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Chapter 35: Chapter 34: Forever
July 19, 2086
I saw my beloved walking toward me, his face alight with the excitement of seeing me. “Your late,” he gently chastised before kissing me. I shook my head at him.
“You can’t be late to something that had no prescribed time,” I retorted. “Anyway, it wasn’t I that was in the rush to get going. You knew that there would be things that I wanted to do, people that I would need to see.”
“The children?” He asked, probably already knowing the answer in his head.
“I am their mother, just because they are grown does not change that.”
“I know, love. I know,” he said before he pulled me to him, held me for a moment and then bent down to kiss me with deep passion. When he was done, he pulled back and looked at me.
“You are so beautiful,” he whispered, his hands caressing down my hair to my shoulders and back and then to my bum. “My Merlin, I forgot how firm it could be.”
“Yes, Sirius,” I said, lifting his hands back to my waist. “You always were impressed with my ass. But you,” I started, running my hands over his chest, feeling the firm musculature that was underneath, “you are as gorgeous as you have ever been. I suppose that I am going to have to watch out for all of the single ladies again?”
“Not a chance, love. I am yours, forever.” I got choked up at his words. After all that we had been through in the last few months, it was good to be reminded of it. He wrapped his arms around me, holding me to his chest, and bathing me in the sweet love that he had always given me. “I know it was hard, but it’s over now, and we won’t ever have to live through it again.”
In the darkest days that we’d had these last six months, I would let my mind wander back to our one hundredth wedding anniversary celebration last year. It was a remarkable and amazing affair. It was held at the Ministry of Magic, in the same hall where we had been married. As former Minister of Magic, I had that prerogative, and it was the only place that was large enough to hold our extended family as well as the guests that needed to be invited for proper etiquette.
The children had arranged for a family portrait to be taken. It was quite a challenge to get them all in, seeing as by this point we had twenty-three grandchildren and their spouses, sixty-nine great-grandchildren and their spouses, two hundred and seven great-great-grandchildren and spouses for those that were married and even thirty-one great-great-great-grandchildren. It was a magnificent sight to see all of our family there, together. The tapestry that we had started when we moved into Fairer Garden now covered all of the walls in the ballroom and the sitting room. It was a far cry from what Sirius called his “lonely little branch” when he and I got married.
“Where are you darling?” Sirius begged of me, and I lifted my head to look in his eyes.
“Thinking about our anniversary party last year,” I told him, and he smiled.
“They really do delight you, don’t they? Even if it sometimes takes you a while to find their names, it is the thing that makes you the happiest?”
“I told you, no matter what else I did in my life, that I could love my children and their families. Raise them to be good people. That is my greatest legacy. That I could do it with you, that humbles me, my love.”
“Are you ready to move on, or do you want to linger alone here for a few more minutes?” He asked me, having arrived nearly twelve hours before I did, he had some idea what to expect.
“It has been so long since I could hold you, and have your hold me back. Please, let’s just linger here for a moment more. It has been so long...” I trailed off, the pain of the last months again settling upon me. I knew it wouldn’t last, I knew that all of the good of our lives would push the recent despair aside; eventually. But for right now, it was all to fresh, to real, to close.
“We can linger here as long as you need, but you should know that there are those that are anxious to see you,” he reminded me.
“I’m sure that there are, but you are what I need right now. You and the luxurious feeling of heart again beating with mine.”
We stood there, holding each other, and it felt like everything else melted away in the world. My hands would twine in his hair and then trail down his back, and then make their way up again. His had slid inside of my top, and were drawing lazy circles upon my skin. He maneuvered us to sit down, still holding onto each other. I was cozily wrapped up by him, in his lap.
“Winnie, my love, tell me about the end. I don’t remember it,” he asked, and as hard as it had been to go through, he was the one person that I could never deny.
“It was hard,” I sighed. The pain was still so raw, so frightening for me. “About a week ago you began to slip in and out of consciousness. I could feel your heart weakening, and I tried so hard to make mine beat strong enough for us both, but I couldn’t,” I explained, letting the tears leave me. I knew that this was a cleansing cry, gently washing my pain wash away as the tears left my eyes.
“Oh, my sweet one, I am so sorry,” he whispered, his lips nestled near my hairline on the side of my head.
“It gave me new understanding of what you must have gone through when Lilyan was born. Finally, I could feel that you were close to leaving, there was almost nothing left of your essence with me, and for the first time in one hundred years, I couldn’t feel your heartbeat,” I explained. “The families came over, and those that were old enough were brought in to say goodbye. Ethan insisted that the younger ones say their goodbyes to us both, as he was sure that I would follow you closely. As the end came, it was just our children, their spouses and Harry and Ginny. I have never seen Harry so distraught, not even when his parents died. I think it was knowing that we would both be leaving him. Silly boy is 106 years old, and yet...” I trailed off. When James and Lily had died, about a decade ago, Harry had leaned on us to get through. I think that as he was watching Sirius die, he knew that he was the one that people were going to need to lean on for strength.
“The children all said their goodbyes, and then they left me alone with you,” I began to sob as I spoke. “I promised you that I would follow along closely, and that it was okay for you to go. I could feel your heart stopping, and I just kept telling you that I loved you and that I would always be with you. I reminded you of all the beautiful things that we had done in life, the amazing places that we had gone. I spoke of the sweet love that we’d made. Finally, when you were struggling so, I just kept telling you that it was okay to go,” I had to stop speaking. My body was shaking with the rolling sobs that were escaping me.
“Oh, my Winnie,” Sirius said. “How strong you are. If it had been you that had gone on first, I would have begged you to stay with me.”
“I wanted to do that,” I started to explain, “but I knew that it would only be because I was being selfish. You needed to go, you were just an echo of who you had once been. Also, I knew that I would follow you soon.”
“You always said that you would. I love you so,” he told me in such an impassioned way that the pain began to lift from me, instantly. I raised my head and kissed him deeply, my tongue invading his mouth and making him moan. When this he kiss was over, we nestled back together. I knew he’d want to hear the rest.
“What happened then?” He queried.
“I called the children back in, and Harry, Bastien, Ethan, Aaron, Evan, Boris, John and Stanley took you out back to bury you, right in the spot that we had picked out, overlooking the Quidditch pitch, right next to...our little girl.”
“Winnie, she’s here and she can’t wait to see you,” Sirius assured me, and it did bring me some comfort. I nodded at him.
“Edmund, Lilyan and Ginny stayed with me, Jamie was downstairs making fire calls, letting people know that you had passed. I could feel myself getting weaker instantly. I wasn’t afraid, I just wanted enough time to say goodbye to them all. I spoke with each of the grandchildren, as I had already said my peace to the rest. What an amazing bunch they are,” I sighed, thinking of our rag tag bunch of grandkids. “They all left the bedroom, and soon the boys and Jamie returned. Molly, Laure and Lara had helped get some of the youngest home, but they too had come back. I needed to tell them how much I loved them, and how proud you and I had always been of each and everyone one of them.”
“The children could see how hard it was for me, how I was struggling to breathe, and they all promised that they would make sure that the little ones knew about us and how we had sacrificed to have such a family. Then they started leaving, Edmund and Jamie going first, as they were having the hardest time at loosing both of us so close together. Lara was trying to comfort Edmund, but since Remus death you had taken that place in her life, and she was in shock, too. Jamie was inconsolable, Boris had to carry her out. Bastien and Laure were the next to go. He actually thanked me for making sure that he was welcomed in our family, and for letting him know his father,” I explained, crying harder. Sirius comforted me as I got myself together.
“John told jokes, trying to get me to smile one last time. His humor was always his way of hiding his real emotions. He and his sweet Molly left next, along with Stanley. Ginny could hear Jamie still sobbing, and said her goodbyes to go and help her dear friend,” I explained.
“Ethan, Lilyan and Harry wanted to stay until the end, and both Evan and Aaron left us alone. There weren’t words left for them, but I wasn’t sad or scared; I knew that you would be here to greet me. It was like falling asleep, and waking up in your arms again,” I explained.
There was a comfortable silence between us, sitting there, curled up in each other. We had no compulsion to say anything to each other, words were inadequate. Our love, devotion, respect and contentment was flowing through the bond. Neither of us felt like moving until we heard someone behind us, we turned to see James, Lily and Remus just looking at us.
“I told you that we’d be out to see us. Merlin’s underpants, can’t the three of you wait and let us just be alone,” Sirius said in a slightly irritated tone.
“Sirius, it’s been four days, we were wondering what the two of you were doing,” Lily explained and I looked at the three of them, shocked.
“Four days, I’ve been here for four days?” I asked.
“Yes, and something is about to happen down there that I think you two will want to see,” Remus said, “but first, your daughter is itching to see you and well, it’s been quite a while since I’ve talked you too.”
With that, I got up and went to him and hugged him. “I have missed you my friend, you may not have been talking to me, but I have been talking with you.”
“I know, I heard every word,” he explained and I smiled. I hugged and spoke with James and Lily, but a voice clearing her throat behind me, made me turn. There stood my Stella, my beautiful star. She’d died from an undiagnosed condition that ran in certain magical families -- ones that tended to inter-marry too much. The condition caused her internal organs to age faster than the rest of her. She died when she was only sixty-three years old. It was the same disease that had taken so much of the Black family. Turns out that we adopted a very far removed cousin of Sirius, which is what we’d suspected for a long time. It only made my husband more disgusted with the lot of them.
“Stella, oh my little Stella,” I said as Remus let go of me, and I went and hugged her, tears again streaming down my face. She let go of her father, who she had wrapped her arm around, and he had done the same with her, and we hugged. “I have missed you so, my sweet girl.”
“I know, Mummy, I’ve missed you too,” she explained. “Thank you, so much, for helping my children and their families when I died.” I couldn’t respond, I just stood there and cried. Sirius came over and embraced us both.
“I hate to break up this family moment,” James said, “but your memorial services are about to start, and I think that you’ll want to see what’s going on.” I was still stunned and disoriented, but thankfully my Stella guided her father and I over to what looked like a lounge and we all took our seats and from nowhere, a picture materialized of the lawn at Fairer Garden. I don’t think that I had ever seen so many people at our home. It was awe-inspiring. Just as we sat down, Edmund came forward to speak, casting the spell on the podium, so that voices would project.
“I wanted to say thank you to all of you for coming today for this celebration of the lives of our parents, Sirius and Anwen. As to their wishes, today will be a joyful remembrance of their lives. My Mum and Dad were remarkable people, who loved deeply and freely. Their connection with each other was astounding, and I believe that if you ask any of their extended family, they will tell you that it was their love that inspired each of us to find love in our own lives.”
Edmund walked down, and John stood and started to speak. “It would be so easy to talk about what my Mum did, and then talk about how Dad always supported her; but that would be selling my father short. The young man who was known as Padfoot at Hogwarts bears little resemblance to the man who was Sirius Black. My father broke away from one of the darkest families in Wizarding history to write his own unique story. He was impassioned in his fight against the forces of evil. He went on to become one of the best known and most regarded ward builders in Great Britain,” John explained, “but the best thing about our father was his joyful spirit. Mum was always rolling her eyes at him and sighing, but we all think that she secretly liked that part of him.”
“Is that true?” Sirius asked me, and I just looked at him and smiled. “Thought so.”
“Kids, Grandkids, Great-Grandkids and so on all had a chance to ride on his back when he was changed over into his animagus form. Dad kept it up until just a few years ago, and he always drove Mum nuts when he’d lick her face. There was a playfulness to his spirit that remained with him until the end. In fact a few days before he died he was telling me this joke: A blind wizard walked into a bar holding a rooster...” he started and my hand flew to my mouth. I’d heard the joke when Sirius told it, and it was not something that should be told in mixed company. Sirius threw his head back and started to laugh in that great, bark-like laugh of his. Thankfully, Ethan cleared his throat and gave John his best big-brother look, and John stopped. “I wasn’t going to finish it,” he whispered at his brother.
“Anyway, that’s the kind of man that Dad was in private. Laughing, playful and joyous to be living. He never took anything for granted; not his money, not his family, not the small things in life, and certainly not the love he had from my Mum. He often said that he doubted that he would have amounted to much if it hadn’t been for her influence in his life. We all think that Dad was selling himself short.” John concluded and then sat down. Lilyan was the next to rise.
“There was another side of my father, however. He was a respected pillar of society. When our Uncle James passed away, Daddy took over being the head of the Council of Thirteen, and the Wizengamot. By this time, my parents had returned to this home, their home, after spending three decades in Zurich, father teaching at the International Wizarding University. Having gained both his Mastery in both Charms and Defense, my father loved teaching advanced Charms work. He was creative and urged his students to think about their Charms work in different ways. Mum loved living in Zurich, as she said that it was the first time she was simply Mrs. Black, and she was able to support Daddy.”
Lilyan stopped and took a deep breath, fighting back her tears. “My father was also a good man. He helped people, anyone who needed it. There are people who were assisted by our Dad who never knew it, and he preferred it that way. Daddy always told us that if you had to publicize your good acts, then they weren’t that good. It was something that he instilled in all of us, and it will be his living legacy; as will all of the students whose lives he touched.”
Lilyan struggled with her tears, and as she sat back down between her brothers, they both comforted her. I looked into the crowd and saw Evan looking back at her from the first row, his face strained with compassion for his wife. It made me happy to see the love they shared, even after all this time. Bastien stood next, and walked forward to speak.
“I didn’t know my father until I was seventeen, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t influence the man that I became. I didn’t want to know him at the time. I didn’t think that I needed a father; but he wasn’t going to let me be estranged any longer. The first time that we met and really talked, he brought along my little sisters and brothers, and it was overwhelming -- five children under the age of six -- there wasn’t anything that prepared me for that. But I watched him that day, watched him with them, and it was that day that I realized what I had missed all of my childhood,” he explained. I turned my head, and saw a lone tear leaving Sirius face. I reached up and wiped it away and then kissed his cheek where it had been.
“Anwen had no reason to ever accept me. I wasn’t her child, and my mother hated Sirius and her; I thought that I should as well. However, Anwen made that impossible,” he said, and we could hear the chuckles in the crowd. Our little bunch was laughing as well.
“Hey, it was meant as a compliment,” I chastised them.
“Sure, Mum,” Stella said as she sat next to her Dad. “But, let’s be fair, you can be a bit pushy.” I couldn’t help but laugh and agree with her, I was pushy.
Bastien was smiling as he continued to speak. “Not in a bad way, but she was not going to let me shy away from my father or the family. In the years to come, I would see that is how she was with everyone. She was the person that people would go to. She was the person who comforted everyone. Even in the end, as father passed, and she was becoming weak, she was telling us that we would all be fine. Father and Anwen complimented each other so well, and they made each other whole.”
Jamie stood next, and instead of speaking, she started singing. Sirius and I both started to laugh, just a little, at her choice. It was a song that we had always considered ours. Sirius told me that when we listened to it that first night, in my music dorm, he realized that he thought of me when he heard it. It would be three more years before he’d be willing to act on his feelings, but after that, it was our song. “When I, say that something, I think you understand. When I say that something, I wanna hold your hand...” she started singing, just her lovely voice, even at her age.
“Good choice, Angel,” Sirius whispered and I looked up at him and nodded. It was a quiet and reflective, but a great choice nonetheless. Most of the people at service were silently wiping tears away.
When Jamie was done, she lifted both of her hands to her face and wiped away her tears. She sat back down, and laid her head on her twin brothers shoulder and Edmund wrapped an arm around her. It made me happy to see my children so close to each other.
After a moment, Harry stood and straightened his robes. Lily had a staggered breath at the sight of him, wearing his Headmaster’s robes and looking so distinguished. I could hear James whisper under his breath, “Well done, son.” Harry had only recently taken over as the Headmaster, having served as the Deputy and Head of Gryffindor house for the last thirty or so years.
“I’m supposed to stand up and talk about all of the things that Anwen Llyn Hodgson-Black had done in her professional life; but as I started to make the list, I realized that it was a ridiculous list. She’d done more things in her life than three people could usually accomplish. It was harder, however, because I have known her my entire life, as Aunt Winnie. She was my Mum’s best friend, my godfather’s wife, and later we learned, my Dad’s second cousin. She was always in my life. When I was a very small child, and we were living in hiding, Anwen was like a third parent to me,” he said, and I found myself crying again. “It’s in no way meant to detract from my parents, but she took me places and did things with me that they couldn’t.”
“The thing that will always stand out for me, however, is the way that she made every moment a learning experience. She was a natural teacher, no matter what she was doing; and she taught with a gentle, urging style. Even as the Minister of Magic, she found a way to teach people who were adversarial towards one another about how the other side saw and felt about things. It was a skill I tried to emulate when I began teaching. She was the consummate professional; regardless of her job. Anwen Hodgson-Black was dedicated to peace and understanding and doggedly worked for it her entire life.”
“But, it would be unfair for me to talk about my Aunt Winnie and Uncle Sirius without saying something about how they loved me. There was a selfless abandon to the way that they loved me and took care of me. More than once, I was sure that either of them would have jumped in and taken a curse for me, Uncle Sirius was nearly lost because he did; and they both were close to death because Winnie needed to keep me safe...” Harry paused and gathered his thoughts. “There are few of us who love quite like that. The world would be so much better if we all did.”
Harry sat down at the end of the rows of chairs, on the far side of Edmund. I could see Harry look down at Ginny, and her close her eyes and I knew that she was sending her husband support and love through their bond. I recognized the concentration on her face, and the release that was then seen on Harry’s. Sirius and I had done it many, many times over the years. Finally, Ethan stood and took a deep breath and walked forward.
“What you saw in public, was what you got in private. My mother wasn’t a politician who tried to hide things, she was really an open book. My favorite story to tell of Mum, was when Aaron and I adopted our middle child, Cecilia. Ce was born without her legs, and in the Muggle world, there weren’t many options for repair. We decided to make her part of our family, but even at three, she knew that she was different. She had pulled in on herself and was very quiet,” Aaron said, remembering when they first brought her home. She was so very different than their first child, a magical little girl of Indian descent named Hinda, or the ethereal Ejaui. I had no idea where Ethan was going with this.
“On the day we brought her home, we went to go and introduce her to Mum and Dad first, and then slowly let her meet her Aunts, Uncles and Cousins -- we were already a rather imposing and rowdy bunch. Ce walked in on her prosthetics, feeling very uncomfortable about being around others, she clung to Aaron. Mum called her over to sit on the couch with her, and when she did, Mum started explaining about her own leg. She then released her own prosthetic, and removed her fake leg. Ce sat there looking at her grandmother’s stump, and then up at Mum’s face. Mum started talking to her in French, letting her know that she understood how she felt, but she promised Ce that day that someday, it would be okay. That was the turning point for Ce. We’d visit Mum nearly every day, and slowly, Mum got her speaking English. Ce came out of her shell in that year...” Ethan stopped and looked over the heads of the people there, trying to gather his thoughts.
I was openly crying, again. “I don’t even remember that, from that day. I just remember that another one of our family had found their way home,” I whispered.
“Why would you, Mum? You did things like that so naturally,” Stella told me, which made me cry harder.
Ethan finally gave up, and sat back down. Edmund stood up to speak again.
“Thank you, all of you, for sharing with us today. You’re welcome to continue to stay, go and visit their graves and there is food and drink inside. Thank you, again.” He waved his wand, probably releasing the projecting spell, and then turned back to his siblings and Harry. They stepped from the small stage, and were greeted by their spouses, and they took off for the small guest house in the gardens. It was the most secluded of places on our property.
The picture dissolved away, and we were left in this sitting room with our friends. I wasn’t sure what to say. I assessed what I was feeling, and I was surprised to find that I wasn’t sad. I just felt like I was at peace. The room disappeared, and soon we were surrounded by people that we loved and that had gone before us.
There was no rush to greeting them, instead their was a leisurely pace to it all. I spoke with my parents and siblings, Reg and Sirius were arguing about something and it made me laugh. Lily, Remus and I went to find former professors and others that we had known when we were younger. James sat with his family, and a few minutes later, he brought me over and formally introduced me to my birth grandmother. I had spent some time with my grandma Liddy, the woman who had adopted my Da and had been my grandmother for all of my life; but meeting Violet was something else.
We sat down and started to talk, slowly joined by both my Da and my uncle. Sirius came over and sat down with me, as did Stella, Remus, Lily and James. We were joined by the rest of my siblings and my Ma, and it was fascinating to hear about the magical part of my family.
I don’t know how long I sat there, listening to her stories, asking her questions, but slowly that too ended. There were two figures that I saw hanging along the edge of the space we were in. One had the courage to come forward, the other still stood in the shadows.
“Welcome,” he said to me, Sirius still holding my hand. I reached out and hugged the man.
“Thank you, Severus.”
“I wasn’t sure how you’d greet me.”
“At the end of your life, you proved who you are. Let’s leave the rest as the stupidity of childhood. Thank you though, for having the courage to approach me. Have you and LIly worked things out?”
Severus nodded, “I have even come to an understanding with your husband and his friends. Perhaps, now, there will be time for tea?”
“We get tea here? Are there butter tarts? I could use a good butter tart.”
“I’m sure that there are, love,” Sirius teased and Severus smiled as he walked toward Lily. I turned my face back to the man in the shadows. If he wasn’t going to come to me, I was going to him.
“You have to know that you’re not getting off that easy,” I said as we came face to face. Sirius was still holding my hand. “Just because a sentient, two-dimensional representation of yourself has made his amens with me, does not mean that you are off the hook. I don’t understand. I trusted you completely, I did everything that you ever asked of me. I never questioned your motives or why I was singled out so. Don’t you think that you at least owe me an explanation?”
“I do,” Albus said. Then there was nothing. I waited, and waited. I had all of the time in eternity. Granted, I was needing some alone time with Sirius, but it could wait. This needed to be dealt with. Finally, after a crowd had gathered around us, he started to speak. It was my Grandmother Hodgson clearing her throat that forced him to speak. “Anwen I am sorry that I kept so much from you. It was wrong. I could tell you that I was afraid that you’d leave Hogwarts and go and find your grandmother. I could try to excuse my behavior by telling you that I was so afraid that we would loose Harry if you weren’t there to protect him. I could try and explain it all away, but it wouldn’t be fair to you. I asked you to give a great sacrifice, and I never gave you a chance to say no. That was wrong of me. I am sorry.”
I held my face, not sure of what I wanted to do. “I’ll give what you’ve said some thought,” I told him, and then still holding onto Sirius, we left everyone. Within moments, we were alone and I turned and wrapped myself in his arms and kissed him passionately.
“I love you,” I mumbled as my lips moved down his jaw, licking and nipping at his neck.
“I love you too, always, forever,” he whispered in my ear before kissing behind it. Our mouths met one another again, and there was a comfortable, consuming passion to our embrace. “Darling, what’s next?”
“I pulled back just a bit, and smiled at him, my whole face engaged in the smile. “Whatever we want. This is it. This is the forever that I have always wanted. There is nothing that will ever take us apart for one another. My heart could burst from how much I love you,” I explained.
“Well then, if this is the beginning of forever, I think a shag is the best way to start,” Sirius said, his eyebrow cocked and his lips curled in delight.
“I couldn’t agree more. To love and devotion, and to them being with you. This has always been my dream,” I told him. He didn’t say anything, he just started to make love to me, in the perfect way that the love of a lifetime only can.
*** The song Jamie Black Krum sings at her parents funeral is "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by The Beatles. ***