Chapter 17 : Black
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Chapter Seventeen – Black
As I walk into the silent church, I become acutely aware that this is the same church that I married Albus in almost six months ago. There are more people here than there were then but the small church is little more than half full. I spot Mr Potter talking to an ancient looking man in white robes. He is not the man who married us. Mrs Potter marches in behind me with her daughter Lily and gently steers me towards the front of the church. I cannot help but recall I am sitting in the exact spot my mother sat when I married Albus.
As promised, James is also here but I cannot see Albus anywhere. Instead, I am greeted warmly by a woman with dark blue eyes and coal black hair.
“Mrs Malfoy,” I nod.
“Oh Vivian, darling,” she murmurs before pulling me into her arms. It is odd to see her here, she is such a large part of my past but I haven’t seen her since Christmas. It suddenly occurs to me that all the events that have taken up my life for the past half a year have made me forget what I used to have.
Astoria Malfoy is Scorpius’ mother; she was the only real friend my mother ever had. During the Battle of Hogwarts, my mother’s parents were killed and my mother left orphaned and alone. It was Astoria Malfoy, then Astoria Greengrass, who had found her the following day, scared and uncertain. They have been friends ever since. I am not the only person to have lost something on the day my parents visited me for the last time. Mrs Malfoy lost her closest friend.
When at last she lets me go, I notice her eyes are damp but she does not let her tears overflow. As a child, I used to look up to this woman as someone I wanted to be. She was a woman of steel. She was determined and loyal. She still is but my dreams of being like her seem somewhat unreachable now.
“Hello Vivian,” a small voice mutters quietly from beside Mrs Malfoy. Turning me head, I look down at the petite frame of nine year old Luciana, Scorpius’ sister. Her large grey eyes stare out at me uncertainly and I force my face into a smile. Luciana does not have her brother’s easiness with other people; she is a shy and timid girl with a constant desire to please everyone she meets. I have always looked on her as my little sister.
“Hey Lu,” I greet her, reaching out my arms for a hug. She steps into them with a sigh.
“I haven’t seen you in ages Vivi,” she mumbles into my robes. My heart constricts at her nickname for me. It is the same as the one my father used to use. “I’ve missed you.” Her confession causes a stab of guilt as I know I have been neglecting her. I used to write to her once a week and now I cannot remember the last letter I sent to her.
“I’m sorry Lu, we’ll have to make sure we see more of each other from now on,” I promise, squeezing her tightly before letting her go. Her mother takes her hand, smiles sadly at me and moves across to take a seat on the other side of the church.
The next person to greet me doesn’t say a word as he pulls me into his arms and strokes my hair. I cling to Scorpius’ black robes, if there was one person I would trust my life to, it would be Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy. Ever since we were children, he has been my best friend, my brother and my protector. Even if I adamantly denied that I need the last one. Without Scorpius, I truly think I would have crumbled before now. He is almost like my anchor and I know he will always be there for me, no matter what.
Of course, behind Scorpius, is another familiar face. Roxanne gives me a sad smile so similar to the one Mrs Malfoy had given me a few moments before that I momentarily taken aback. She says hello before sharing a look with Scorpius and moving back to where a black woman and a red haired man were sitting. They must be her parents.
“Stay with me?” I whisper to Scorpius. He just nods, as if he had no intention of doing anything else, and takes the seat beside me as we sit down. I cast one last glance over the people in the church and my eyes come to rest on someone I was not expecting to be here. Violet Briggs is sitting unobtrusively near the back, her eyes watching every move made. When she catches me looking at her, she just nods and I feel a wave of compassion overcome me. It had never occurred to me before how lonely Violet must be. She has no friends, her father is an alcoholic, her mother hardly acknowledges her existence and, unlike me, she doesn’t have someone like Scorpius is always fall back to.
I make a mental note that as well as keeping in touch with Luciana, I will try to befriend Violet too, because she clearly needs one.
Of course, my searching eyes do not find what they are really looking for and a sharp stab of pain twists in my gut. I should have known he would not come. He has not spoken to me since he brought me back to his house. I have not seen him since he came across me sobbing into his brother’s chest. Albus.
As the service comes to a subdued close, people begin to shift on the hard wooden benches. My eyes stay fixed on the solitary coffin at the front of the small church. Six men come forward to take the coffin to the graveyard. I recognise some of them of course; on the side nearest to me is Scorpius, Mr Potter and a tall, red head who I believe is Rose Weasley’s father. On the other side is the unmistakably tall and gaunt face of Mr Malfoy, Scorpius’ father, another red head who I suspect another of Mrs Potter’s brothers and someone who I cannot quite make out.
As they move off down the aisle, Mrs Potter prompts me to follow. There is a heavy weight on my chest that feels like it shall never be lifted, it makes the short walk towards the doors that much harder but I keep my face a blank mask, my posture tall. My mother did not raise me to be weak. I could not crumble now.
The cold October air hits me as I step out into the light drizzle. The grey overhead reflects the miserable surfaces of the gravestones we pass on our way to the freshly dug grave where we are to lay my mother’s remains. No one speaks as the coffin is lowered into the damp soil. My eyes stay fixed on the pile of dirt that will soon cover the memory of my mother. The man in the white robes says a few words before waving his wand and lowering the pile of dirt onto the coffin. Mrs Potter and a few others throw flowers onto the wood to mingle with the dirt, a stark contrast between the vibrancy of the petals and the dullness of the soil. The stark contrast of life and death.
I stand there, motionless, as the coffin disappears from view; as those gathered begin to weave between the gravestones of others long deceased on their way out of the churchyard and towards their lives; as a girl with faded red hair places an arrangement of dark flowers and flowing foliage upon the sodden soil. I stare at the flowers, noticing a single white rose, hidden amongst the greenery.
“A white rose stands for many things,” the girl explains beside me as the last few people trickle out of the cemetery. “Friendship, truth, purity… But also reverence and charm, secrecy, virtue, humbleness… Even silence,” the girl murmurs. “But above all, a white rose stands for innocence.” Sighing, I turn to the girl, she is staring straight ahead, her cognac coloured eyes focusing on the single white rose. “You can say a lot with flowers,” she smiles, shifting her gaze to me briefly before turning and wandering towards the ancient gate.
I added another girl to my list of people to pay more attention to: Lily Potter.
I stay there, I do not know how long for, staring at the soil beneath which lie my mother’s remains but when I am finally able to drag my thoughts away from the emptiness that fills me now, I realise that I am the only person left in the graveyard.
All around me, rain is seeping from the skies. Raindrops replace the tears I refuse to cry as I stand vigil over my mother’s grave. At some point, I sink to my knees, unable to stand any longer but instead assuming the pose of someone praying. Time continues on without me as I allow all the memories I have of my mother to play across my mind.
As the sky darkens above me, I decide it is time to face reality again. My entire body protests as I rise form my kneeling position. I know I should feel cold but the only thing I am capable of feeling is the dull ache of stiff joints that have been still in one position for too long. I rest my hand on my mother’s gravestone for support and it is only then that I read the words freshly engraved upon it: Here lies Iris Esmee Nott (née Stone), Born 2nd May 1988, Died 19th October 2022, Aged 34. May her soul rest free from all the troubles of this world.
A strangled cry escapes my lips. A feel as if something has clamped over my heart and is compressing it to dust. As I feel myself fall to the ground, strong arms encircle me and hold me still. May her soul rest free… The words taunted me. Had I caged her? Had she only stayed with my father because of me? Could she have lived if I had not trapped her in her miserable life? What have I done? I can feel rather than hear the scream that escaped me as tears broke free from my restraints and I sob shamelessly into Albus’ robes. He just holds me close to him, not saying a word as I break before his eyes and, for that, I am eternally grateful.
The troubles of this world. The troubles indeed. I have known my fair share of troubles and for a brief moment, I realise how easy death is. It is the simplest escape from all the troubles of this world… And yet, I cannot help but think that there must be a reason we are all so reluctant to die. There must be a reason that we all want to stay on this miserable earth. There must be a reason we put up with all the suffering and pain. And, unbidden, the answer floats to the surface of my mind: we stay because we are searching. We are searching for the answers we know we will never find, the answers to tell us why we are here, but we will always keep on searching because it is in our nature, in our blood, in the stuff our souls are made off.
And, very occasionally, we stumble upon a clue or part of an answer. And as I stand, with rain now pouring from the heavens upon my soaked skin and a sorrow in my heart I do not think will ever truly leave, I realise I have found one of those clues, one of those fragments of an answer… it is right here, with me: the man who I begrudged determining my fate, the man who twisted my destiny, the man to whom I would die a wife… my husband… and the bump that separated us… my child… our child. Family.
I awake the next morning to someone brushing my shoulder lightly. Fluttering my eyelids open, I mumble a soft: ‘Al?’ and hear someone chuckle in response. It is not a very happy chuckle.
“No, it’s me,” a girl’s voice murmurs and I blink to adjust my eyes to the cold light of morning seeping in through the window. The blur of red slowly sharpens and forms the hesitant face of Lily Potter. I blink hard in surprise.
“Lily,” I mutter, propping myself up into a sitting position.
“I brought you this,” she smiles shyly, handing me a cup of tea which I take gratefully and reach for my wand to adjust my pillows so that I can sit upright. Lily perches uncomfortably on the edge of my bed so I pull my legs up and indicate for her to sit on it. She smiles appreciatively as she scoots backwards so her back is pressed against the wall. I suddenly remember this is Albus’ room.
“Are you okay?” I mutter over my steaming mug of tea as she tilts her head back and bites her lower lip. She shakes her head slowly as tears start to pool in her sky blue eyes. Completely taken aback, I continue sipping my tea, entirely baffled as to how to deal with a crying girl. She manages to stop the tears before they fall though so I am saved any further embarrassment.
“Life’s shit, you know that,” she mutters at last, her voice a tone or two higher than it probably should be. I just nod. I know full well how shit life can be. “I mean, I have barely spoken to Al in months! I rarely see him anymore and when I do he is always so bloody moody, like all the time. He used to be fun you know, I was always closer to James but Al used to be fun. Now he’s just miserable, wallowing in self-pity and I don’t know how the break him out of it!” she rants, clearly letting out anger that had been building in her for a while now. I just let her go on.
“And James… God, he is so frustrating!” she clenches her fists in the bed sheets. “I don’t have a clue what is going on in his muddled mind! I used to be able to read him like a book but seriously… It is obvious to the world that he is meant to be with Eloise and he just doesn’t bloody see it and I can’t tell whether Eloise knows they are perfect for each other or not!” she grumbles, her eyes fixed on a point of Albus’ ceiling. “But he just goes and dates Alice for Merlin’s sake. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like Alice but she isn’t right for James and then there was that incident which no one ever tells me about and now Alice is practically off the rails and Merlin only knows what is going on between him and Eloise… I swear there is something wrong with him sometimes. He’s just too bloody clueless.” Lily sucks in a deep breath.
“And the two of them together…” she reaches her hands out in front of her and makes a motion that strongly resembles strangling someone’s neck. I feel a flash of guilt course through me, after all, it was I that caused the rift between them to begin with. “I just want to smack their heads together. How can they be so stupid? I swear, I will never understand boys,” she shakes her head in apparent defeat. “And the whole thing is just stressing my dad out so much, he won’t admit it but it is really getting him down… And don’t even get me started on my mum. Do you know what she served for dinner the other night? Rats’ tails. Rats’ tails. Now I don’t know much about fine dining but I’m pretty sure you don’t fine rats’ tails on the menus at any of those fancy restaurants where all the smarmy ministers go to discuss the weather,” she snaps bitterly. “I mean seriously, rats’ tails! What the hell is wrong with her?
“The worst part is I can’t do anything. I can’t make it better; I can’t make it disappear and go back to the way it was before. I just sit around, hoping that everything will sort itself out,” she sighs, her anger spent. “I just with things weren’t so complicated. I wish my brothers would just talk to each other. I wish… I wish that wishing would actually make things happen. But it doesn’t, does it? It just makes things worst, it makes you realise what you want but gives you no way to get it… You could so easily spend your whole life wishing and nothing would ever come of it. Fuck it. I just want life to go back to normal but now I don’t even know what normal is. I just know my brother is messed up in the head and can’t see what is glaringly obvious to everyone else; my other brother is fucking married with a baby on the way at the age of sixteen; my parents are miserable; half my cousins have fallen out; no one seen Molly since August and my owl just fucking flew into a window and broke her wing,” she chokes out the last part in a sob seconds before tears finally come streaming down her face.
It is odd, isn’t it? With all the shit going on in her life right now, the fact that her owl has a broken wing is what tips her over the edge. I suppose sometimes it is the small things that find a way to break us. The big things come and then they go but the small things are always there, always building, always waiting.
I reach out a hand and gently rub her back, trying my best to comfort her but being clueless as to how to do so. She is my sister in law and yet I hardly know her. I cannot think of a time where I have had a conversation with her. The occasional exchange of a few words during the last few days but that is all. Her brothers have been such an extensive part of my life these last six months and yet I have never given her a second thought. Somehow, that doesn’t seem right and I make a mental note to pay her much more attention.
“I know an Animal Doctor in Diagon Alley that looked after my first owl when it was dying,” I mutter. “If you give me a few minutes to get ready, I could take you there if you like,” I shrug, not knowing if this was at all the right thing to say. “Fixing a wing shouldn’t be too much of a problem and this particular one is very reasonable in his prices…” I ramble on. Lily looks up at me, her large eyes still glistening with tears. She pauses for a moment, contemplating something, before flinging her arms around me and hugging me tightly. Not knowing what else to do, I awkwardly wrap my arms around her petite frame and pat her back.
“I don’t blame you, you know,” she says at last, all trace of tears gone from her voice as she pulls away to look me in the eye. For a moment I am puzzled, wondering how exactly she could have blamed me for her owl flying into a window. “For the whole Al and James thing,” she clarifies, clearly reading the confused look I must have had etched on my face. “I don’t know why, but I don’t think you would have ever intended to hurt either of them… Even if you did, I don’t think it was on purpose,” she explains. I am surprised to find my throat closing up with emotion, her words hitting something deep inside me.
“Thank you,” I manage to whisper. She just nods.
“What are you going to do now?” she asks after a moment or so of silence.
“About what?” I frown.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you love him?” she asks bluntly.
“Yes,” is my honest reply.
“But you need time?”
“And so does he.”
“You need to tell him.”
“What’s stopping you?”
“I don’t know,” I shrug, the truth of her words making me feel somewhat uncomfortable. I had been denying it to myself for too long now but she forced me to face it head on. Albus and I need to talk. And we need to talk soon.
The fading, October light dances across my face as I sit outside in the Potter’s back-garden. Tomorrow we are to return to Hogwarts for the Halloween Feast and the start of term. I spent yesterday with Lily in Diagon Alley, taking Hera, her owl, to the Animal Doctor and then wandering aimlessly about Diagon Alley with our hoods up to avoid the paparazzi. We browsed through books at Flourish and Blots and she pointed out Albus’ favourite café and I was once again hit with the realisation of how little I knew about my husband. We ate ice cream even though it was far too cold to do so and Lily rambled on about her school life and her friends. I discovered that while she was fairly close to a girl named Bethany Jordan, Lily did not have many friends her own age. She was more of a family girl. Which was why the rifts that had occurred in not only her immediate family but also between some of her cousins, have had such an effect on her. She must be quite a lonely girl sometimes.
The shuffling of fabric alerts me to the arrival of another and I open my eyes to see Mrs Potter sitting down on the grass beside me. She smiles in greeting but doesn’t say anything, simply turning her head to the weak autumn sun and closing her eyes. I suspect today will be the last good day in a while. Weather wise at least.
Somewhere on the other side of the garden, Mr Potter is fiddling with some bizarre looking muggle contraption. Lily is frantically finishing some essays she was supposed to write this holiday and Albus has not come by today. I think he is staying at our house but I am not certain. I just know that he isn’t staying here, with his parents. He has come by once a day since my mother’s funeral. We don’t talk much; he normally comes and chats briefly to his dad, gives his mum and sister a hug and nods to me with that unreadable expression in his emerald eyes.
“Are you sure you want to go back?” Mrs Potter murmurs suddenly. I blink at her. “To Hogwarts, I mean. You see… I’ve been thinking… After Christmas the baby will be born and you won’t be able to return to Hogwarts… Unless, of course you plan on giving the child up,” she realises abruptly. I shake my head quickly and she relaxes again. “So really, you only have one term left at Hogwarts and it isn’t compulsory for you to go anymore. I would understand if you would rather stay here, you are more than welcome,” she explains.
“Mrs Potter… I think I want to go back. There are some things I still need to do,” I think of Violet Briggs and Scorpius. “Hogwarts has been my home for the last five and a bit years and I’m not ready to give it up just yet, especially now that I don’t really have any other home-”
“You know you can always call here you home, don’t you,” Mrs Potter interrupts. I smile slightly and nod.
“I know, it’s just… I want to say goodbye properly you know? And Hogwarts is a good a place as any to get my head straight and figure out where to go from here,” I shrug. “Besides, Scorpius is there and I need him right now, more than ever,” I explain.
“He’s a good kid, isn’t he?” she murmurs and I nod in agreement. “I just wanted you to know that you do have to option to stay if you want it. The school has written to me to arrange a meeting with your Head of House to discuss plans for your future as you are still technically underage. We can talk things over properly then, if that’s okay with you?” I nod.
“Dad?” someone calls from inside and my heart constricts slightly at the sound of Albus’ voice.
“Outside!” Mr Potter bellows from where he is still trying to make the muggle instrument work. Moments later, Albus’ head pops through the back door. His eyes land on me first and he nods in greeting before turning his attention to his father. “Over here.”
“Dad, have you seen my Cannon’s shirt? The one Ron got be last Christmas?” he asked and I felt an instant blush slide into my cheeks. I knew exact where that shirt was.
“Honey, that thing is never going to work,” Mrs Potter pushes herself from the ground and goes over to her husband, muttering something about taking it to her dad. Albus huffs in irritation as his father’s attention is distracted and he steps out onto the lawn.
“It’s under my pillow,” I mutter, just loud enough for him to hear me. “At the house,” I add on. He looks at me, frowning. “Your Cannon’s shirt.”
“Oh…” he states awkwardly. “Oh. I remember now,” he blushes as he recalls how I had taken to sleeping in it during the few weeks we were happy. “I’ll just… Uh…” he mumbles.
“Al… We need to talk,” I sigh. He pauses before sighing himself and nodding.
“I have to go and… sort some things out but I can come around later… if that’s okay?” he queries. I cannot help but snort at the bizarreness of this situation. Albus was asking me if it was okay if he popped into his own house later. I just nod and he disappears back into the house, yelling something at his parents which they ignore as they are too busy bickering over the muggle contraption. Mr Potter silences his wife with a quick peck on the lips.
Albus levitates my cup of tea to me and sets it down on the table as he blows gently on his own, watching the steam swirl off and mingle with the cold air. The Potter family drinks an awful lot of tea. Glancing around the kitchen for something to do, I realise the rest of the house has gone to bed. I sigh as I stare into my mug, searching for some way to start this conversation in the greyish-brown depths.
“So…” Albus begins, evidently also stuck for conversation starters. I decide to cut straight to the chase.
“I need time Al,” I sigh.
“I know,” he sighs too. “So do I.”
“I just need to focus on myself for a while. I know that sounds unbelievably selfish but I do… I need to figure out what I want from life and what I am going to about… About all this,” I wave a hand absently between us and towards my swollen stomach.
“Thank you, for all you’ve done for me,” I murmur, desperately trying to look him in the eye but his thoughts are elsewhere.
“Do you know what it is?” he asks abruptly.
“The baby? Is it a boy or a girl?”
“I don’t know…” I reply, startled by the change in conversation.
“Are you going to find out?”
“I… No, I don’t think so. I would rather not know,” I shrug.
“Good. Neither would I,” he returns to sipping his tea. We sit in silence for a while. “You’re doing okay, aren’t you Viv?” he frowns, staring intently at me.
“I’m doing okay Al,” I sigh. There have been an awful lot of sighs tonight. “I’m doing okay.”
“If you ever need me… I’ll be waiting,” he smiles softly, taking my hand from across the table and rubbing his thumb across my knuckles. “No matter when or where or why… I’ll be waiting for you Vivian Iris Potter,” he gives a crooked half smile and I can feel a weary smile crawling onto my lips in response.
“Until then though, I think it is best if we just take a bit of distance from each other. Do you agree?” he suggests and I just nod, even though the thought of taking distance from him makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I know I have to make my way on my own first, before I can reply on Albus or anyone else. He gets up to leave, pressing a gentle kiss to my forehead before heading towards the door.
“You were wrong you know,” I state as he reaches pushes open the door of the sitting room to get to the fireplace. He raises an eyebrow. “That day… When you said I didn’t know how to love anything,” I explain. A dash of pain flickers across his face as he stares at me intently again. then he nods.
“I know,” he whispers before disappearing through the doorway.
Author's Note: So... Try not to hate me too much. But do let me know your thoughts, even if it is just to rant about something. It got a little deep in the middle which I was not expecting but then, this story keeps writing itself rather than go along with my plan. I hope you liked it anyway and I'm so sorry about the update, I think I will just keep writing more for this one and give spoiler warnings about my other stories at the start of every chapter. Let me know what you think? Thanks for reading,