Chapter 4 : Times Past Glories
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Toast to tears of times past glories
This ageless clock chime stalls
Where to kiss the lips of that love forgotten
To fly where no others have soared
-The Kilburn High Road, Flogging Molly
The house had finally been sold. It had taken three years, three long years, but now it had finally sold. It was, frankly, amazing that anyone had bought it. The site of a very famous triple murder could not possibly be a desirable property.
But it had sold eventually, all the same. Reid Akins had only found out today, when a witch from Magical Law had chatted him up in an elevator in the Ministry of Magic and let it slip, not knowing his connection to the house, only wanting to share the good news, her afternoon's legal transaction. The papers were signed, and it was all set.
It was no longer her home. It belonged to someone else now.
He'd kept his head, smiled kindly at the young witch, and then fled to his tiny office.
He hadn't been back, not since that dreadful night. He hadn't thought to ever go back. He didn't know which of their relatives had inherited the home, but of course none of them would want to keep it. Not after what had happened there. But even knowing they would try to get it off their hands, it had never occurred to him that the house might actually sell.
But it had, and now the house was passing into new hands. New lives to impress upon the site where she'd grown up, where she'd lived and loved and finally died.
One more piece of her was leaving this earth.
He went home, and he waited until dark, staring at old photographs, lost in his memories, and then he left his flat.
It was eerily quiet. The house was dark and silent, and there was a neglected air about the place that made him feel very melancholy. He'd been here many times, back then, and always there had been a presence to the house. Even in the middle of the night, when all the lights were out, the house had seemed loved. A home. Now it was empty, the roof rather in need of attention, and one of the window panes was cracked on an upstairs window. No one knew or cared that Reid was wandering in the back gardens.
The roses had grown wild, freed from the pruning shears of her mum and she herself. No one had tended them since their deaths, it was clear. There were no flowers on any of the bushes; the summer was too far gone for that. Only the dead, dried remains of a few petals clung to their thorny branches.
He'd now been longer without her than he had been with her, and he thought he was getting better. He still thought of her every day, but some days it was only once, and it wasn't so bad. Other days the loss still felt so fresh that it didn't seem as if it could have really been three years. Seeing the forgotten, decaying remains of her home brought the passage of time sharply to his mind. Three years since her life had been stolen away. Three years without her.
When he finally found the right spot, the exact spot where he'd last seen her alive, he stopped and stared at the rosebush climbing the delicate wooden arbour, its white paint now cracked and starting to peel.
They were her favourite, she'd said.
They were growing wild on the arbour, the vines now twirling and twisting chaotically in every direction. Beautiful and untamed, the way she had been. He could still hear her voice in his head sometimes, scolding him, could still see her smile when he closed his eyes. She'd been so beautiful, so radiant and glorious. No one could ever match her. How could they?
He stared at her roses. Her favourite, she'd said. He couldn't leave them for someone who didn't know, didn't care, to prune them back, tame them, or worse – to rip them out of the ground and throw them away.
Never. He could not let that happen.
So he went to the garden shed, and he got a shovel.
It did not take as long as he'd thought. He'd never dug up roses before, and it was quite a large plant, but he'd expected it to be more deeply rooted, like a tree. Once he had it up, he disentangled it as best he could from the arbour. Some of the branches refused to go, and since he could not take the arbour as well, he cut the roses off it, leaving pieces of thorny branches attached to the wooden lattice. The heart of the rosebush came free, though, and he laid it gently on the ground.
They were her favourite, she'd said. She should have her roses.
The headstone seemed to glow in the moonlight. He stood back, leaning against the shovel's handle as he examined his handiwork. The roses were planted behind her headstone, and though he could see they needed some care, he had such a feeling of rightness, looking at them. She had loved those roses. They would bloom for her now, every year.
He let the shovel fall to the earth, and sat down cross-legged at the foot of her grave.
“Hello there.” He had gotten into the habit of talking to her grave when he came to visit. Only when no one could hear. He knew it was mad, but sometimes he thought she knew he was there. Even if she didn't know, well... Sometimes he just needed to talk to her.
“I hope you like your roses, dear. I saved them for you. I know I haven't been by for a few weeks. No doubt you'd have something to say about that. Probably thinking I'm getting into trouble without you, eh? Hattie won't let me have too much fun. She's a good egg, though. She takes care of me, and Edwin doesn't even mind when I monopolize her time. You'd like him, I know. He's a good man.
“I saw Arthur at the Ministry the other day. Their baby is crawling, he said. He's so happy to be a father. It's strange to think he and Molly are parents, and Petula as well, and Hattie's married – even Dunstan is finally getting married – and here I am, just the same as ever.” He sat and stared at the headstone for a while, his eyes tracing her name, carved in the cold stone.
If only it said beloved wife instead of beloved daughter, so he could know that he still belonged to her, even when she was gone. Mad, he knew. She'd owned him, heart and soul, since he was sixteen. Maybe before, even. But she'd been so young, too young to be anyone's wife, he realized that now. Still, he wished for it.
His final words to her that night came out in a whisper, and he thought he could hear the wind sighing with him. “I miss you, Cecilia.”
It occurred to him the next morning that the roses certainly would need care, more care than last night's hurried, furtive replanting. He didn't know a thing about gardening. She would have known what to do. But she was gone.
So he went to Hattie. Henrietta Habbershaw-Smythe loved plants. She had quite the garden herself, at the large home in Bedfordshire where she and her husband Edwin lived. And Hattie would help him. He was as sure of this fact as he was that the sun would rise.
Edwin answered the door, and he cocked his head at Reid as he let him in. “All right there, Reid?”
“I need to borrow Hattie.”
Edwin nodded, not a bit surprised. “She's in the kitchen.”
Hattie agreed immediately to come with him. All he ever had to say was that he needed her, and she was there for him. He didn't do it often these days, tried to give her her privacy with her husband, but Edwin seemed to understand when Reid did need her, to be his conscience, his strength, his sanity. Reid didn't know how Edwin possibly could understand Hattie's relationship with him, but there Edwin was, waving them out the door, his eyes clear and kind and sympathetic.
“He's a good man, that husband of yours,” Reid told Hattie as they walked to the front gate, past the anti-Apparition wards.
Her cheeks turned a bit pink, but she smiled. “He is, isn't he?”
She took his arm, and he turned over his shoulder, bringing her along to the border of the graveyard where the Fletchers were buried. Hattie didn't seem at all surprised, though he hadn't explained to her where they were going.
They walked in silence through the cemetery. When they finally drew to a stop, Hattie let out a tiny gasp.
“I don't know anything about roses,” he explained as she stared at the transplanted rosebush. “But they were her favourite, and the house has been sold now. I didn't want to leave them there. Who knows what might have become of them?”
“You dug them up from her parents' house?” Hattie said in a strange voice.
“They were her favourite,” he said again.
“Reid, it's-” She seemed unable to find the right words. Her face was stricken as she looked from the rosebush to him. She looked as if she might cry.
He did not know what was wrong with her. They were Cecilia's roses. They should be with Cecilia. It all seemed very straightforward to him.
“Oh, Reid,” Hattie finally sighed, her voice soft. She drew in her breath then, and straightened her shoulders. “Let me trim it back a bit. It will grow just how you want it, all over her headstone.” Her voice caught a little on that word, but it strengthened as she went on, “But you can't leave them in this state. Her mother kept those roses pristine. She wouldn't want to see her mother's roses like this.”
“Yes, of course.” It made so much sense when Hattie said it. Things usually did. He watched her mould the vines, trimming and shaping them, casting some sort of charm on the roots, and they did look better when she was done. Hattie had a way with plants.
He stood with his arms folded across his chest, looking at the vines curling over the marble. Hattie stepped back to stand by his side, and she tucked her hand into the crook of his arm.
“There,” she said, regarding the roses with a pleased smile. “They're going to be lovely.”
“Will you help me with the roses?” he asked, looking down at her. “I've never tried to grow them before.”
“Of course I will.”
He looked at the vines, and tried to picture them with their flowers. He could almost recall the exact colour. It made him suddenly nervous. What if he never saw the colour of her favourite roses again? It would be another little piece of her that died if the flowers didn't bloom.
“They're going to bloom, aren't they?” he asked, returning his gaze to Hattie's face, a note of panic in his voice. “They have to bloom for her. Every year.”
“They will, I promise.” Hattie's voice was soothing, and she gave his arm a squeeze. “I'll make sure of it. I'm good with roses.”
And that was that. Reid relaxed. Hattie would know what to do. She had saved him, had kept him going. He'd never had a sister, but he thought this must be what it was like. For all that she'd done for him since Cecilia's death, Reid would have gladly laid down his life for Hattie. He wasn't sure he'd have survived the last three years without her. He wasn't sure how he'd survived without Cecilia, come to that. It had to be because Hattie had told him he must.
“I miss you,” he whispered, staring at Cecilia's roses, and Hattie, who always knew when to pretend she hadn't heard something, pretended not to hear him.
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