end to even out ze balance of ze fates.”
Harry’s eyes widened as he recognized the tale as the story of the three unearthly kings, and felt his throat close in fear—but Octavian didn’t see him and continued to read the story to their daughter, turning the page carefully.
“Zen ze vampires walked ze earth and zey smelled zat Death ‘imself was coming, and zey were afraid. Zey went into ze deep earth and slept for many centuries, but still zey could smell him, so zey went to ze old gods who were dying and pled for their eternity. Ze old gods were now little more zan shadows, but still zey listened and zey understood and from zeir own tombs brought out zeir embalming oil, which we call Myrrh, and said zat it would protect ze vampires against death or take life away as long as their ‘earts were true, but such a gift ‘ad a price and with every gift granted or taken, another life would ‘ave to end to even out the balance of the fates. Ze vampires took it and thanked zem, and found souls to even out the balance, and gave zem a gift before zeir lives were taken to preserve their own.”
Romola looked up with wide green eyes at Octavian, not understanding the words as she was still too young. Her small chubby hands came up and pressed themselves against Octavian’s mouth, and he laughed softly at her, carefully balancing the book on his knee and turning the page again.
“Almost done, ma princesse,” he promised, “and zen it’s time to go to bed.”
She clapped her hands at his voice and Octavian leaned down and kissed her cheek softly.
Harry’s heart melted at the quiet love, and he walked into the room.
“Henri Jacques,” Octavian greeted, looking up with a smile. “We are almost done.”
Harry nodded and sat down at his feet, entwining one of his arms around Octavian’s leg and carefully stroking his calf lovingly, a quiet fear settling in him as Octavian finished the legend of the three kings and their gifts, praying that it wasn’t true, that a price wouldn’t be exacted and if it was that it wouldn’t touch their small, precious family.
Octavian cleared his throat gently.
“Ze old gods, with zeir dying breaths, looked down from zeir mountain home and saw ze fear of ze three unearthly kings and felt fear that their gifts would be misused. With zeir last bit of magic, zey decreed that it was not until ze three gifts were united in perfect unity and trust zat zey would work and ‘old sway over Death. And zen Death came for ze old gods, closing zeir eyes so zat zey slept for a thousand years, never to awaken again. And zat is ze end,” he concluded.
Harry looked up, taking the book from Octavian so he could pick up Romola. “I didn’t know that was a story told for wizarding children.”
“All our legends are stories for les enfants,” Octavian answered, standing up and cradling Romola against him. “It is ‘ow we teach zem of ze old ways, Henri Jacques.”
“Of course,” Harry answered, smiling slightly as he got up and put the book away on one of the many shelves around the room. He turned and watched as Octavian carefully set Romola in her crib, dimming the lights with a flicker his wand.
“Bonne nuit, Romole,” he whispered in the dark, turning to Harry and sliding an arm around his waist. “Come to bed.”
Harry grinned widely and carefully set down the Golden Snitch so that it was out of Romola’s reach.
Setting up the monitoring spell, Octavian quietly led Harry from the room, closing the door behind them. “Ow was ze meeting?” he asked carefully, leaning up and kissing Harry deeply before he could respond.
“What?” Harry gasped, forgetting the question, and Octavian laughed within his mouth, pulling him toward the bed until they fell against it, a tangle of limbs.
“Make love to me,” Octavian breathed as Harry slowly began to strip him, letting his hands caress Octavian’s chest lingeringly, wondering if the story was true, if a life would be taken, if it would in fact be his own and this would be the last time he would ever love his Octavian.
It was ironic, he thought desperately to himself as he answered Octavian with a searing kiss, uncertain if he could form words as his overwhelming love and fear from their future washed over him. He had tried so hard to escape death, to not allow Dumbledore to sacrifice him to save the wizarding world, and yet despite everything he was in the same position, still poised to lose his precious Octavian forever—and all because Voldemort had tried to cheat death.
He didn’t want to leave; he didn’t want to die. He still had so much life before him. Harry wanted to watch Romola grow, wanted to make love to Octavian and see him carry another child. He wanted laughter as children ran around the Firefly Jar, wanted years of kisses and love that would never dim. He wanted a world without Voldemort, the tyrant who had murdered his parents in cold blood, the monster who cut off Snape’s head and then presented it to his husband as a gift.
Octavian still had nightmares from it, although he never spoke of it. He would whimper in his sleep about “le sang” and curl around Harry, burrowing into him for comfort as tears fell down his cheeks as he slept. He couldn’t let a creature like that roam around Britain, terrorizing it, when he discovered two ways to end it—one which would have taken his life and another that still might.
Harry arched into a warm kiss as Octavian flipped them over, lying on top of him carefully. “Je veux le contrôle,” he murmured as their naked bodies rubbed against each other, and Harry groaned at the sweet contact.
“Of course, whatever you want,” Harry promised, looking up at the beautiful sight as Octavian straddled him, leaning his head back and baring the line of his neck. “Mon mari.”
He leaned up and wrapped his arm around Octavian until their chests were pressed against each other, and tasted Octavian’s sweet neck, loving every moment they were together, praying there would be a hundred tomorrows and hoping that if there were not that there would be another child, a final act of love that he could give his husband. He barely noticed as his eyes filled with tears, kissing Octavian’s neck lovingly and fiercely, running his hands up and down Octavian’s back as his husband positioned himself and lowered himself down.
Harry gasped at the sensation, at the overwhelming perfection and heat, and wished for a child, a son, a daughter, another little Black to run around the house and laugh happily in a world free of Voldemort. As Octavian rocked against him, kissing his lips and murmuring French into his mouth that he was too far gone to understand, he found that if it all ended, at least he could leave this world knowing that Octavian loved him and that he was safe—it was all he ever wanted, for Octavian to be safe.
Octavian rested against him, sleeping peacefully, a small smile on his face. Harry didn’t know what time it was, sometime after midnight, he assumed, and yet he couldn’t sleep, not without knowing, not when he might never see Octavian after the day ahead. He kissed the top of Octavian’s head gently and then carefully disentangled himself, sitting up and pulling a robe around himself. Octavian had given it to him for Christmas, saying it was wolf fur and was handmade in Canada. It was decadent and comfortable and still held a hint of Octavian’s sweet scent from their constant love making and his presence.
If it was going to be done, Harry couldn’t think about it. It would be like falling asleep and never waking up again, he decided. And he wouldn’t die, he promised himself, although his thought rang hollowly in his head. No, no he wouldn’t.
He slipped out of the room and into the nursery, his eyes taking in the yellow wallpaper and the sleeping dragons, unicorns, and hippogriffs painted on the wall. The dragons breathed out puffs of smoke with every snore, and he smiled, wondering if his room had looked like this when he was a child, if his mum and dad had carefully chosen something similar as Octavian had for their little Romola. This would be the nursery for the Black children throughout the generations, he knew. It was Romola’s room and it would be their next child’s—the child who now grew inside his Octavian, a final apology, a promise that even if Harry could not live that their children would.
Reaching out carefully, he brushed the back of his fingers against Romola’s cheek, and watched her stir in her sleep. She was so peaceful, without a care in the world, and Harry would be certain that she would remain without a care. She would never know hunger, fear, the absence of love, or the feeling of dread when she was only eleven and realized that the wizard who murdered her parents wanted to murder her as well. She would never know any of these things, only the quiet ache that one of her fathers no longer lived, that he had had to give his life so that she could smile and never know the fear of the Dark Lord’s wrath. She would be strong, he decided, and beautiful, and Octavian would adore her as Lucrece had never loved him.
“Je t’aime,” he murmured and, with tears streaming down his face, he turned away, unable to look at her anymore for fear that he wouldn’t be able to do it.
He paused at the shelf where he had placed the Snitch and stared at it for a long moment. I open at the close—the end—and then he realized it, this was the only act of mercy Dumbledore had performed, something that would help him in his final day when he realized that there was no way for Voldemort to die without him also giving his life. Picking up the Snitch gently, he swept out of the room, refusing to look back. It was too painful.
Carefully he made his way down the silent hall, his bare feet silent against the plush carpet and the wolf fur robe sweeping around his ankles. As he descended the steps, he brought the Snitch up to his mouth and whispered quietly, “I’m going to die,” knowing it was the truth, and hating himself for his weakness as tears began to flow from his eyes.
The Snitch opened with a quiet click and a ring fell into his hand, its stone broken. He stared at it for several moments, realizing it was one of Voldemort’s horcruxes, but not understanding why Dumbledore would give it to him. As he reached the last step, he turned it over in his hand three times, looking for any marking that would give him some clue, but saw nothing. It was only a broken stone in a ring, one that had belonged to the Gaunts—to a young Tom Marvolo Riddle. Worthless and horrible.
A whoosh, as if someone had just entered through an unseen fireplace, filled the air and Harry looked around the empty landing suspiciously. A shadowed figure walked from the corner and he was surprised to see his father. He wasn’t a ghost and yet wasn’t flesh and bone, instead reminding him of Tom Riddle when he had begun to take form during Harry’s second year. He and his father were the same height, had the same messy hair and both had glasses perched on their noses.
“Harry,” James breathed, reaching out and letting his fingers hover just above his cheek. “You’re a father and a husband.”
A sob erupted from Harry’s throat and he couldn’t hold it back, thinking of his beautiful Octavian and Romola, both sleeping peacefully upstairs. “I love them,” he whispered, and James nodded in understanding.
“Your mother—she won’t come,” he murmured. “She wouldn’t understand. Muggle-borns rarely do.”
Harry’s heart tightened painfully in his chest and he only nodded, walking carefully toward the study, aware that his father’s shade was following him.
“She loves you, though,” he continued quietly. “She’s waiting for you.”
“I don’t want—“ Harry managed to choke out as he sank to the floor, the fur robe spreading out around him like a king’s cloak. “I want—“
“Shh, of course,” James murmured carefully as he sat beside him, so close and yet unable to touch, a living boy and a man who had been dead for far too long. “Your grandfather would be pleased. He was upset when I married Lily. He liked her, of course, thought she had a good head on her shoulders,” here a smile ghosted over his shadowy face, “but he wanted the line to remain pure.”
Harry stared at that, his green eyes filled with tears meeting his father’s gray ones.
“Oh yes,” James whispered, understanding the unspoken question. “The Potters were always liberal, just not liberal enough to marry anyone who wasn’t a pureblood. I was the only exception,” he said with a smile. “You married for love, though, and that’s all that matters. I’m so proud of you, Harry.”
Harry looked down at his hand where he still held the ring. “What is it?”
“A hallow,” James quietly replied. “One of the three deathly hallows.”
He looked up at his father, shocked. “Like the story I read to Romola from Beedle the Bard?” he asked, his eyes widening.
“Yes,” James agreed, laughter in his eyes. “It’s part of the old ways. All of our stories are. Your mother never held with such nonsense, of course,” he said with a sad smile. “Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t have married her.”
“Not that I would ever regret you,” James admitted, looking at him with love. “I would never regret having you. You were the light of my life, and I did love Lily in a way, always wanted to impress her since we were children, but she couldn’t understand the old ways, our own traditions. I didn’t realize it was so important until she insisted on not having a traditional wedding ceremony—and I couldn’t—the laws of hospitality were such—” James sighed, reaching out for Harry again but letting his fingers hover just inches from his face.
“She let me buy you toy brooms and teach you small wand movements, but she didn’t like the stories and when—when we realized about the Prophecy she insisted that if anything happened to your godfather, her sister Petunia would get you. She said family was more important than the wizarding world, even though I always suspected that Petunia hated magic, though Lily never said. I’m so sorry, Harry. So very sorry.” His ghostly eyes filled with gray tears, and Harry reached forward and let his solid hand flutter near his cheek, offering silent forgiveness as he allowed himself to cry the last of his tears.
“I’m going to die, aren’t I?” he whispered desperately, hoping that his father would tell him that he wasn’t.
“Yes,” James whispered brokenly, “for your husband and your children. It’s what any Potter would do.”
A small smile quirked Harry’s lips and he stood up carefully, feeling the luxurious fur slide against his bare form. “Children?” he whispered, hoping against hope that it would all be true, that there would be another child.
“Children. Romola Lux and little Hadrian Nür—he’ll be born at the end of next February, and will have our wild Potter hair.” James smiled.
“How do you—?”
James smiled sadly. “The secrets of the dead,” he admitted. “Octavian will adore him and call him ‘the little Lord Black’ even when Hadrian is married with his own children—Octavian will understand, Harry. He will weep for you and will never love another apart from the children you’ve given him, but he will love you even more for this because it will prove that you are the man he fell in love with. His Henri Jacques.”
Tears fell down Harry’s face at his father’s words and he nodded once. Without speaking a word, he opened a cabinet in the library, which held the galleon of gold, the vial of frankincense, and the small jar of myrrh. He felt his father watch him as he arranged them carefully on a desk and, taking out his wand, he read the words from the letter Lord Prince had given him, the words strange and foreign on his tongue.
As the last one left his lips there was a flash of horrible green light, the sound of rushing in his ears, and with a final desperate plea on his lips—“Octavian”—he saw no more.
French to English.
Les enfants. The children.
Bonne nuit, Romola. Goodnight, Romola.
Le sang. The blood.
Je veux le contrôle. I want control.