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The Blossoming by Athene Goodstrength
Chapter 10 : Memories Amongst Mourners
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 6


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Tuesday 11th October 2005



Oaklene Cottage, Harper's Hill

Harry stared at his reflection, clad in a neat black suit and hair wrestled into a semblance of neatness, and thought with a grimace that his uncle would have found his appearance quite respectable for once. He'd thought, ridiculously he now supposed, that he was finished with funerals for a while. Harry of all people should have known that Death often arrived without warning... although in Uncle Vernon's case, after years of over-eating, over-drinking, and dangerously high blood-pressure, Death had probably been hanging around in the prim living room of Number Four, Privet Drive, for many years, just waiting for Vernon to become so enraged about something or other that his heart would, finally, just give out. As it happened, the day before Vernon's death, a judge somewhere had ruled that banning prisoners from voting in elections was a violation of their human rights. This was the final straw for Uncle Vernon, who was shouting at the newsreader on the television in such a state of apoplectic fury that when he suddenly fell to the floor, Petunia had at first thought he'd fainted.

A light rapping at the window made Harry turn. An elderly looking owl was sitting peevishly on the windowsill, shaking the rain uselessly from its feathers. Harry hurried over and let it in. It was Hermes, Percy Weasley's old owl, and in his beak he held an elegant looking envelope, covered in small silvery stars.

'I thought you'd retired, Hermes,' said Harry, as he took the envelope and carefully prised it open.

The owl hooted happily as he took off into the drizzly sky once more, no doubt glad to be working for his master once again. Harry had pulled a small silver card from the envelope, the front of which was adorned with a photo of a squishy pink baby, being loving smothered with kisses by her big sister, Mop. He turned it over, and read the reverse.

"You are cordially invited to attend the christening of our beautiful daughter, Lucy Irene.
To take place on 12th November, at midday.
St Cecilia's Church, Upper Allingham, Kent.

Please note, there will be Muggles present at this event."


Percy and Audrey's neat signatures were joined by a wild scribble of crayon, which to little Mop's mind probably looked like her own name. Harry grinned, and took the little card downstairs, where he stuck it to the fridge. It would be quite entertaining to see the Weasleys trying to behave inconspicuously around Audrey's extended Muggle family. He imagined that he and Hermione would probably be called upon repeatedly to act as consultants in Muggle behaviour and clothing; it had been the same at Mop's christening, which had gone off without a hitch except for Arthur quite forgetting himself after a few glasses of punch and using a Tickling Charm on Audrey's great-aunt Enid.

Harry looked out of the kitchen window and down the street, towards old Vigilia Gregory's house. Ginny was supposed to have dropped James off and been back a quarter of an hour ago, but, as usual, she'd been held up. Their neighbour was a very helpful woman, and James seemed to adore her, but Vigilia did love to talk. Ginny and Harry had realised quite early on that she seemed to keep a closer eye on them than on the rest of Harper's Hill, and ten minutes of poking around at the Ministry had revealed she'd been asked to raise an alert if she saw anything suspicious around Oaklene Cottage. At first, Harry had been enraged that he was being spied on, but once he'd realised that it meant Ginny and James were under extra protection from any nut-jobs out there, he'd managed to calm down and was now rather fond of Vigilia, who reminded him a little of Mrs Figg. All had been well for years now, anyway, and the few kids who thought it was subversive and cool to get replica Dark Marks tattooed onto their arms and send threatening Howlers to the house were easily dealt with.

It was another five minutes before Harry heard the front door open and close, and Ginny hurried into the kitchen, apologising for taking so long. It turned out that James, delighted as always to see Vigilia's cat, was a little over-enthusiastic in petting the poor creature and had received a scratch on his nose in return.

After a minute or two of wailing, pacified by a Chocolate Frog and a touch of healing salve to the cut, James had calmed down and tottered off to play with the fallen leaves in the garden. Vigilia, however, was not so easy to console. Ginny had tried telling the woman that it was entirely James's fault, and that he was getting old enough to learn to treat animals gently, that many of them would lash out if he did not... But Vigilia had apologised to Ginny profusely and at length, and wouldn't allow her to leave until they'd shared a large pot of tea.

'My bladder's going to burst,' Ginny groaned, as she reached into the pocket of her black skirt and pulled out a Chocolate Frog card, handing it to Harry. 'Add this to James's collection while I quickly get ready to leave, will you?'

Harry looked down at the card and smiled slightly as he saw a very familiar pair of piercing blue eyes flash up at him brightly, from behind a pair of half-moon spectacles. He got to his feet and added the card to a shoebox already stuffed with them, kept on top of the fridge when James wasn't pawing over the cards. For a child being brought up in the magical community, with books featuring farmyard animals that really moved, and fluttering Golden Snitches painted on the ceiling of his nursery, James was incredibly fascinated by the little moving portraits on the Chocolate Frog Cards. The little boy's favourite cards were those featuring brightly coloured Quidditch robes, and most of them had worn and tattered edges where James had chewed keenly on them. Harry paused as he replaced the shoebox on top of the fridge, and remembered his favourite card as a child. He reached up and pulled out the card Ginny had given him, and stuck it to the fridge next to Percy and Audrey's invitation.

'Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore,' said Ginny, and Harry could hear the grin in her voice. She came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. 'I always wondered about 'Brian'.'

'Maybe it was a family name,' Harry suggested, turning to drop a kiss on his wife's forehead. 'When are we going to start thinking of names for this baby?'

Ginny smiled cheekily. 'Who says I haven't?'

'Oh really?' Harry grinned.

'I was toying with Gormenghast. Or, if it's a girl, Gertrude.'

'I like it. Gert Potter,’ Harry laughed. ‘She sounds pretty. Speaking of which...’

Harry stepped away from Ginny and gave her an appraising look. She rolled her eyes as she performed a twirl for him, and Harry was struck by how good she looked in black. It wasn’t her usual colour, but it somehow made her eyes seem darker, and despite her red hair she looked quite exotic. The silk dress was stretching slightly against Ginny’s low bump, and Harry made himself resist the urge to reach out and touch.

‘So?’ asked Ginny, pulling a serious face. ‘What do you think? Do I look suitably mournful?’

‘I don’t think you’re allowed to be this attractive at a funeral,’ said Harry honestly. ‘My mind will wander. I’ll be trying to listen to a eulogy, but...’

‘You’ll just have to resist temptation, Harry,’ Ginny laughed, giving him a light shove towards the door. ‘I’m sure you’ll be able to think of something horrible to take your mind off your lovely wife.’



The Church of St Wilfred of Whinging, Little Whinging.

A few minutes later, in a stone nook behind a church in Little Whinging, Ginny Potter was throwing up violently. As she retched, Harry couldn’t help but think that she had fulfilled her own prophecy.

‘No... more... Portkeys,’ groaned Ginny as she wiped her mouth weakly. Harry patted her gently on the shoulder and promised that from now on, his pregnant wife would travel only in the upmost comfort.

‘Sorry Ginny,’ he added as he supported her along the gravel path to the church entrance. ‘I’d forgotten what it was like when you were pregnant with James.’

‘Good for you,’ Ginny muttered as she tucked her hair back into the neat ponytail she’d wrangled it into that morning. She opened her mouth to ask if she’d got it under control, but stopped suddenly as a large figure loomed into view from behind the porch. Dudley had become a huge man, who that morning looked even wider thanks to the tailored shoulders of his black suit. The majority of his bulk was muscle, and this, combined with his particular taste for mindless violence, had led him into a successful career as a PE teacher at his old school, Smeltings. Doubtless many of his young pupils found the sight of him charging across the rugby pitch towards them utterly terrifying, but when Dudley Dursley saw the Potters, he jumped nervously, and dropped something onto the ground.

‘Oh! Hi,’ he said, stepping guiltily on the smouldering cigarette. ‘Thought you were my mum for a second.’

‘Hello Dudley,’ said Harry, trying not to chuckle at the thought of his cousin trying to hide his smoking from Aunt Petunia as he’d once hidden cake and chocolate. ‘How are you doing?’

Dudley’s little eyes flicked away for a moment, and the corners of his mouth tightened. ‘Alright, I guess. Better after today, maybe. You?’

‘Yeah, fine, thanks,’ said Harry, feeling himself cringe even as he spoke. ‘I mean... Not fine, you know. But... um...’

Ginny came to the rescue. ‘Shall we all go in together?’ she suggested kindly.

Dudley shook his head. ‘I’ve got to wait out here for the hearse. Helping to carry my... my...’ his deep voice faltered, and Harry truly felt sorry for his cousin, who gave a slight cough, averted his eyes, and managed to say, ‘...the coffin.’

Harry nodded, and took Ginny’s hand. ‘Well, we’ll see you in there, Dudley.’

They turned to walk into the church, but before they could cross the doorstep, Aunt Petunia appeared, a wraithlike figure in a black twinset and pearls. She looked better than when Harry had seen her last, mainly due to the fact that she appeared to be quite sober, but her eyes were still tinged with red and she was thinner than ever before. Her nostrils flared as she took a deep breath and steadied herself, one hand to her stomach. Petunia’s lips contorted into a thin, nervous smile as she stepped out of the church and tried to embrace Harry. He patted her gently on the back, darting a slightly shocked glance towards Ginny who, before she could raise a smirk, was grasped by Petunia’s bony hands herself and found the thin lips kissing the air on either side of her face.

‘I’m pleased that you could make it,’ Petunia said, her voice quavering slightly in the cold air. She seemed for all the world as though she was welcoming Harry and Ginny to a dinner party. ‘It’s very nice to meet you, Mrs Potter.’

'Please, call me Ginny.'

'Harry, I'm so glad you're here,' Petunia continued, fiddling nervously with her pearls. 'We're one pallbearer short... Colonel Fubster's thrown his back out, the poor man can barely move. You'll do it, won't you, Harry?'

Harry blinked at her in a momentary loss for words. Colonel Fubster was there... which mean Aunt Marge would be there, too. Of course she would, Harry thought impatiently, she was Vernon's sister. He hadn't thought of that. The idea of coming face to face with the only person whose sheer disgust of Harry rivalled that of Uncle Vernon was not one he relished. And... Aunt Petunia wanted Harry to be a pallbearer? He couldn't do it... he felt slightly sick at the thought... Not because of the close proximity to a dead body - God knew, Harry had carried his fair share of coffins - but... to be so close to Vernon... to bear him into the church, and look like the loving nephew Aunt Petunia seemed to imagine he'd become... She was staring at Harry, her string of pearls twisting around and around her bony fingers, her nervous smile beginning to waver.

'I... Petunia...' Harry began, feeling Ginny squeeze his finger's lightly.

'Harry doesn't have to do it,' came a rumbling voice from behind them. Harry turned to see Dudley looking down at him with a strange expression; it almost looked like pity, but it couldn't be, surely... 'I'm strong enough to take twice the weight. I'll try not to carry it lop-sided.'

Petunia made a small choking sound, whimpered something that sounded like, 'my brave Duddykins!', and disappeared into the church, her handkerchief pressed to her mouth.

Harry looked at Dudley again, who nodded slightly before lumbering out of the porch to wait for the hearse.

'Did Dudley just come to my rescue?' Harry whispered in astonishment as he and Ginny entered the church.

Ginny suppressed a smirk as a tall, thin man in a black robe approached them. She wondered for a moment what an elderly wizard was doing there, before remembering what her father had told her about Muggle priests; 'Vickers, they're called. They wear long robes, talk a lot, and make everybody drink wine... I often thought your uncle Bilius would have made an excellent vicker...'

'Welcome to the Church of St Wilfred of Whinging on this most solemn morning,' the man said mournfully, as he clasped Harry's hand between his own cold fingers. 'I am Reverend Crimble, pastor of this parish. May I show you to a pew?'

Harry looked around the old stone church. Threadbare rugs had been rolled away from the aisle to reveal dusty brass plaques bearing the names of the long-dead founding families of Little Whinging. Two huge bouquets of chrysanthemums flanked the top of the nave, but Harry could see that they were beginning to wilt under the ferocious heat of the two portable radiators plugged in to ancient sockets. A smell of burning dust was coming from the heaters and mingling unpleasantly with the scent of the dying flowers in the cold air.

Most of the pews were empty, and those who had gathered were sitting rather interspersed around the church, none willing to sit at the front next to the grieving widow and Stephanie, Dudley's tearful, pretty girlfriend. Harry recognised the Polkiss family, all thin and pointed and looking rather chilly, sitting behind a small group of people from Mr Dursley's work; one or two of whom were wearing dark green fleece jackets embroidered with the 'Grunnings' logo. Next to Stephanie sat the hulking, unmistakeable figure of Marjorie Dursley, dwarfing the elderly man sitting next to her; the long-suffering Colonel Fubster. As Harry quickly looked away, Piers Polkiss turned in his seat and stared at him, his rodent-like face showing his clear surprise at seeing Harry there... Harry had sometimes idly daydreamed of seeing his childhood bullies again, with his beautiful red-headed wife by his side, but this wasn't quite what he'd imagined.

'We'll just sit at the back,' said Harry quietly to the vicar, who raised his sparse eyebrows.

'But Mrs Dursley tells me you're the deceased's nephew,' Reverend Crimble said in confusion. 'Surely you'd prefer to sit with the family?'

Harry felt himself growing irritated with the constant assumption that he was there as a cherished family member, one who'd act as pallbearer, and hold Aunt Petunia's hand.

'No, really - I'd rather...'

A look of vague disapproval was beginning to form on the vicar's face, and Ginny smiled brightly up at him.

'Harry's just thinking of his poor pregnant wife,' she said, placing a hand over her tummy. 'I need to be able to make a hasty exit, just in case...'

Reverend Crimble's eyes travelled to her bump, and he blushed slightly as he stammered that, of course, he could move one of the heaters nearer to the rear of the church if it would make Ginny more comfortable.

Finally settled on one of the ancient oak pews, Harry looked down at the service sheet that the vicar had pressed into his hands. Thick white card bore a black and white photograph of Uncle Vernon, who hadn't, it seemed, changed much in the years since Harry had last seen him. His thick moustache bore speckles of grey and his nose had become quite purple, but it was still the same formal, proud face that stared up at him from the sheet. Harry felt a strange shiver building in the back of his neck as he remembered the fury he had coaxed so many times from that face, and focused instead on the words printed above the photograph.

"A Service of Thanksgiving for the Life of
~ Vernon Nigel Dursley ~
13th September 1953 - 7th October 2005"


'He was quite young, really,' Ginny observed quietly, under the barely-melodic droning of the church organ. 'That's quite a moustache. He could have given old Slughorn a run for his money.'

Harry leaned towards her. 'He used to tear clumps of it out when he was really furious,' he murmured out of the corner of his mouth.

Ginny twitched as she tried not to laugh out loud, and quickly covered her mouth with her hand as if she were in fact stifling a sob. Just then, the idling music seemed to come to some sort of conclusion, and Reverend Crimble took up his position at the top of the aisle, nodding a melancholy sort of smile towards Petunia and Stephanie. The organist then began to play a rather regimental marching tune, despite the fact that the nearest Vernon had ever come to being in the army was watching war movies every Boxing Day...

'Please rise,' Reverend Crimble intoned, and the congregation shuffled to their feet. Harry turned and helped Ginny, who was still looking rather peaky, to stand up. As the coffin was brought into the church, Harry heard Petunia give a small sob from behind him. Ginny slipped her arm through his and held him firmly; ostensibly to keep herself upright, but Harry guessed that she was giving him a little quiet encouragement. The two pallbearers from the funeral parlour were dwarfed by Dudley, and appeared to be almost walking on tip-toe. Dudley's face was screwed up in exertion; Harry could see that he'd underestimated the load he'd have to bear... Harry thought for only a second before surreptitiously slipping a hand into his pocket and wrapping his fingers around his wand. He murmured a couple of words, and the weight seemed to lift slightly from Dudley's shoulders; his face cleared, and he glanced at Harry in surprise. Harry gave the tiniest of nods as the coffin passed by and proceeded up the aisle... He wouldn't carry Vernon's body, for the man had done nothing to deserve such respect from him, but he could try and ease his cousin's pain slightly. If Ginny noticed Harry's spell, she said nothing. Moments later, however, as Harry watched the pallbearers lower Vernon's coffin onto a table, Ginny stretched onto tiptoe to whisper to him.

'Harry, there's a... I think she's a lady... staring at you...'

He looked around and saw, in the front row of pews, that Aunt Marge had not watched the procession of her brother's body down the aisle but was glaring furiously at him, her veiny cheeks blotchy and her eyes narrowed.

'That is Aunt Marge,' Harry said through gritted teeth as he gave Marge a wave as though happy to see her. She swelled indignantly and turned around, picking up her hymn book to bellow the words to 'Jerusalem' above the voices of the rest of the congregation.

'No!' hissed Ginny. 'The one you blew up?'

'Yep.'

Ginny looked at the heaving shoulders swathed in dark tweed with interest. 'She must have been enormous.'

As he suppressed a laugh, Harry felt his throat suddenly constrict as if he was about to cry. Shocked, he made himself cough instead, and shook his head slightly. Ginny looked up at him questioningly, but he stared at the service sheet instead and tried to mumble along to the hymn. She looked over at Aunt Marge again, and felt her own smile fade as she remembered that the woman, no matter how dreadful she had been to Harry - and by all accounts, she had been terrible - was mourning her brother. A memory rose up before her, unbidden and unexpected on that day... Fred and George clutching their sides in spasms of laughter as their father had told them the news from the Ministry, that Harry had somehow blown up his aunt in a fit of anger, that she'd had to be punctured and deflated... Arthur had been angry at the boys for laughing, but Ginny herself had burst into fits of the giggles as Fred had voiced his intention to inflate Great-Aunt Muriel at the next possible opportunity. Now, tears pricked harshly at Ginny's eyes and she batted them away, ashamed to be shedding tears for her brother at someone else's funeral.




Author's note: Apologies once again for the delay in this update! There is more to come (story, not delay...). Huge thanks and love to the lovely Jchrissy for encouraging me, racing me, prodding me and generally being a writer's best friend. ♥

Please do leave a review if you've read this chapter - this story is taking its own little twists and turns and I'd really appreciate some feedback.


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