Chapter 24 : Sirius: Birthdays aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be
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I wake up and automatically reach across the bed for Laura, but of course she isn’t there. I should be used to that by now, it’s been six weeks since her funeral, but it’s still the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning. Particularly when I’m here, at home – if I’m off on assignment it’s less of an automatic thing.
The thing is, I’d been looking forward to this birthday, my nineteenth. Originally, that is, up until a couple of months ago. This was going to be the first birthday I spent with her, it was going to be the best one I ever had, just because she was there. She was supposed to be there when I woke up this morning, just as she was supposed to be there when I wake up on my ninetieth. I know that when the owls start arriving I’ll be looking for her handwriting, as well – just as I look for her when I get home, when I go to Diagon Alley, when I’m in the Ministry, when I meet with Dumbledore. Anywhere she might be if she was still alive.
Eventually I get up, cursing fate for having me at home this morning of all mornings. Why couldn’t I have been working today, why couldn’t I have been somewhere so far away I may not have even thought of her? Automatically I lean over and smell the pillow next to me, just in case some of her residual scent is still there – I haven’t washed it since she was last there, not wanting to wash away any of the little I have left of her. Unfortunately it’s the same as always: even with a dog’s nose, there is none of her left there, just as there is none of her left anywhere except in photos, like the one that’s still next to the bed. Or in the shoebox at the back of the wardrobe, the one that Prongs and Lily put all her things in after she died.
I’m not sure that I’m ready to pull that out and look at it yet.
Tell you what, Tom at the Leaky Cauldron is probably sick to death of me by now, drowning my sorrows in a bottle of Firewhisky while I sit at the bar staring at her photo. Of course he’s been landlord there for so long he’s heard it all before, and he knows all the right things to say, even if I know he doesn’t mean them. It’s just that I still can’t quite believe she’s gone, I keep half expecting her to walk in with that smile she kept just for me, and the drunker I get the more likely that feels, so you can understand why I would succumb to that.
As I’d predicted, I do look for her handwriting. The owls are coming with regular monotony with parcels to recognise the day, and I flick through them, throwing aside parcels from Prongs, Lily, Moony, Wormtail and even Reg as I search. And I bin one from Vablatsky, of all people – how she has the nerve is beyond me. Anyway, there’s nothing from Laura, of course. I can feel her watching me from the picture frame on the bookcase, imagining the reproachful look on her face. Get over this already, Padfoot, you’ve been wallowing in self-pity for the best part of two months now, you should be trying to snap out of it. She’s. Not. Coming. Back.
I should have known that it was too good to last. I was never going to be able to keep someone like her. She was way too good for me anyway, so maybe it’s a blessing that she never worked that out. I think that if she’d chosen to leave, it would have been even worse – if that’s possible.
To take my mind off things like this, I make myself some toast and coffee, not really being up to anything more, but knowing that I should eat. Who knows, Dumbledore might have a job for me today, might be able to send me away, far away from all this so there’s nothing to remind me. It’s something that sucks about living alone, there’s no one to take your mind off things. Of course, she was supposed to be here so I wouldn’t have been living alone, but that didn’t exactly work out the way I wanted it to, did it?
It’s my own fault, of course, for opening up and letting her in like that. If I’d been a good Black, if I’d done as I’d been taught, then she’d never have got that close to me and I wouldn’t be feeling like this now. But then again, if I’d done that then I wouldn’t have had that time with her that I did have, and I’d never have been as happy as I was. Dumbledore keeps saying things about how powerful love is, and while I have to agree with that right now I’d rather I’d never had it, because then I wouldn’t be in as much pain as I am. I wish I was out working for the Order all the time – 24 hours a day, seven days a week – because then I wouldn’t have to come home and wake up looking for her like I keep doing. There’s not much point in coming home when there’s nothing to come home to.
Not long after I’ve had breakfast and forced myself into the shower I notice that the note from Prongs has another page to it so I check it out. He’s inviting me over for lunch, probably to make sure I’m eating, but I appreciate the gesture. He’s a good friend, I think, he’s doing his best to look after me, though seeing that engagement ring on Lily’s finger isn’t always the easiest for me. But they’re the closest thing I have to family these days and they look out for me. I find a quill on the floor and scribble a note on the back of the original – Thanks, Prongs, will be there.
I look at Laura’s picture on the bookcase. “See, Laura, I am going out. I’m not staying in here all day getting drunk and feeling sorry for myself, I’m doing what you’d say I should be doing.”
I do that a lot, talk to her photo. Because I can’t talk to her, of course, and it’s as close as I can get. And having her there keeps me on the straight and narrow a bit, so to speak – I try not to do anything she wouldn’t approve of. I feel like she’s watching over me and judging what I do, so I try to think ahead about what the consequences of my actions might be, just as she would. And I tell her what I’ve been doing for the Order, finishing off what she was doing when she’d been cursed, hoping she would have been proud of me.
I admit, talking to her photo probably isn’t healthy, but it does help to keep me going so I do it, I’m making no apologies for that. And it’s the only way I can still tell her how much I love her. I didn’t say that nearly often enough when she was alive, so I’m trying to make up for it now, hoping desperately that when she did die, that she’d known. I’d hate for her to have doubted me at all, just because I hadn’t said it recently enough. She had to know – didn’t she?
Anyway, going to Prongs’ place gives me a purpose. I put the owls’ offerings on the bookcase so they’re out of the way, even though I haven’t really looked at them. Not sure I care, really. I tidy up a bit and do the dishes – I make a habit of doing that straight away these days, once I hadn’t done them before heading out and ended up being away for over a week, so when I got back they were growing all sorts of things. (Laura described them as a science experiment, which was a bit of a Muggle term but then again she was half Muggle so I was used to that.) And I bundle up all the sheets and things to wash them, all except her pillowcase. Maybe one day I’ll smell her on it again. When you don’t have much, you hang on to what you do have, even if it’s hopeless.
By now it’s just about time to leave. I saw the invitation too late to even think about taking the bike, so I decide I’ll just Floo over, it’s simpler than Apparating when your mind isn’t really on what you’re doing. It’s a pity I can’t take the bike, though – when I’m out on that is about the only time I still feel alive, when I’m not working. And the trip to Somerset is a nice long one, I might almost have felt human when I got there if I’d been able to ride.
Anyway, I take the Floo network, casting a regretful look at the bike and saying goodbye to Laura before I leave, and shortly afterwards arrive at the Potters’ house to see James, Lily, Moony, Wormtail and Mrs P all waiting for me. I hadn’t expected to see Mrs P there, but then again I hadn’t really thought about it – it is her house, still, after all. I’d expected to see Moony though: he can’t get a job and has no gold of his own so Prongs is supporting him. As for Wormtail, well he’s generally around for the ride. Can’t say I’m surprised he’s there either.
Prongs takes one look at me and guesses how I’m feeling, and so after Mrs P has given me a hug and fretted over how pale I look, he bustles her out and looks me in the eye. “You look awful. Want to go for a run?”
I know what he means – the woodland over the back fence. And things always feel less horrible when I’m Padfoot, so being able to go for a run as a dog will help me feel more human once we’re done. “Yeah, thanks, I would.”
He nods at Wormtail, then looks at Moony and Lily. “You two make our excuses for an hour or two, will you?”
“Of course.” Lily’s a good person, he’s done well with her. She’s almost as good as Laura, really. By the time they get married I might even be in the mood to be Best Man like he’s asked me.
A run through the forest as Padfoot does me the world of good. I’m able to get all the hurt and anger and frustration out of my system – well, as much of it as I can be expected to get out – and after an hour or so I do feel better, and almost good enough to put on a presentable face for Mrs P at lunch time.
As always, Poppy the house elf has outdone herself and lunch, when we eventually make it, is undoubtedly the best meal I’ve had in weeks. Mrs P has been fretting about me since the funeral, saying I’ve lost weight and I’m looking pale, so I probably should have expected it, but I do appreciate it all the same.
“We won’t say happy birthday,” Moony says, “because we’re guessing it’s not, but we had to mark the day.”
Wormtail nods. “And this was the best we could come up with,” he adds. I give him half a smile. At least he understands, they all do, that I’m not going to be really happy again for a while. And as for getting older, well I feel like I’ve aged about twenty years in the past two months. Young doesn’t describe me any more.
“And you do need feeding up,” Mrs P goes on, “you’re looking terrible. And I say that in the most affectionate way, so don’t be offended.”
Another half smile. “Thanks, Mrs P,” I say. “I couldn’t be offended by you, you’re like my mum. Not my real mum, but my good mum.”
She beams at me; she always likes hearing things like that. But it’s true, if I could have chosen a mother I would have picked her, definitely not the one I was landed with.
“And we’ve got some good news for you,” Prongs says with a grin as he finishes his pudding. “Two bits, actually.”
“Firstly,” says Moony, “we got an owl from Dumbledore just before you arrived. Feel like doing some work?”
I look at him gratefully. “Tell me when and where and I’ll be there.”
“Thought you’d say that,” says Prongs, nodding. “We can leave this afternoon. They think they’ve found where Voldemort’s hiding so they need it scoped out.”
I smile – this is more like it. Something to take my mind off everything. “Excellent.”
Wormtail’s looking excited and I guess he’s probably looking forward to proving how useful he can be in his rat form. He’ll be good, seeing as he can get in almost anywhere without being noticed, but all I’m really thinking about is this being a brilliant opportunity to get out there and get things off my mind. If Wormtail’s enthusiastic, I’m even more so.
“And the second bit of news,” says Lily, “is that I found something you might be interested in.” She reaches into her robes and pulls out a paper bag and hands it to me.
I take the bag. “What is it?”
She just smiles. “Look inside.”
It’s sealed up so I have to rip the bag to look inside, but when I do all I can see is a bit of parchment. What’s she giving me parchment for? But then I pull it out and catch a glimpse of Laura’s handwriting. A letter, something she wrote, something else I can remember her by. I open it greedily.
How lovely to hear from you! I was hoping you and James were okay, off in the Midlands like that for a week when there have been so many Death Eater attacks there. I will say I was more than a little worried about you, so I’m glad to hear that everything is going well.
You have caught me in the middle of packing, I’m starting to move my things into Sirius’ place like he’s been asking for so long. And it felt awful, having to say no all the time and seeing his face fall, but I really couldn’t do it before I had some gold coming in. And I know he understood that, but he was still disappointed. Anyway, now I’ve got this job there’s nothing to stop me, even though Mum and Dad are a bit upset. You know how I feel, though, I’m sure – the prospect of waking up next to him every morning is too good to refuse.
The job is going okay though I’ve only been there a couple of weeks, so it’s hard to say how it’ll turn out. Of course as the school leaver I’m stuck with all the boring tasks like filing and sweeping up the owl feathers and droppings, but they assure me that in a month or so there will be some more interesting things for me to do. And at least it’s a job, it’s nice to have some gold of my own and there are some good prospects for me to move up through the ranks if I’m good enough. So watch this space, you may be reading a letter from a future Minister! (Yeah, okay, probably not, but you never know…)
Anyway, that’s all that’s going on at this end, and you’ll forgive me if I cut this letter short. After all, the more time I spend writing to you the less time I’m spending packing, so really you’re keeping me away from Sirius. And you don’t want to be responsible for that, do you? So say hi to James for me and I’ll see you when you get back, hopefully in the same number of pieces as when you left. Be careful and with any luck next time we catch up I’ll be living in London!
She’s been keeping it in an enclosed space, too, I can tell, it still smells a bit of Laura. I just look at her, tears in my eyes, but she understands.
“You’re welcome,” she says.
Maybe this isn’t such a bad birthday after all.
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