A/N: I am posting this final chapter in memory of my beloved husband, who was killed last night when his car hit a stranded pickup on a flooded stretch of road and went into the creek. We were married for 48 wonderful years. It wasn't enough. But he loved this story, so it seems fitting to finish it today, 4 Kislev, 5772.Chapter 9. Touch the Sky
James's faith in his family bolstered Ginny the next morning, when they Apparated to Oxford for Mass at Blackfriars. They were all in Muggle garb, though Tessa had told them that was not necessary. "If we wear robes, they'll just think we're in some sort of obscure lay order," she'd said. But Ginny had wanted to blend in to the larger flock, thinking she'd feel conspicuous enough by virtue of her unfamiliarity with the situation.
The church in the Blackfriars Priory was her first surprise. She had vaguely expected some heavily Gothic cathedral with pointed arches and stained glass instead of this simple barrel-vaulted space lit by clear windows.
The liturgy seemed flat and uninteresting, with pedestrian prayers and undistinguished music. Bored, she found her eyes wandering around the congregation in their uncomfortable wooden seats. She glimpsed Father Michael amongst the brothers arrayed on either side of the altar. Most of the other people seemed to be nondescript middle-aged Muggles with a scattering of undergraduates and a few of the panhandlers they'd had to navigate through at the entrance.
Out of the side of her eye, she kept track of the Zabinis and Madame Camara, who sat calmly with her eyes closed and her fingers twined on her capacious lap. Ginny glanced to her other side to check on her own family. Severus sat rigidly upright on the end, alert and guarded as though expecting an attack. Harry beside him looked attentive and mildly interested. Lily was openly staring at the other congregants, while Al pored over a hymnal, mouthing lyrics to himself. James had his head bent to Teresa's, sharing a missal and occasionally stealing a look at her demurely pious expression.
There were some readings from the Bible that they sat through, then one that they stood for, though Ginny wasn't sure what made that one different. After that they sat again while the priest spoke of something called the Holy Trinity, which seemed to be three parts of one God but she must have missed something, because he also seemed to say it wasn't that at all. Then came more sitting and standing, and also some kneeling. Blaise had advised the Potter-Snapes to stand and sit when the others did, but to sit when they knelt. Ginny, though, decided to kneel with the Catholics to get a fuller sense of the experience.
So she was on her knees when the words of exhortation and response lifted out of the mundane and took on a poetic rhythm, sounding in a silence she could almost touch. The silence became complete, as the young celebrant faced the congregation. He raised the white disc of bread in both hands, saying, "This is my body." A bell chimed, heads raised to look—and a shiver of wild magic ran through the flock.
Ginny looked to her family; they were feeling it, too. Madame Camara, on her other side, was rapt. Something is happening here, she thought. Something is being tapped into, a power or an energy beyond the words and the space. The priest was raising a golden chalice now, intoning behind the sound of the bell, and the people bowed, and magic was all around them, and love poured down like sunshine from the heavens.
Ginny sat through the rest of the service—the prayers and the handshaking and the blessings and the faithful filing forward to consume the essence of their God—feeling she had touched the sky.
They went home and resumed their lives. As the summer wore on, Jamie and Tessa continued their explorations and discussions, sometimes with his family, sometimes with hers, or with both together. They consulted Father McKay, they read books, they even went to Malfoy Manor to discuss Pureblood customs with Draco and Astoria. They hammered out a plan for raising their children by educating them in a variety of traditions and allowing them to choose their own path, a compromise that made no one entirely happy. "So we must be doing something right," Jamie said cheekily.
At summer's end they all went to Auntie Muriel's for the Samhain feast. The harvest was in, and the cattle and swine slaughtered for the winter store. She had set up trestle tables in her fields and invited all the neighbours. They ate and drank and sang and told tales of the dead. George Weasley made the assembly roar with memories of his irrepressible twin; Harry had them sighing with stories of his parents appearing to him in the graveyard so long ago, and again with his godfather at the bidding of the Resurrection Stone.
Severus was coaxed to speak briefly of his own sojourn beyond the veil between the worlds, when he had reconciled with Harry's father, his old enemy, then chosen to rejoin the living. "Though it seemed to me then that I was brought back against my will, I know now that some part of me was drawn to begin anew and seek a better fortune," he concluded, and the villagers cheered and clapped him on the back. Ginny beamed at her nestmate as he seated himself again on the rough bench.
"You love him, don't you?" Tessa said to Ginny under cover of the noise.
"I do," Ginny said, leaning against Harry beside her. "And I've developed something of a crush on him, as well, though I've no intention of acting on it, even if I could."
Harry chuckled and nuzzled her hair. "That would be witchery even beyond you, love," he said. "Severus is not a man for women, though he loves you dearly."
"And this doesn't bother either of you?" Tessa asked.
"One of the advantages of our long lives," Ginny answered, "is the leisure it gives us to develop our relationships. In a marriage that may last a hundred years or more, every new strand can weave a stronger, sounder nest. Look at my parents, or your Granny Camara. Though even their grandchildren are grown, they're still in their prime. They can love new people whilst holding true to their older vows and attachments. We all can learn and grow as long as we live; our family's already been enriched by the connexion with yours. Religion and race, country and culture: the varieties are endless as the stars, and as beautiful."
At the other end of their long table, Muriel was calling for the concluding rite of the evening. They got up and prepared themselves, gathering in the middle of the field. Masked and robed in white, they joined the procession of villagers passing between the sacred bonfires. The purifying flames crackled and leaped, shooting sparks toward the frosty moon.
Ginny felt the warmth of the blaze on her arms, and the crisp chill of the night air on her face, and the unshakable depth of the earth under the straw stubble beneath her feet, and the sense of water flowing through its foundations trembling in the deeps. Once again magic shook around and through her, calling to her soul and binding her to the world about her even as it lifted her above petty daily concerns. God is here, too, she thought, joining hands with her husband and her children and the strangers and family and friends that surrounded them. The sky touched the earth, and they were one with it.
James and Teresa were married at Hogwarts on the Winter Solstice. Father Michael, by now an established family friend, conducted the service on the dais of the Great Hall, its enchanted ceiling ablaze with the colours of sunset. They were reflected in the robes of those present, and in the multiple hues of their skin, and echoed in the multitudinous accents in which they wished the new couple well.
During the party that followed, the aurora borealis flared and swirled above them through the dark and brilliant sky, and Ginny's heart swelled till she thought it might burst. Sallie Camara whirled Severus about the floor, Harry led Minerva McGonagal in a decorously circling two-step, Blaise smoothly steered Ginny around the hall's periphery alongside Draco Malfoy with Helena. The newlyweds, robed in white and gold, swayed in the center clinging together, an almost unmoving sun within the orbit of the dance.
Three days later, on Christmas Eve, the young couple came from Grimmauld Place, where they had taken over the third floor, to join the family at Godric's Hollow. On Boxing Day they'd depart on a honeymoon that would take them on a circuit encompassing relatives in Italy and Guinea and end at the Burrow.
Today they had helped deck the public rooms on the ground floor with holly and ivy, and given the finishing touches to the tree. At nightfall they had all supped on oyster stew and a magnificent bûche de Noel sent by Helena. Now, at the end of the evening, Ginny stood with Severus and Harry, Lily and Albus, in the sitting room watching Jamie and Tessa come down the steps toward them.
Teresa, in deep blue robes flecked with silver stars, spangled net over her tight dark curls, stopped at the foot of the stairs, looking at the rest of the family in surprise. They were all in resplendent holiday plumage as well, gathered in a semicircle before her. "Am I—is there some activity I was unaware of?" she said. "I had planned to go to midnight Mass; Jamie knew, I thought it would be all right."
"Of course it's all right," Harry said, stepping forward and offering her his burgundy-robed arm. "We're going with you."
"But—but you're not Catholic!"
Severus draped her winter cloak over her shoulders, swirling his own as he turned to inspect the state of Al and Lily's outerwear. "Are you of the opinion that such pagans as we will not be allowed within the hallowed precincts?" he asked darkly.
"Of course not, sir. I simply don't understand why you would want to come."
Ginny responded. "It's a holiday for all of us, but it's a holy day for you. We want to share it with you, Tessa. What's important to you is important to us. You're our family."
As they stepped outside before Apparating, Ginny put her head back, breathing in the sharp clear air. Above them the vast vaults of the diamond-set sky arched, unknowable and unfathomable. Behind them, the Nest glowed with warm lights through sheltering curtains. It would be waiting to receive them on their return.