“Who’re the McKinnons?” Harry asked. “And the other ones – the Gants or whoever – “
“Your grandmother Lavinia was a McKinnon,” Black replied; Harry watched as he set the portrait on the floor. “Her mother was a Gamp, G-A-M-P – I’m not positive how you’re related to the Peverells, but I think one of Theseus’s grandfathers might have been one. All three families have died out now. I knew Marlene McKinnon, your dad’s cousin – she fought in the war with us. You would’ve liked her.”
“How can a whole family die out?”
“Everyone with the family name dies,” Black said, picking up his wand again. “You and I are the last of the Potters and the last of the Blacks – the wizarding Potters and wizarding Blacks, that is. There are a lot of Muggles called Black or Potter.”
Harry thought about it for a moment. “So – if I don’t have any kids, that’s the end of my dad’s side of the family?”
“That’s the end of your dad’s side of the family. Personally, I’ll be happy going to my grave knowing the mad bad line is over at last.”
Perhaps that was why Malfoy had told him not to expect to get a godmother, Harry thought; Black didn’t want to have children. “You don’t want any kids at all?”
“Not my own flesh and blood,” Black replied, levitating a dark cloud of dust. “You’re it for me.”
“But – “ Harry didn’t think Black was being quite fair to himself. His ancestors might have been horrible people, but obviously Black had turned out all right. “Aren’t you sort of letting the rest of your family win, if you don’t have kids so you won’t keep the family name going? I think you’d be a good dad.”
Black looked over the dust cloud and grinned. “I’m going to remind you of that one of these days when you’re angry at me for grounding you.”
“Sirius – “
“Octavius the Black fathered his first child at the age of seventy,” said Black, watching the dust vanish. “So I’ve got roughly thirty-six years to change my mind. Don’t worry about it, Harry. What do you want for dinner?”
“I dunno – he was seventy?”
“And his wife was twenty-four, if you can wrap your mind around that one. I know I can’t.”
Harry sprayed a cobweb roughly the size of his head; it might be a while before the house was spider-free enough for Ron to visit, he thought. “What happened to Octavius the Black, anyway?” he asked. “Did he stay with Slytherin?”
“For the most part,” Black said. He took a rag from his pocket and wiped the dust off the doorknob. “One night when he was fifty-eight years old, Octavius had too much to drink, walked out an upper-story window, and nearly impaled himself on a spiked tower. After that he started to worry about the state of his soul – what if he had died, what would have happened to him then? Well, Salazar Slytherin didn’t like Octavius occupying himself with philosophy and religion instead of how to form a pureblood society. He told Octavius he had to choose – Slytherin or the study of the soul – and Octavius said he’d take the soul, because if there was an afterlife, he didn’t reckon Slytherin could do much to him there. So Slytherin booted him out.
“The trouble was, Octavius had spent so many years with Slytherin that he hardly had anything of his own. No house, no land, nothing but a few robes and a wand. No one particularly liked him, either, seeing as he’d spent the last few decades advocating the expulsion of Muggle-borns, halfbloods and Squibs from wizarding society. The only one willing to help him was a wizard called Friar John Overhill who lived – “
“Over the hill,” said Harry.
“No, on the edge of the valley. Friar John figured it was his Christian duty to help Octavius, and told him he could work as his assistant as long as he didn’t lie, cheat, steal, kill, commit adultery, or take the name of the Lord in vain. By that point, Octavius would have done just about anything for a loaf of bread and a roof over his head at night, so he agreed.
“Friar John wanted the wizards and witches of England to be able to attend church like the Muggles, without worrying about accidentally doing magic and being burned at the stake. Not that being burned actually killed them – “
“I know,” said Harry. “I did a paper about witch-burnings last summer.”
Black shoved the bed over a few inches to clean the carpet underneath. “The way Friar John saw it, doing magic wasn’t a sin because God had given him the ability to do magic. He couldn’t turn stones into stoats or peas into pearls because he’d asked the devil to give him the power to do so – he was born with the capacity to learn magic, and if God had created him, then God must have made him that way for a reason. He and Octavius travelled around England, Friar John preaching to the wizards and Octavius taking care of their horses and finding places for them to stay. They tracked down priests with magical powers and convinced them that they didn’t have to choose between God and magic. Once they were convinced, the priests would form secret churches for wizards; I belong to one of them, actually. It’s called St. Dymphna’s and it’s under Canterbury Cathedral.”
Harry stared at him. “There’s a whole separate church under Canterbury Cathedral?”
“Oh, yes,” Black replied, as though this were the most normal thing in the world. “It’s a pity it’s protected by charms to block outside noise, otherwise someone might have heard the commotion and been able to save Becket – anyway, getting back to Octavius and Friar John, after several years Hogwarts asked Friar John to be the school chaplain.”
“I never knew Hogwarts used to have a chaplain,” said Harry.
For some reason that Harry didn’t understand, Black winked at him. “Friar John agreed to take the position,” he continued, “if the faculty and staff would accept that Octavius was a changed man, and would allow him to return to Hogwarts and act as Friar John’s secretary. Well, that caused a lot of controversy. Gryffindor said he wasn’t about to be threatened with death by his own sword again, thank you very much. Hufflepuff thought it was only fair to give Octavius another chance, as long as Friar John vouched for him. Some of the Muggle-born students said they’d leave if Slytherin’s old ally came back to the school. What if he was still working for Slytherin? What if he planned to kill them all in their sleep?
“Finally, Ravenclaw pointed out that everyone was being ridiculous –why did they have to wonder about Octavius’s motives, if they could put the Sorting Hat on his head and the Hat could see the truth inside his mind? She and the other remaining founders rode out to England – flying a broom was a risk in those days – and gave Octavius the chance to prove he had really changed. He put the Hat on and the Hat told them Octavius wasn’t about to harm anyone. He really did want to help Friar John, as he’d said.”
“So he got to go back to Hogwarts – when did he get married?”
“Hang on,” said Black. “I’ll get there. By this point, Octavius was around sixty-seven or sixty-eight. Friar John was older than that, probably close to ninety. That’s not as old for a wizard as it is for a Muggle, but it’s considered elderly, at any rate.”
“How old do wizards get?”
“The oldest living wizard I know is one hundred and seventy-two years old – don’t let your mouth hang open like that, there’s too much dust in the air. Friar John had got rather plump from the Hogwarts feasts, and his heart wasn’t strong. One night about a year after they came to Hogwarts, he had a heart attack in his study and died.
“Well, Octavius was grief-stricken, as you can imagine. His family had died years before and Friar John had been his only friend. Still, he wasn’t as sad as he might have been, because he figured a good man like Friar John had gone to heaven and was smiling down on all of them. Maybe Friar John would spend about a week or so in Purgatory – he wasn’t perfect, after all – “
“It’s where souls go to atone for some minor sins before they’re allowed into heaven. Either way, Octavius thought Friar John wasn’t far from his well-deserved heavenly reward. Then he found out he was wrong.”
“Friar John was in hell?”
“No, he wasn’t in hell. He was smiling down on them, just like Octavius had thought he was. Only he wasn’t doing it from heaven or Purgatory – he was doing it from several feet above Octavius’s head. Then he asked Octavius to make sure his fingernails were clean before he was buried, and floated down to the Great Hall to finish a conversation he’d started with Hufflepuff the day before his death.”
“Wait a minute,” Harry said. “Friar John’s – “
“Yes, you’ve met him,” said Black. “They call him the Fat Friar. Unfortunate, isn’t it? The Hogwarts ghosts all led fascinating lives, and people only think to describe them by what they look like – fat, bloody, gray, nearly headless.”
“Moaning,” said Harry, thinking of Myrtle, the ghost who had helped him find the Chamber of Secrets.
“Moaning,” Black agreed. “Finding out Friar John was a ghost was the beginning of the end for Octavius. According to church doctrine, good Christians were supposed to go to heaven or Purgatory when they died, not float around a castle. Friar John tried to tell him that it must be what God wanted – after all, Friar John hadn’t had very long to act as chaplain – but to Octavius, God had personally betrayed him. He’d kept up his end by repenting and converting, but God hadn’t kept up his. So Octavius packed his things, went down to Hogsmeade, drank countless mugs of ale at the Three Broomsticks, eloped to Bath with the owner’s daughter, and returned to his old ways. He was afraid of being sent to hell if he gave up Christianity altogether, but after seeing Friar John’s ghost, he didn’t have any qualms about bending a few church rules for his own purposes. The Blacks have been rotten Christians from almost the very beginning.”
“You’re doing okay,” Harry said; for the second time that day, he thought Black was letting his dead relatives have too much say in what the family name meant. “You’re my godfather and everything.”
“I wasn’t doing okay after your parents and Peter died and Remus went to Azkaban,” Black replied. “No drinking or tavern maidens, I’m glad to say, but I spent a lot of time cursing God and wishing I were dead.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t really wish you were dead, did you?” Harry asked. Black looked at him. “If you’d really wanted to be dead, you would’ve, you know, done yourself in – but you didn’t, so you must’ve reckoned that being alive was at least a bit better than being dead. And I bet God understood the cursing thing,” he added. “I bet people do it all the time when other people die.”
The carpet was finished; Black shoved the bed back into place. “I’m going to be perfectly honest with you,” he said. “There were a few times in my life when the thought of you was the only thing standing between me and the grave. All right, enough of this, it’s getting morbid. If you still haven’t decided what you want for dinner, I think I’m going to send Kreacher to Diagon Alley for fish and chips. It’s a Friday during Lent.”