The morning of the funeral dawned grey and wet, which if I thought about it was probably appropriate to how Padfoot was feeling. We had found out about Laura a week and a half ago now, but it had taken her days to actually die once the treatment was withdrawn.
Padfoot had spent most of that time as a dog, coming back into human form only to go to St Mungo’s to sit with her as her body wasted away, or to drink himself into a stupor so he could get to sleep. And even then he had nightmares – he never mentioned them but I could hear him in the next room, screaming her name or sobbing away to himself in the middle of the night. And more than once we’d needed to fix the holes he’d punched in the walls: again, we never mentioned this and I had the impression he preferred it that way, though the dried blood on his knuckles served as a constant reminder of what he’d done.
In fact, he’d said and done very little at all since we’d found out, at least in the presence of others. Lily and I had brought him back to Mum’s so he could have someone looking after him, but he’d not eaten much and had refused our company most of the time. I did know however that he would have had trouble going home, as Laura had been in the process of moving in and the flat was full of her things. And he definitely couldn’t face that yet.
I could only imagine how he felt. If it had been Lily in that hospital bed, I don’t know what I would have done or how I would have reacted. Probably, if I was honest, in much the same way. So I tried to offer sympathy but everything I said just sounded hollow and insincere, and from his reaction he thought that too.
So Lily and I left him alone. In light of what had happened Dumbledore had let us off from the Order for a while, and we did what we could to make Padfoot’s life easier. We went to his flat and packed all of Laura’s belongings into a shoebox with an Undetectable Extension Charm on it, so he could put it in the back of the wardrobe for the time being but take it out again when he was ready. We made excuses to Mum about why he spent so much time in the forest beyond the back fence, and pretended the big black dog that we would occasionally see in the far corners of the estate was just a stray.
And we made sure that we didn’t do anything vaguely romantic or even affectionate when he was within eye or earshot. Certainly we didn’t mention our own news, that we’d decided to get married as soon as we could, that this had galvanised us into action. At the moment, I thought, that might break him. So we barely touched each other when he was around and didn’t say anything that would make him think of us as a couple, rather than just his friends. Nothing that would remind him of what he’d lost.
Anyway, the day of the funeral was grey and it just refused to stop raining. We pulled him out of bed and I dragged him into the shower and washed and shaved him so he would at least look vaguely human, even if he didn’t feel it. He wouldn’t eat, but by then I knew not to force the matter, realising that the holes in his wall served as evidence enough of his pain and anger and frustration without me doing anything to ignite it. And I found some clean clothes for him to wear – black, of course, he’d worn nothing else since he’d found out – and by the time we were due to leave, he could just about stand by himself and looked almost presentable.
He needed to be able to stand because he was one of the pallbearers. As was I, which had been a bit of a surprise to me when I’d found out but apparently it was in recognition of the choices Laura had made in the past year. Choices to spend her time with us rather than with her family. But Sirius had pride of place right up the front, next to Mr Cauldwell, so he needed to be able to carry this off.
Looking at him, I wasn’t so sure he could. And I was pretty sure he’d have awful trouble speaking at the service, though he was supposed to be doing just that. I just squeezed his shoulder and said that if he couldn’t do it, if he wasn’t up to it, I would stand in for him and make the speech I thought he wanted to make.
Again, he didn’t say anything, but he did look a little relieved so I took that as his consent.
We each grabbed an arm and Apparated him to Bristol, where we met Laura’s family out the front of the church, standing as a group in the pouring rain. It was strange, having a service like this in a Muggle church, but then again her mum was a Muggle so I guessed it was so that side of the family could attend. Everyone looked a little strained and Beatrice in particular was very red and blotchy, and I supposed she felt like this whole thing was her fault. Which is why I was surprised when Mr Cauldwell spoke to Sirius.
“Sirius,” he began, “I’d just like to apologise for what I said at the hospital last week.”
Padfoot raised his head and looked at him, the rain obscuring how bright his eyes were. The action was more than he’d done for just about anyone else for more than a week, and he nodded. “It’s okay,” he muttered, so quietly I wasn’t sure Mr Cauldwell would have been able to hear him. “It was all true anyway.”
I had no idea what this was about – after all, Padfoot had barely said a word to us about anything – but it surprised Mr Cauldwell. “It wasn’t,” he said. “I should never have blamed you like that.”
Lily and I looked at each other in surprise. He’d blamed Padfoot for this? But he’d had nothing to do with it. He would have blacked out the sun if he’d thought it would save Laura from something like this, he certainly shouldn’t be accepting responsibility for it.
Sirius just shook his head and gazed at the man he’d thought would one day be his father-in-law. “You were right. I promised to protect her and I didn’t do it.” He took a deep breath and sighed resignedly. “I’m so sorry.”
Typical Padfoot. Only he could twist reality like this and take the blame. And it probably didn’t help when Mrs Cauldwell suddenly burst into tears and hurled herself at him, giving him the biggest hug I’d ever seen.
“Oh Sirius,” she sobbed. “It wasn’t your fault. She loved you so much.”
I wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to say, seeing as it would just remind him of everything about Laura he was trying to forget, but he appeared almost calm and a bit of a wistful look came across his face as Mrs Cauldwell cried into his chest. Maybe it was a bit like holding Laura, having her clinging to him like that, and it was all he had to remind him of what that had felt like.
The doors of the church opened and we all filed in out of the rain, Lily and I staying close to Padfoot in case he needed our support, whether physically or emotionally. Mum came, too, sitting a few pews back, but ready to come forward in a moment if he should need her. Shortly afterwards Moony arrived, looking a little tired and dragging Charlotte in behind him. They’d agreed on a casual relationship since school, which was the most he was prepared to commit to though I suspected she was dying to take it further, even though she realised that her family would probably never accept him.
“Sorry I’m late,” he muttered as he slid into the pew behind us. “Got caught up with Dumbledore’s mission.” Which we knew was with the werewolves even though the full moon was weeks off, but he couldn’t exactly say that in public. I looked around and saw Dumbledore himself on a pew closer to the back of the church, come to pay his respects to someone who would have been a rather productive Order member had she lived.
Not long afterwards Wormtail arrived, sliding in next to Charlotte and looking a little unsure how he should be behaving. I saw his eyes travel across the red eyes and tearstained faces of Lily and Charlotte, to the blank face of Padfoot, to Moony and I who were just trying to make sense of the whole thing. He was joined soon enough by Martha, who with Lily and Charlotte was the last living member of Laura’s dorm at school.
Charlotte was looking around absently and suddenly drew in her breath sharply. “What’s he doing here?”
We all spun around, with the exception of Padfoot whose gaze was fixed on the coffin at the front of the church. And Charlotte was right to be surprised – wandering in and sitting down, as comfortable as you like, was Bertram bloody Aubrey.
Aubrey. The bloke who cheated on her when they were going out at school. The one who didn’t think she was worth being faithful to. What right did he have to come here today?
I looked quickly at Padfoot but he hadn’t noticed, and I suspected he wouldn’t until after the service was over. He looked like nothing could take his attention away from the oak coffin in front of him, not even Voldemort himself. And again, I could understand. If that casket had held Lily, if she’d been taken from me suddenly like that without even a chance to say goodbye or tell her how much I loved her, I’d be like that too.
“He’s got a nerve,” I muttered, glaring at Aubrey and facing away from Sirius so he wouldn’t hear. “I’ll have a word to him after to make sure he doesn’t hang around. No one needs him here.”
The church was filling up with various people, some probably Laura’s relatives and some to offer support to her parents or sister. Two people I recognised as Beatrice’s friends. And a few people from school had arrived as well – Sebastian Quirke, who we’d not seen since we’d graduated, was there with Bernie Carmichael and Hector Bole, and also Thalia Strout and Veronica Smethley and a few other people I couldn’t think of the names of. As well as Dumbledore and McGonagall, down from the school for the occasion.
The service started. A little man who very obviously didn’t know Laura stood up and spoke some empty words about her life, platitudes that could be applied to almost anyone. It didn’t mean much and it certainly didn’t help those of us who did know her well to cope with the fact that she wasn’t going to be around any more.
Finally he got off the pulpit and Mr Cauldwell got up. This was much more heartfelt, much more about the Laura we knew. He struggled to keep calm during his eulogy but did as well as could be expected of a man who had just lost his youngest child at the grand old age of eighteen. He talked about the little girl he’d taught to strip down broomsticks and put new charms on them, the girl who dragged him to Catapults games whenever possible, the girl who climbed trees looking for Bowtruckles and had hex battles with her sister. And he talked about the girl who’d got three Os and two Es for her NEWTs and was just starting out on her career and who’d found someone who loved her as much as her family did and maybe even more. How she had never been so happy. How her life was only just starting, and it had looked so promising, until one day when she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And then it was Sirius’ turn. He stood up with more energy than I’d expected and glanced at me briefly when he got to the pulpit, and I knew that he intended to make the speech himself. No matter what it took out of him.
“I heard it said once,” he began, and his voice was hoarse and strained as though it hadn’t been used for a while, “that it is always the innocent who are the first to be taken. And I’ve also heard that only the good die young.” He paused. “I think that those are both true here.” He paused again and I could tell this was an effort. “Laura was a shining light of everything that is good and right and honourable. She rarely had a harsh word for anyone and she always looked for the good in people. She was like sunshine. You couldn’t know her without loving her.” He paused again and swallowed hard, and in my head I filled in what was left unsaid, what he was thinking – and no one loved her as much as I did. Sirius continued. “And she could never stand by and let other people suffer, she always had to do something about it. And while that was part of who she was, and while it’s admirable, if I could take that quality away from her I would do it in a heartbeat, I would have made her more selfish, because that quality is why we’re all here today.”
His eyes were bright again and I was sure he couldn’t see any of us at all, he couldn’t see anything but Laura. “If I could swap places with her, I’d do it in a second. If I could turn back time to save her, I wouldn’t think twice. If I had to choose between Laura and oxygen, I’d take Laura.” Another swallow. “But I can’t swap places with her no matter how hard I wish for it, and I can’t turn back time. So we have to make sure that she didn’t die in vain. She died fighting the Death Eaters, so we have to finish the job. It’s what she wanted. We have to do it for her.”
He stopped talking and came back to his seat, still not seeing anything in front of him. I realised that what we had just heard was as much as we were ever going to hear on the subject, that this was the equivalent of Sirius spilling his guts for the world to hear. None of us had ever heard him or Laura use the word ‘love’ when talking about each other before except in response to a direct question about it, and we’d certainly never heard them actually saying the words “I love you” to each other, but we all knew that it had been said. You just had to look at them when they were together to know that. But they were quiet about it in public, it was like it was their little secret. So this eulogy was the closest we would probably ever hear, if I knew Padfoot.
After it was all over we all filed past the coffin before heading out to the church yard for the burial, those of us designated as pallbearers leading the way with the coffin on our shoulders. The rain hadn’t let up and several people, mostly Muggles but also some witches and wizards, huddled underneath umbrellas around the open grave. Some of the magical folk cast Impervius Charms on themselves to stay dry, but Sirius I noticed did neither, probably happy to get wet as it was something physical he could feel, that might possibly distract him from what he was going through inside.
Once the oak coffin was safely in its muddy hole I pushed through the crowds to find Aubrey, to try to get him to take off before Padfoot saw him.
“What are you doing here?” I hissed as I reached him.
“Paying my respects,” he said defensively. “I’ve got just as much right to be here as anyone else does.”
“Like hell you do,” I shot back. “You hurt her badly. This is for people who cared for her and respected her and were there for her when she needed it.
He laughed derisively. “And you did that, did you, Potter? She barely knew you.”
“Really.” I glared at him. “And Sirius’ eulogy was something a stranger would have said, was it?”
He looked a little bewildered. “I wondered about that,” he said. “I was going to ask her mum what that was about. Why he spoke, of all people.”
“Uh, maybe, do you think, because he was in love with her?”
Aubrey froze. “What do you mean?”
It was my turn to laugh. “It’s been a long time since you saw Laura, hasn’t it, Aubrey? Well, she and Padfoot got together last year. They loved each other more than life itself, and they were planning to get married.” Okay, that might have been a bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit. It was understood if not formally announced. But it got the message across and he went a little pale. “So it might seem to some people that you’re overstaying your welcome a bit, if you know what I mean,” I went on. “You had her and you threw her away. You thought she wasn’t even worth your fidelity. So I ask again, what are you doing here? Because you can’t pay your respects now if you didn’t respect her in the first place.”
He blanched and moved well towards the back of the crowd, hiding behind Dumbledore’s tall form so Sirius couldn’t see him. “I made a mistake,” he whispered. “I did respect her. I just didn’t realise how good I had it. I can see that now.”
I smiled sourly. “Yeah, fine, you’ve come to your senses. Took you long enough, I might add. But Padfoot did realise how good he had it. He worshipped the ground she walked on. And now she’s gone forever, and he doesn’t need someone like you hanging around to remind him of how upset you made her. He deserves to remember her happy, don’t you think?”
He went quiet. “Did he make her happy?” he asked eventually.
“Very,” I said. “The happiest I ever knew her. The happiest her parents ever knew her, for that matter.”
“Oh.” He shrank into himself a bit. “You might be right. I think I’ll take off.”
I nodded. “Smart move, Aubrey. Probably the smartest thing you ever did.”
I made my way back through the crowd to where Lily was minding Padfoot. I saw her with him, her hand on his arm and Moony and Wormtail almost standing guard, and I wondered if he’d tried to jump into the hole himself rather than just throwing the rosemary and daffodils that were available. He’d put the shutters up again and looked cold and closed off, but I knew that was just his self-protection instinct kicking in, trying to protect him from getting hurt even more.
Suddenly Martha re-joined the group, surprising me as I hadn’t noticed she wasn’t there. “Got rid of her,” she said quietly, making sure Padfoot didn’t hear her.
Everyone else started nodding, pleased looks on their faces, but I’d been booting out Aubrey so I didn’t know what they were talking about. “Got rid of who?” I asked.
“Elvira Vablatsky,” she hissed, grabbing my arm and pulling me aside a bit. “Came to try to help Sirius get through this, can you believe it?”
“You’re joking.” I’d known Vablatsky was persistent but I couldn’t quite believe even she would go that far.
“Yeah, we thought so too,” she said. “But no, she saw this as an opportunity not to be missed. After all, he is single again.” She rolled her eyes and her voice was heavy with contempt.
“Does he know?”
She just looked at me as though disgusted I’d even need to ask. “Of course not. And he’s not going to find out. He’s got enough on his plate right now without dealing with that sort of rubbish.”
I nodded. “Right. Sorry I asked. Thanks for dealing with it.”
She nodded. “No problem. Least I could do.”
We went back to the graveside and the little man who’d spoken empty platitudes about Laura in the church started talking again, saying things that probably made sense if you’re familiar with Muggle funerals but not to me. He was moving his arm back and forth in front of him and we just stood there, silent and wet as the last chapter of Laura’s story came to a close. Sirius didn’t move a muscle as the dirt started to be shovelled onto the coffin, just watched blankly as the girl he loved was put to eternal rest, but the shutters were down again and he looked broken. I gritted my teeth – it was the war that had done this to my best friend, and I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to try to make it right somehow.
Finally it was over and Padfoot surprised me by moving off of his own accord, just wandering through the crowds as though randomly, so we followed him to make sure he was okay. And he stopped at Dumbledore, who had the most sympathetic look on his face that I’d ever seen.
There were no words of greeting or even recognition before Sirius spoke. “Send me away,” I heard him say.
Dumbledore looked surprised but composed himself quickly. “Where would you like to go?”
Padfoot’s voice was a monotone. “I don’t care. Anywhere but here. There’s no sunshine anymore.” He paused, a flicker of life almost visible behind his eyes. “I need to work, I need to be busy, I need to get away from here. So send me away. I don’t care where or why, but do it now.”
The older man just nodded, an understanding look on his face. “Certainly. Come and see me this afternoon and I’ll have a project for you.” He paused, looking through his wet glasses at Sirius. “Though there are not many to choose from right at the moment. It may end up being more dangerous than you have been doing up till now.”
Sirius nodded, his face firming with what was probably resolve. “Even better.”
He turned away from Dumbledore and I put a hand on his shoulder. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I asked, regretting the question instantly as he turned to face me angrily.
“So, if that was Lily in there,” he snarled, jerking his head towards the grave, “are you saying that you wouldn’t do anything you could not to think about it?”
I stopped dead. He was right, of course, and I’d just been incredibly insensitive. “Sorry, mate,” I said. “I wasn’t thinking.”
His anger dissipated and he just looked resigned. “Wish I could say the same,” he muttered. He looked around distractedly, his eyes pausing as they passed over Laura’s parents. “I can’t stay here,” he went on. “I’m off to the pub. You can meet me there later if you want.”
I started saying something again about what might or might not be a good idea, but stopped immediately. This was killing him, I could see it in his eyes. “Sure,” I muttered. “Whatever you need to do.”
He turned to me again, his face gaunt and hollow. “What I need is impossible,” he muttered in response. “What I need, Prongs, is to forget.”
I watched him turn on the spot and disappear, knowing that he was asking a lot. Yes, he’d get over it eventually, and he’d move on with his own life, but of one thing I was sure. He would never truly forget.
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