James looked at himself in the mirror. He looked as though someone had smudged ink beneath his eyes they were so sunken, his hair was saluting several different directions and he thought he looked a little too yellow to be considered normal. Apart from Harry, he hoped there wouldn’t be any small children there because he was dead sure he’d make them run away screaming.
He’d changed outfits six times as if it could change the situation by wearing his Muggle trainers with black silk robes. He’d thought Lily might have liked it if he’d worn something Muggle, but he had to keep reminding himself that she was dead and that she had horrible taste in clothes in anyway – except when it came to dressing herself, he had never minded those tiny little shorts Muggle women sometimes wore in the summertime, or the skimpy shirts and skirts that occasionally passed for clothing, but every time she came home with something for him, he could have sworn he’d seen her father in the exact same thing last Christmas.
He ran his hands though his hair and exhaled. He really didn’t want to be doing this today, but there was no other way around it, he couldn’t not.
He’d been in the hospital two weeks now and he’d been trying desperately not to think of her, but when Remus had, in his stilted, soft voice, enquired about it there was no other way to avoid it and nothing else he could tell his friends other than ‘okay’. Because he really didn’t want to admit that doing this was the last thing he wanted to do and that the idea of leaving St. Mungo’s was actually too much right now, he was considering becoming a hermit and raising Harry in the wards, setting up a cosy home in Ted’s office and never having to face the outside world again.
He should have said something like that, because the enthusiastic grin, thumbs up and the ‘looking forward to it’ were perhaps a bit much but they had cornered him and given all the energy it took to not think about her, they really oughtn’t have been surprised about his reaction.
Sirius was still treating him like he might explode at any moment, but for different reasons than before as James had in fact, gone off at him like a raving lunatic. James almost got the feeling that he was mad at him and then mad at himself for being mad with him, he just wished, like he had so often these past two weeks, that things could go back to the way they were.
He fell back onto the edge of his bed, making an unintentional keening noise as his stiff leg bent awkwardly. The bloody thing was still giving him trouble and it seemed that no amount of magic was ever going to ease the limp.
There was a knock on the door and Remus’ head poked around through the wedge. “Are you ready?”
Another interesting consequence of the tension between he and Sirius was Remus’ increased role at mediator and caretaker of James – perhaps it was all the fussing that they’d done over him when they were in Hogwarts, but he knew how to handle it a little better than Sirius. Perhaps all that time spent with Pomphrey was the cause.
Whatever it was, he didn’t tend to be as submissive as he had been before. James wasn’t sure he liked it and he could tell Sirius wasn’t taking too well to it either.
James sighed and flattened his hands on his thighs. He wasn’t ready. If there was anything in his life he wasn’t ready for it was this.
He nodded and pulled himself up onto his feet; he dallied about with his cane for a second, gazing out the window to look over another dreary London day and thinking that it least it wasn’t sunny.
“James?” Remus called and he looked back to the concerned face of his friend and smiled weakly. Everything around him felt muted and not quite real, like it might well be possible to reach right through the walls.
They went there in a Ministry owned car, because James didn’t want to risk Flooing with Harry and knew he’d be even more of a mess in the air than he was on his own two feet, so he sat quietly in the front seat, Harry chattering on mindlessly in his arms and took in London as it flashed by his window. Streaks of water trailed down the glass and if he focused on one of them for long enough it was almost enough to forget where he was going in this big, black monstrosity of a car. Sirius and Remus sat quietly in the back, he’d briefly caught a glimpse in the rear view mirror of Sirius looking out the window, a far away look in his eyes and a vaguely troubled expression. His hair was brushed and clean; wearing a suit that Lily had bought for James once, but was short in the legs so Sirius had inherited it. James hadn’t seen him looking as fancy as this since his wedding.
When he told him that, Sirius had smiled briefly and called him ‘great poof’ before turning back to stare out the window.
James savoured the flickers of normalcy these days.
“Da” Harry said and went further to grab his attention by punching him in the stomach.
“Hey, hey, Harry, be gentle with your dad,” James chastised him half heartedly, though Harry never could have thought it was serious discipline – the smile on his face might have given it away. Harry pointed out the window at the buildings and cars and told his father about every single one.
“Car, dad, car!”
“What colour is it, Harry?” Remus voice chimed in from the back seat. Harry looked around in confusion until Remus stuck his head over into the front. “What colour is that car? Red, blue, yellow, green, brown?”
Harry looked around at the car next to them and pursed his lips as he concentrated. “Blue car,” he announced finally.
James, Sirius and Remus broke into applause. “Good boy!” James told him and Harry gave him a high five.
“He’s smart,” Sirius said quietly.
“Of course he is,” James replied. “Look at who his parents are.” He bit his tongue and muttered a curse word under his breath. Are. Were. The tenses were a pain in the arse to deal with.
As quickly as it had come on, the light atmosphere dissipated from the vehicle and James settled Harry back down and wondered if there was any way possible that they could just keep driving today. Because as soon as this car stopped he’d have to get out and he’d have to stand there and listen as everyone said their pretty words about his wife while they all ignored that she was lying in a box five feet away from them.
He hadn’t cried yet. He thought that maybe he should be worried about it.
The care came to halt on the gravelled drive way. Rusted iron gates that looked as though they might have been grand looking once upon a time loomed ahead of them. He, Remus and Sirius exited the car, their appointed driver (and not so secret Auror) with them. There were puddles at the side of the road and he could feel Harry tugging away from him, he wanted to go splash in them like any normal toddler and James was tempted to just go and spend the entirety of the service playing with his son. Perhaps he could talk himself into believing it was what Lily would have wanted.
Christ he hated that phrase.
He’d thrown things at the last person who had used it in his presence, but he was beginning to understand that there was a whole different language for people who had lost their spouses. He wasn’t a husband any more, but a widower and a bereaved one at that, and Lily hadn’t been murdered, she hadn’t even died: she’d passed on and no one was allowed to say that Lily had been a bit of a bitch and silly fart at times, because that wasn’t respectful to the dead and everything he didn’t want to do, suddenly became what Lily would have wanted.
He could see a crowd gathering on the inside, grey faces all turned towards him, watching the bereaved widower as he stood getting slowly soaked in the drizzle, the bereaved son in his arms too young to even understand why they were here. How perfectly awful. Sirius and Remus followed closely behind, heads bowed down dutifully, but a couple of times he caught them shaking hands with some of the crowd, thanking them and then moving on silently.
He tightened his grip around Harry and started to make his way towards the crowd. He pretended not to see them all gasp and shake their heads when they saw him walk, or the tears already staining some of the faces, slickly polished shoes and a sea of black leading up to a grandiose looking coffin covered in lilies and roses and little violets that they’d grown in the backyard, because those things were real and brought the fuzzy edges of everything about this past week into focus. People pressed in around him, addressing him with sympathetic smiles and softly spoken words like ‘I’m sorry for your loss’, because that was the kind of thing you were expected to do. James mostly kept his eyes down so he didn’t have to look into everyone’s eyes and see his loss magnified a thousand times in the eyes of others.
He looked around occasionally, recognising a voice or a pair of shoes on the muddied ground. Augusta Longbottom was there, her long face pale and thin, her horrible vulture glaring at everyone for her. There were friends they’d gone to Hogwarts with, Horace Slughorn, Hagrid, all of the Order, Dumbledore, McGonagall and several members of the Ministry. People he didn’t know. He looked around and found a face he recognised and was halfway surprised to see it, standing off by herself and looking scared despite her thin-lipped distaste for the crowd.
James made his way over to her and she looked up at him in surprise. “Hello Petunia,” he said. “I’m…er…I’m glad you could come.” It was somehow easier to talk to her than to think about Lily, lying cold just feet from him and send himself mad wondering what they had dressed her in (because he’d said he didn’t care and so many of their things had been destroyed when their house had fallen in), or if they’d braided her hair the way she liked to do it when it was hot or if they’d let even given her underwear to take with her into the ground because he didn’t know why but he couldn’t stand the idea of his wife being buried without any undergarments.
Buried. Huh. It was almost as though the thought had just occurred to him what all of them were actually doing here.
Petunia nodded primly at him and continued to stare at the casket. “James Potter,” she said sternly and he smiled because at least something was the same. “This is Harry, is it?” she enquired, almost politely.
“Yeah,” James told her, lifting Harry up a little higher and trying not to get him to struggle so much.
She sniffed. “He’s scrawny.”
James chuckled. “He is a bit, yeah. Living on hospital food, I guess,” he explained.
Petunia looked like she didn’t know what to say, anyone else would have offered him to come over for dinner or promised to send him food, but Petunia didn’t like him so instead she said: “You shouldn’t trust doctors, you know.”
James settled in next to her and stood solemnly in the rain. “Yeah.”
A wild haired minister stepped up the podium, cleared his throat and placed a Sonorous Charm on himself. Next to him, Petunia sniffed. He started off talking about Lily’s early life, her parents and her sister in the Muggle world, which Remus must have filled him in on, and then about her time at Hogwarts, the achievements she’d made in Potions, becoming Head Girl, and all the trivial little things that she’d accomplished because she was a natural, because she was born to do it. That she’d always been so proud of her achievements.
Sneaking sideways glances, he could see that Petunia was actually surprised to hear these things.
James felt removed from everything, like someone else had just lost their wife and he was listening to her eulogy as some passive stranger. But he knew her, he knew everything that the minister was saying and knew more about her than anyone here, worried about her like she was still here, like she would care if he care if he was wearing that tie she’d bought him when they went to Liverpool to stalk the greatest band that ever lived, or if her eyes were closed, if she’d like the casket, or the songs he’d asked to be played, and if she would hate it as much as he did that the Ministry had turned up here.
Because as long as he kept worrying about her like she was still here, she was. She was just away on holiday, or off in one of her strops, or on a mission for the Order, or hiding back at her parents until they’d both calmed down.
The Minister had started talking about her marriage and how much she’d loved her husband, he talked about their wedding day and strange, half forgotten little anecdotes from their courtship at Hogwarts – he heard those that had known them in Hogwarts sniffle and snigger all at once and James chuckled at an everlasting image of Lily Evans with her whipping around her face as she scolded him off, outraged and vicious and never even afraid to hex him right back for whatever he’d done.
There was a bracing hand on his shoulder and James fought the urge to shrug it off because it was just a hand, and he’d have to get used to being touched by other people in a way that was clinical eventually. Remus and Sirius were his best friends and he knew that they were muddling through this just like he was, on different paths maybe and to different ends, but he knew his friends well enough to know that they all wanted the past back.
Harry started to struggle in James’ arms, pushing away from his father beating his fists against him in an effort to escape, James wobbled a little as Harry’s shifting weight threw him off balance, but that bracing hand he’d wanted to push away, held on to him and made sure he didn’t fall. James gave up trying to control his son and let him down on the ground and held his hand, it didn’t matter if he dirtied up his clothes, they could be fixed.
James bent over awkwardly to make sure his son didn’t get away from him, but Harry kept pulling and soon vocalised why. “Mum!” he shouted, loud enough for the whole crowd to hear and James shut his eyes and heard an awful gasp go up around him.
Harry was pointing at a large blown up picture of Lily, twirling in and out of frame and smiling at the camera. She was smiling at him, and he could see her grinning and winking and generally looking happy as she came up close and then disappeared from frame again. He’d put the camera down after that; there had been other things to get to like rolling about in fields with his wife and crowning her the picnic princess.
“Mum!” Harry was trying to pull him closer to the picture and every part of James wanted to pull back, he didn’t want to get closer to the picture or to her casket. Harry started crying, then he started to scream and then he started to hit his father. James tried to tell him no, he begged with his son to stop and tried to pick him up, but Harry fought viciously and nearly fell out of his arms.
He could feel the crowd’s eyes burning holes through him, watching this horrible little pantomime of grief.
James couldn’t explain why he didn’t want to get closer, why it was somehow okay to stand back from everything and look, but not to get up close and see the pores on her face, or her early worry lines or stand over her coffin and know that she was in there, just a plank of wood separating her from him. No one had let him see her after he’d woken up, they wouldn’t tell him why at first, only that it was bad and that it was what Lily would have wanted. Oh god, he wasn’t going to see her again! That photo was one of the last things he had of her now, just photos and memories and stupid stories about how wonderful she’d been and that’s all anyone would ever say!
She was only twenty one for god’s sake and they were putting her in the ground and he had to stand here and act as though he was strong enough to get through this without her, that it wasn’t tearing him up inside and he was only twenty one and he was too young to have a son and a dead wife and be all alone. He was supposed to die first! He hadn’t married her so that he could stand at her funeral three years later and listen to a stranger go on about how she’d been a wonderful student, a wonderful wife, a wonderful soldier and a wonderful mother. Every little thing she’d done in the past didn’t matter because she was dead now, just a body with nothing of the life that Lily had and he couldn’t talk to her about it because she was dead, wasn’t she. The only person who could have helped him through something like this was Lily and she wasn’t coming back.
Tears were streaming down his face and he was vaguely aware that he was making terrible sounds and that he couldn’t breath. Harry was sitting in the mud near the casket, bawling his eyes out and James couldn’t get to him, because She was in there and he couldn’t get that close. There were arms around him and people helping him to his feet.
He couldn’t tell them why, nothing coherent would come to him mind apart from ‘I want her not to be dead’ and wishing like a little boy that she would come back or that he would wake up or could somehow change the past.
“Come on, James,” Sirius was telling him, his voice cracking and when James looked up he saw that he’d been crying too: pale shock apparent on his face. James clutched Sirius’ robes like a desperate man. Sirius embraced him tightly and held him up as James howled into his shoulder, soaking through the fabric of his jacket. Sirius let him and James felt Sirius’ body shake periodically because he was fighting to control his tears, James couldn’t, he couldn’t stop crying or thinking about her and how no one would even be able to give him the comfort of knowing that she wasn’t scared or that she didn’t suffer because she did and she was. She wouldn’t see their son grow up and she wouldn’t be there when he rolled over in bed in the morning. They’d spent so much time talking about the future and assuming that there would actually be one.
James pushed away from Sirius a little, but still allowed his arm to be wrapped around his waist because he felt like he might actually fall over is he didn’t have someone hold him up and Sirius was here for him, like he had been for him when he'd been kicked out of home, or when his parents died. Past awkwardness disappread because Sirius knew he needed him now.
Petunia was holding Harry, her normally shrewd eyes contained some trace of sympathy for him, but she quickly handed Harry to Remus and detached herself from the group. Harry was still sniffling but was now more worried about his father and reached for him. James wished he had the strength in his arms to take him, but he just felt weak and ill, so he reached out his hand and held Harry’s.
“Do you want to go James?” Remus asked quietly, he must have noticed that all the attention of the congregation had now turned to him.
James didn’t know what to answer, he didn’t want to be here but to leave seemed like such a cowardly and pathetic thing to do.
He looked around confusedly at his friends; he wanted to be knocked out so the decision could be made for him, but there was no such luck. He looked down at Harry, who looked so scared and he nodded shakily and wiped the tears from his eyes. “Yeah.”
Stumbling towards the exit and followed by a sea of eyes, he left Lily there.
A/N: Er...sorry about yet another long wait between chapters, but this one is hot off the press. I had a lot of trouble finding the emotional centrepoint for it and strangely enough it was with Petunia, whaddaya know?
The next chapter is complete and the one after that is just about polished off, so it shouldn't be as long between updates now. You might have noticed I'm skipping ahead a little, because I do tend to get bored with play by play action and just assume that nothing really interesting happened those two weeks.
As always: comments are wonderfully appreciated, tell me if things seem rough or if they don't connect emotionally and nit pick all my typos for me.
BTW: Little bit of trivia, James picked two songs to be played at her funeral and they were In My Life by the Beatles and Always Look on the Bright Side of Life by Monty Python. Incidentally, the title of this chapter is also a Beatles song.
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