The first thing Lucy noticed when she shook the discomfort of a fresh Apparition from her shoulders was the fact that it was awfully chilly for a mid-April morning. The cold that hung about the sparse trees and the crunch of the dead grass under her black boots reminded her more of a winter afternoon. There was no sign that spring was around the corner, and the mood of the day made it ever more difficult for her to believe that warmth and sunshine might arrive anytime soon.
The rapidly darkening sky hung heavy with rain-filled clouds, all of them crowding together and threatening to simultaneously drop their cargo on the small gathering of black-clad mourners in the field below. Lucy crept around the back of the group, feeling her heartbeat catch in her chest as she spotted the ornate mahogany coffin sitting in the midst of the handful of attendees. A few bunches of blood-red roses, most likely contributed by the immediate family, had been laid atop the wooden box. A golden plate on the front of the coffin revealed the name of the man inside.
Narcissa came to her before Lucy could find her, wrapping her arms gently around Lucy’s neck and pressing her teary eyes into her former bridesmaid’s shoulder. Behind her, Lucius watched warily, acknowledging his little sister with a curt nod. The two of them were not really on speaking terms, but Lucius at least pretended to respect her in public now that her rebellious years had become a firm matter of the past. Severus had tamed her wild attitude, it seemed.
When Narcissa released her iron grip at last, Lucy peered through the crowd, receiving a raised eyebrow and a frown from Bellatrix, who stayed far away from the coffin with her husband. She pulled her sweater more tightly around her, folding her arms in front of her chest and walking past the parents of the deceased. Orion Black kept a stiff upper lip, politely shaking the hands of the distant cousins and business associates who approached him. Walburga, however, was another story, a study in opposites. Her shaking hands clutched a glass of Firewhisky, which looked quite incongruous at a funeral but was clearly necessary by the look of the anxious expression on her face. The lines in her skin were more pronounced than ever, and yet her lips were stretched taut in a thin line that betrayed an unknown emotion. Pride? Disappointment?
There were a number of mysteries yet unsolved regarding how Regulus had perished. His body had been recovered by Kreacher, the house elf, and left dripping in the family room on the Blacks’ ancient Persian carpet. When questioned about his discovery, Kreacher flatly maintained that he found Regulus dead in his mother’s precious claw-footed bathtub while cleaning the upstairs. Orion and Walburga refused to accept the possibility of suicide, pointing instead to the suspiciously unlocked door they’d returned to when they came home from running early morning errands. Vengeful mudbloods were the cause, just as they caused all of the Blacks’ ills.
Lucy didn’t suspect self-harm, either. She shuddered to imagine what had really happened.
She stepped further away from the group of Regulus’s family and loved ones, aiming for a single man standing by the open hole in which Regulus would shortly be laid to rest. The granite headstone that marked one end bore the Black family crest and well-known, prejudiced motto. Lucy stared at the intricate words carved into the rock, her blue irises tracing each and every letter of the deceased’s name as she waited patiently for Sirius to acknowledge her presence.
When he finally looked up, she noticed that his hair had been left roughly tousled from a sleepless night and his normally compassionate eyes were ringed with the red stain of bitterness. He bit his lip, trying to keep it from trembling, but a traitorous sob heaved in his chest as he turned to her, shoving his hands in the pockets of his precious leather jacket.
“What do you want?” He snapped, glaring at her.
Lucy had been expecting this resentment, even a touch of hatred, but somewhere deep inside she’d hoped he could focus on the former friendship between them in this painful moment. Perhaps she had been a fool to think that he was capable of forgiving her for moving on with her life. She knew of nothing to say in return, hoping her intentions were obvious, and smoothed her hair awkwardly instead. This, too, was a sin; his eyes caught the glittering diamond ring and matching wedding band on her thin finger and his lips curled into a vicious snarl. “Go away.”
“Sirius, please.” Lucy said softly, in the most soothing voice she could muster. “I just came to say goodbye, like everyone else. I’m really sorry about your brother. Regulus was a good—”
“No, you’re not.” Sirius said coldly, turning away from the pain of looking upon her. “You don’t give a shit. If you did, you’d be waiting for me at James’s house, consoling me with the others.”
“Don’t…” She urged gently, feeling tears forming in the corners of her eyes. She moved to gently touch his hand, hoping that the warmth of her skin would offer some measure of comfort.
“You keep your filthy fucking hands off of me.” Sirius spat, and Lucy jerked her hand back immediately. “Was he there that day? Did he help murder my baby brother in cold blood?”
“What?” Lucy asked, genuinely taken aback. “You think they did it? The Death Eaters?”
“Of course, that’s what they do, isn’t it? Slaughter people?” Sirius answered in a painful tone, and for a split second Lucy thought she might have found a vulnerable spot big enough for her. But no, it closed away before she could draw near, and he returned to his hardened exterior. “If I find out that your godforsaken husband was involved, Lucy, I’ll kill him with my bare hands.”
“Stop it, Sirius.” Lucy frowned. “Severus liked Regulus. He would never hurt a friend.”
“Oh, of course not. Snivellus the saint.” Sirius kicked a clod of dirt contemptuously into the pit. “Listen, Lucy, save yourself the embarrassment and sod off. Nobody wants you here.”
She tried to protest, to try one last time to get through to the boy she’d once loved, but his family was coming down the hill now with the coffin and he was beating a rather hasty retreat before any of them could spot him. Resignedly, she turned and walked away in the opposite direction.
She was right, much to her chagrin. It had been a mistake to come after all.
Sixteen years later, Lucy was sitting in her kitchen, staring at someone else’s remains.
Remus had left several hours ago, but the roast beef sandwich she’d been getting ready to eat for dinner still sat whole on its plate. She couldn’t look at it, too afraid the sight of Sirius’s uneaten half would bring her to a fresh wave of tears, and she certainly couldn’t muster the courage to eat it. She didn’t remember how to eat a whole meal by herself anymore. She didn’t want to try.
Over on the couch, she could see where he’d attempted to fold his dirty clothes, leaving them for her to add to the diminutive pile of laundry the two of them worked together to create anew each week. Without looking, she knew his towel was still draped carelessly over the curtain rod in the bathroom, although the wet footprints she held more dearly had likely long since faded from the floor. The sheets were still rumpled on his side of the bed, the duvet cascading onto the ground.
She forced herself to look past the sandwich and upon the lengthy handwritten note next to it.
I did a lot of thinking after you left this morning, and I realized that I haven’t done much to thank you for the kindness you’ve shown me over the past couple of years. You were so generous to let me stay in your flat and share your meals, and though the way I acted didn’t always show it, your compassion really meant a lot to me, especially after everything I went through in prison.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve never really repaid you for the way you’ve treated me, and I mean both now and back when we were students. I know I wasn’t a great boyfriend, and though I cared about you in my own way, you probably felt used more often than you felt loved.
It pains me to think that our relationship might have had in any part in shaping your present condition. It’s an even greater torture, though, to imagine that you might have been happier living with Snape. I find it hard to believe that he’s really as good a husband as you keep saying, but if it’s true, then maybe you should go back and try to make things work with him. I worry about your health too much to want you to keep living alone in this little flat, especially when there’s someone who could look after you and help you get yourself back on track.
Don’t worry about me, though. It’s all for the best that you and I settle for friendship. I’m happy that we were able to make things right, and now I need to focus on getting to know my godson.
I’ve got to go take care of some things at Grimmauld Place right now, so I don’t know if I’ll be back when you get home. I just couldn’t wait to say these things to you. I’ll be back sometime in the next few days to come get my things, so leave the door unlocked when you go to work, okay?
I’ll always love you, Luce. You deserve the best. Don’t ever forget that.
He wouldn’t come back. Remus couldn’t explain how, and there was no rhyme or reason why. The teary embrace, the combination of hello and goodbye he’d given her, was all the closure either of them was ever going to get. Inside, Lucy knew Remus had it much worse than she did.
At last, after sitting and staring for far too long, she finally found her feet. She folded the note tenderly and placed it under the cover of the photo album Sirius had left behind on the sofa. Her next steps took her to the bathroom, where she retrieved her wand, shaking the dust from it and finding her old grip on it once more. Then she found herself approaching the front door.
She opened it, feeling the cool night air tickling her skin pleasantly, and then she started to walk.