Eloquence is Difficult to Come By
The only funerals I’d ever attended were those of people I didn’t even know. They were friends and colleagues of my parents that had either passed on due to some freak accident, which were very common in the wizarding world, or they had finally succumbed to old age. I couldn’t cry for those people, not because I didn’t want to, rather because I had no idea what sort of person they’d been while living. Were they kind-hearted and gentle or were they completely assholes who treated their loved ones like shit? I wasn’t about to ask their remaining relatives, if they had any, if their recently deceased family member had possessed any undesirable character traits that might cast them in a bad light, that would be rude.
It sounds heartless of me, but I couldn’t mourn for someone I hardly knew.
But this time?
This time was much different from one very obvious reason: I was burying my great-grandmother. Since my grandparents were, to put it simply, insane and hadn’t the slightest inclination as to who I was, Granny Gus had taken over as both grandmother and grandfather, playing both roles with startling expertise. She was tough when it was necessary, and incredibly kind at others, but one thing remained constant: She was always brutally honest.
Out of everything, I would miss her brutal honesty the most. Who would tell me when I was acting like a fool? Who would tell me when I looked like a prostitute in the skirt I was wearing? Who would tell me that I was entirely too dim-witted for my own good to see that I had a good thing in front of me?
The thought seared painfully at my mind, eating away at my already tattered and confused thoughts. For the last week, things had been depressing. Dad hadn’t spoken a single word since he’d announced that Granny Gus had died and Mum refused to leave his side. Therefore, I was the one who had to go down to St. Mungo’s to identify her body. Though she hadn’t been murdered or killed in a freak accident, they still wanted to make sure they had the right patient. I hadn’t prepared myself for the revealing of her remains. My heart had stopped beating and my breath had caught in my throat. The tears fell unbidden from my eyes, and I found that I couldn’t speak when the Healers asked me if it was Augusta Longbottom. So I nodded my head and bolted out of the room as fast as I could in search for the nearest loo, where I stumbled into a stall and vomited up my dinner of steak, baked potatoes, and peas.
In death, Granny Gus looked nothing like herself. Opposed to her vivacious and occasionally rough self, she was dull and lifeless. Her deeply wrinkled skin was oddly limp against her face, too pale in the harsh glow of the overhead lights. She was skinnier than I remembered, but then again, I hadn’t seen Granny Gus in nearly three years. The only thing that hadn’t changed about her, even in death, was the customary downturn of her mouth, though there was no faint hint of amusement in the line of her lips - they were as stiff as can be.
I shook my head, blinking myself back into the present. Today was the day of Granny Gus’s funeral, the day I would bury my first loved one. Tears pricked the backs of my eyes again for the umpteenth time since I’d woken up, and I made a quick swipe at them. I didn’t want either of my parents to see me crying - I’d refused to cry in their presence since Granny Gus had died. For one, I didn’t want Dad to see me upset as it would only make him more upset than he already was, and two, Mum would abandon her ever-watchful eye on Dad and seek to comfort me, but he needed it much more than I did.
Besides, I had Jack. Holding him close to my chest, feeling his small heart beating against mine, made everything feel much better, though I wasn’t entirely sure why.
Regardless, I was thankful for it.
Which was probably why I was holding him now.
I was standing in front of my full-length mirror, grimacing at how big my hips looked in the black pencil skirt I’d dredged up from the bottom of one of my drawers. It was so tight around my hips that I’d had to leave one of the buttons undone just so I could breathe comfortably. If that wasn’t enough to make a woman feel overweight, I honestly didn’t know what was. Of course, the skirt was probably tighter than normal because it was nearly six years old - the last time I’d worn it, I was seventeen and graduating from Hogwarts. But it was the only black skirt I had and while I could’ve purchased a new one, I simply didn’t have the energy to make a trip to the store, what with caring for Jack and making sure that my parents remembered to eat in their comatose states.
“It‘s not that bad, is it, love?” I asked, rocking back and forth as I peered down at him. Jack’s hazel eyes glittered with their usual mischief, but his face was that of adorable confusion. Yet another trait he’d received from his father. At least he didn’t look like me when he was confused, which was one of stubborn constipation. Or so I had been told.
I sighed, shifting Jack around in my arms to look at myself properly. “Well, I suppose it could be worse. I could look like a walrus.”
Jack gurgled, which I viewed as a sign of approval. Or disapproval. At times point, however, it really didn’t matter. I kissed him on the temple, grabbed his bag off the end of the bed, and headed downstairs where my parents were waiting. Dad had dressed himself in his best suit and was standing in front of Mum, who was combing his hair with meticulous precision. I tried to be as quiet as possible when descending the stairs so I wouldn’t burst their serene bubble, but like always, the third step from the bottom creaked obnoxiously, startling both of my parents. I cursed the step; it’d gotten me in more trouble over the years than it was worth.
“Hey,” I greeted awkwardly as they whirled around to find the source of the sudden sound.
“Good morning, Mara,” Dad said, speaking directly to me for the first time since Granny Gus’s death. “I trust you slept well?”
I shrugged. “As well as one can sleep on the eve of a funeral.”
His smile was tight-lipped, but it was a smile nonetheless. It was enough for me.
Mum’s greeting on the other hand wasn’t nearly as nice. “Are you really wearing that skirt?” she asked sceptically.
I glanced down at my bottom half self consciously, further examining myself. “It’s the only one I have,” I offered weakly, feeling like a child who’d dressed herself for the very first time. I knew I should’ve went for the black dress pants.
She gave me a very critical, very slow once over. “Well,” she breathed resignedly after a few moments, tucking flyway strands of strawberry blonde hair behind her ear. “I suppose it’ll do.”
I bit my tongue to prevent myself from lashing out at her. She wasn’t the one who’d just had a baby, was she? She wasn’t the one who’d left the semi-comfortable life she’d established in Panama for one of disorder and death, was she? Of course, these were both totally irrational questions, which I realised about two seconds before I was going to blurt them out and thus prevented myself from saying them. Once again, I blamed the hormones - or more precisely, the chaotic mess of my emotions.
“Well, I think you look lovely,” Dad remarked.
I beamed at him. “Thank you, Dad. You look rather dashing yourself.” I nodded at his three piece black suit and smart, pinstriped tie.
He lifted his shoulder, a sheepish smile on his humble face. Good Merlin, this was the most emotion I’d seen from him in over a week and quite frankly, it was a bit alarming how at ease he suddenly seemed. “It’s the least I could do.”
It wasn’t until we were leaving the house that I noticed the half-empty bottle of Relaxing Potion on the kitchen table and the silver spoon resting beside it.
We were in the Ministry-provided car when it happened - my epiphany of sorts.
To be completely honest, it wasn’t so much of an epiphany as it was a startling realization.
My heart stopped beating, and my throat went dry. I gasped at the sudden lack of oxygen circulating to my brain and did the unthinkable - I launched myself out of the comfortable leather seat and beat my fist against the magically reinforced glass that separated the front of the vehicle from the back.
“Pull over!” I commanded.
“What?” Mum and Dad exclaimed in completely bafflement. “Why?”
“Just do it!”
The driver looked in the rear view mirror, his brown eyes wide with fright. He looked torn, like he was trying to decide the best course of action. Should he listen to the crazy lady in the back seat or should he continue on to the funeral parlour? After all, he’d made a promise to his employer, and it wasn’t every day that a regular Ministry driver like Mitchell Ricks was asked by the Boy Who Lived himself to escort a “close family friend” to a funeral. But still, Harry Potter had stressed that the grieving family receive whatever they wished, and if this mental woman wanted him to pull over, well, he ought to do it.
Of course, I didn’t know any of this, so when the car started slowing down, I thought it was my assertive demanding that had caused the driver to obey, not his obligation to the Boy Who Lived.
I was halfway out of the car before we even came to a stop. The toe of my simple black shoes got caught on the edge of the curb, making me stumble, but I caught myself before I could tumble to the ground completely. Ignoring the stinging sensation on the palms of my hands, I scrambled over the cement and found the nearest shrub to vomit on.
“Mara?” Mum called out, her voice coloured with concern. “Are you alright?”
When I opened my mouth to speak, a fresh wave of vomit surged up my throat and I had to duck my head again to avoid showing my mother my partial digested breakfast. I grimaced as my stomach gave another heave, but thankfully it was a dry one. My stomach was empty of all contents, which reduced the chance of me succumbing to a bout of illness during the eulogy.
The car door slammed and her heels clicked against the pavement as she approached. Mum grabbed me by the shoulders and straightened me out from my doubled-over position. She clicked her tongue in dismay, pulled her wand out of her pocket, and waved it at my face. I blinked stupidly as I was utterly dumbfounded.
Mum tried to again. “What’s wrong, Mara? Why’d you leave the car?”
“I felt sick,” I answered.
“Obviously,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “I meant to say why’d you feel sick? Did you eat meat for breakfast?” The concern evaporated from her voice as she switched from her comforting mode to her scolding mode. “Because if you did, I distinctly remember telling you not to; it’s no secret that you can’t cook and you probably undercooked -”
“No, Mum,” I interrupted, tugging at the sleeve of my dark blue blouse. “I didn’t eat any meat for breakfast - I had hot cereal, remember? I asked you if you wanted any, but you never replied.”
“Oh,” Mum said, tilting her head to the side. “Sorry about that. I was too distracted with your - oh! Nice try, Mara Francis Longbottom!”
Shit, she’d caught onto what I was trying to do.
Once again, my attempts to distract my mother were slashed to ribbons by her oddly perceptive mind. Or maybe it was her extra-special skill in putting her nose where it doesn’t belong. Also, I hated it when she used my middle name. If Mara Francis Longbottom wasn’t a name, I couldn’t imagine what was. (Aside from the obvious, of course: I think that both Albus and that Malfoy boy that Rose was dating - was she still dating him or not; I wasn’t entirely sure - had had more than their fair share of ridicule for their names.)
“Now, tell me what’s wrong before we’re late to your grandmother’s funeral,” she ordered, leaving no room for argument. During her years at Hogwarts, Hannah Abbott might’ve passed under the radar as a nice, pleasant girl, and she still was, the only difference was that motherhood (especially being a mother to a daughter like me) had given her a backbone. And a surprisingly strong one too.
I considered breaking down into tears, which I was on the brink of doing, especially having just realized what I had just realized, but I knew it would be stupid to go into the funeral crying - I’d be sniffling like a maniac before the service even began, which was something I was trying to avoid for as long as possible. So instead I did something entirely uncharacteristic of me: I didn’t stall, rather got straight to the point.
“There’s a rather large possibility that James will be at the funeral, Mum, and I’m scared shitless to see him. I haven’t seen him since. . .well, you know, and I don’t know how I’m going to react to seeing him again. What if I let something slip? What if we’re in the middle of one of those awkward-getting-reacquainted conversations and when he asks me how I’ve been, I’m all ‘Well, for one, I had your baby. . .’ Or worse yet, what if he guesses that he is Jack’s father? I mean, I know that James isn’t exactly a potions mater, but he can put a Quaffle and a broomstick together and come up with a sensible explanation as to why exactly 13 months after we last saw each other I have a four month old baby in my arms and an extra fifteen pounds around my waist!”
Mum stared at me as if I’d grown another head. Like the driver, she looked torn between placing a hand on my shoulder reassuringly or high-tailing it back to the car and telling the driver to take off, to leave me, Crazy-Cakes, behind. I wouldn’t blame her if she did the latter; I know I would if I were in her position.
“Um. . ., well,” she dragged her tongue across the top row of her teeth, her one and only anxious tick. “I’m sure he won’t be able to attend; keep in mind that his Quidditch schedule is very, very busy and I’m not even sure that he’s back from Bulgaria. . .or was it Albania? Or did Ginny say that he was away in Turkey? I can‘t remember. . .” She shook her head to herself, shook away her self-distraction. “As I was saying - should he appear at the funeral, which I highly doubt he will. . .well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there, sweetie.”
I stared at her, my eyes wide with incredulity. This had never happened to me before, my mother always had a plan. She was the rock, the one who always thought ahead and packed the Doxie repellent. She wasn’t supposed to say what she’d just said - she was supposed to be reliable!
“So. . .you don’t have a plan?” I asked, wincing in anticipation of her response.
“Not really,” she answered bluntly. “But if by some freak chance he is there, I’ll just stick by your side the entire time and pinch you if you’re about to say anything stupid. How does that sound, love?”
“It sounds like a plan that’s destined for failure.”
She snorted, waving a dismissive hand at me. “Those are your nerves talking, Mara. Everyone gets nervous at the potential prospect of running into an ex.”
“For the love of Agrippa, he’s not my ex!” I exclaimed in exasperation. “We never dated nor did we break up, therefore he is not, I repeat, not my ex!”
Mum rolled her eyes and sighed. “I think the status of your relationship with James at the time of Jack’s conception is the least of your worries - you are burying your grandmother today.”
She was right. As per usual. I should be recalling all of the fond memories I had with Granny Gus, not fretting over the possibility of running into James at her funeral. Sure, it was an intimidating thought, one that had made me order a Ministry driver to pull over so I could vomit all over a bush, but it was nowhere near as depressing as the thought of burying my grandmother.
With one simple statement, my nerves had gone from haywire to practically nonexistent. Now, a knot of sadness was twisting my insides around uncomfortably, the backs of my eyes prickling with a round of fresh tears. I think it’s sufficient to say that I was completely sobered up in a non-alcoholic drink sort of way.
Mum put a hand on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze. I covered her hand with my own and intertwined our fingers.
“Ready to get back in the car?” she questioned softly, her blue eyes glittering with unshed tears.
I nodded, knowing that words would fail me, and followed my mother’s lead into the car.
I’m a horrible person.
A horrible person with a terribly short attention span, especially when it comes to paying attention to long-winded speeches.
Of course, the small wizard standing at the podium was delivering my grandmother’s eulogy, and I knew that I should be paying rapt attention, that tears should be streaming steadily down my cheeks as I listened intently, but I wasn’t. In fact, I’d tuned out the wiry-haired man almost as soon as he started talking; his voice was extremely nasally and he used too many superfluous adjectives to describe Granny Gus’s character when she could’ve been summed up in one: Honest.
She was brutally and wonderfully honest, not “genuine“ or “honourable” or “benevolent“ or “captivating“. Not all at once anyway. Sure, she had her moments of compassion and sincerity, but for the most part, she spoke her mind regardless of how spearing her words could be. She didn’t care if people thought she was deluded or conceded or offensive; if you didn’t like what she had to say, you ought to get a stronger spine and not take things so personally.
I found myself rolling my eyes despite myself, and Mum dug her sharp elbow into my side several times when I snorted in derisive laughter. There was little to no doubt in my mind that the man at the podium delivering the eloquent but entirely incorrect eulogy had never encountered my grandmother or, if he had, it must’ve been the day after the end of the Second War, when Granny Gus was so high on her pride for my father’s heroic actions, she’d made amends with Headmistress Minerva McGonagall.
It didn’t cross my mind until three-fourths of the way through his speech that the man at the podium was actually the same man who’d married Teddy and Victorie three days before I left for Panama; James had been my date for the wedding, escorting me down the aisle on the crook of his arm. I had to beat the memories of the balmy summer evening away from my head forcefully, knowing fully well that if I didn’t, I’d be lost forever and quite frankly, I didn’t want to forget my own grandmother’s funeral.
However, by the time I managed to clear my mind of all distractions, the wizard had finished delivering his speech and the organist began playing a mournful tune. Dad rose to his feet slowly, a solemn expression on his starch-white face as he shuffled out of the pew. He held a single peony in his hand; peonies were Granny Gus’s favourite flower. Mum was quick to follow him, but I had a little more difficulty. Adjusting a sleeping Jack in my stiff arms, I held him awkwardly against my body as I walked in my mother’s footsteps, moving closer to my grandmother’s coffin with each and every step.
When I was a few feet away, my throat closed up and tears, hot and salty, sprang into my eyes. I didn’t bother trying to wipe them away. By the time I reached her open coffin, the steady stream of tears that had been decidedly absent from my face during the wizard’s eulogy made a startling comeback. I glanced into her coffin, taking in her heavily lined face and the light blue shadow the mortician had painted across her eyelids. My stomach spasmed as a raw sob tore through me; Dad draped his arm over my shoulder and led me away from the coffin before I broke down completely.
I thanked him for it despite the fact I knew I would only succumb to even fiercer sobs the moment her body was lowered into the ground.
I was right.
By the time we made it back to the Scamanders’ home - Aunt Luna had been kind enough to offer to host the memorial-of-sorts so that we wouldn’t have people trampling through the house and making a mess of the place - I could hardly breathe through my nose, it was so stuffy from all of the crying I’d done today. I couldn’t even begin to count the mind-boggling amount of tissues I’d used to blow my nose, but I was willing to bet it was somewhere in the high thirties to low forties.
Crumpling the soiled tissue in my hand, I tossed it into the wastebasket beside my feet, wondering if someone could die from blowing their nose so much. The skin underneath my nose was rubbed raw and probably one of the least attractive sights in the room - well, aside from the disastrous hat some blonde woman in the corner was wearing. I hadn’t seen her face, but I doubted that she could be all that pretty with such a massive hat. Granny Gus probably would’ve liked it, though; she had a thing for big, hideous hats.
For the past twenty minutes, I’d been sitting by myself in an armchair in the small sitting room that was connected to the main living area by an archway, my legs pulled up against my chest. Mum had taken Jack upstairs to change his nappy and hadn’t returned. It was more than likely that she was prowling through the house, showing Jack off to anyone who was willing to listen to her spiel about how her grandson was the best infant in the history of infants, even though he’d spent the entire trip to Aunt Luna’s house screaming his little lungs out.
I exhaled heavily, letting my head fall back against the over-padded chair. I closed my puffy eyes, hoping to catch a moment’s peace. Today had been incredibly exhausting, but I figured that it could have always been worse - James could’ve been present. The rest of the Potters had attended, both Harry and Ginny approaching me as soon as they arrived to offer their condolences. When they noticed the baby in my arms, they immediately started asking questions, firing them at me as well as my parents: Why hadn’t they been told that I was pregnant? That I’d had a baby? How old was he? What was his name?
It was enough to make my head spin out of control. Thankfully, Mum quickly intervened, coming up with one of the most wild and outrageous lies I’d ever heard. Apparently, my relationship with my son’s father had ended very badly, which was just one of the many reasons why I had been hesitant to tell everyone that I had a child.
“Despite the numerous social advances in the wizarding world following Voldemort’s defeat,” my mother had said, lying through her teeth as perfectly as a sociopath would, “many witches and wizards held onto the beliefs of old: Conception outside of marriage was unacceptable, a black mark on an otherwise clean record, and if it did occur, marriage much swiftly follow.
Ginny had laughed, tossing her head of bright red-gold hair back and her shoulders shaking. “I understand your concern, but how could you think that we would care about something like that, Mara?” she’d asked me, tilting her head to the side and gazing at me curiously down her slim nose. “After all these years of knowing you?”
Her words had been enough to bring a fresh batch of tears to my already cried-out eyes, which is when I excused myself to the sitting room. I was halfway through the doorway when Mum gently eased Jack out of my arms and assured me that he would be taken impeccable care of.
Thankfully, that was the only awkward encounter I’d had thus far, but I wasn’t about to count my dragons before they hatched. With my luck, people would find my hiding place and despite the fact my grandmother had just died, they would hound me with questions regarding my training in Panama and, most importantly, the sudden appearance of a child. However, I figured that I had another half an hour to myself before one of the more curious members of the Potter-Weasley clan made their way over to me. And since I hadn’t gotten much sleep and had just spent the better part of an hour crying every ounce of moisture out of my body, I was going to nap.
Shifting in a vain attempt to make myself comfortable in the squished armchair, I allowed my thoughts to drift off into memories I hadn’t taken the time to relive in a long time. Most of them concerned Granny Gus. One such memory was the evening in which my parents had tagged along with the Scamanders for some formal event where Uncle Rolf was the recipient of yet another aware concerning his completely bizarre, but relevant research.
Aunt Luna and Uncle Rolf had dropped off their twin boys, Lorcan and Lysander, who were two years younger than me, at our house so that Granny Gus could watch all three of us and spare the Scamanders the cost of a babysitter. I was only seven at the time and had been extremely hesitant to spend an entire night with Granny Gus and the Scamander twins, especially since they were notorious for being rotten little boys. I had been expecting an evening of vegetable-filled dinner, a lukewarm bath, and then straight to be, but it turned out to be the exact opposite. Granny Gus taught the three of us how to play various wizard card games, including Exploding Snap and Hippogriffs, which I still didn’t understand, and regaled us with stories our parents’ bravery during the Second War.
It was one of my fondest memories, but not because Granny Gus was the main figure - no, it was the note of pride in her voice as she spoke of my father that made me recall the memory so perfectly.
A doleful sigh passed through my lips as I struggled to make myself comfortable in the armchair. I was so distracted with finding the most desirable position in which I could take my nap that I didn’t even sense the presence of another figure in the sitting room with me. Even if I had, I doubted that I would’ve assumed it was him. After all, Harry had told Dad that it wasn’t very likely that James would be able to attend, but he offered his deepest condolences nonetheless. There were no words that could adequately explain my relief at Harry’s words.
Unfortunately, Harry had been dead wrong.
“Hey,” a warm, albeit slightly rough voice said from somewhere to my left.
My mind instantly recognized his aching familiar voice and my stomach felt as though I’d just swallowed a mouthful of foul Hangover Potion.
Shit, shit, shit, SHIT!
There was no way he had managed to find me.
There was no way he was actually here.
Despite the fact I was ordering them to remain closed, my eyes opened and I looked to my left. He wasn’t there, so I looked to my right. A startled gasp escaped me. Even though I’d known that it was James by the sound of his voice and had expected to see him when I opened my eyes, it was two different things to think that you’re prepared to see someone and then actually seeing them.
He looked exactly like I remembered him.
His hands were shoved casually into the front pockets of his black slacks and he’d rolled his shirtsleeves up to his elbows, exposing the veins of lean muscle that twisted up his forearm and disappeared underneath his black dress shirt. His hair was an adorable mess of chaos, a dark chocolate brown that swept across his forehead effortlessly, obscuring his amazingly hazel eyes. When we made eye contact, the left side of his mouth quirked into a half-smirk, causing my heart to thunder loudly in my chest.
I didn’t know what to say. In fact, I wasn’t entirely sure if I was capable of speech at all. Though my mind had already considered the possibility of his presence at the funeral, when Harry had said that James wasn’t able to attend, my mind immediately dismissed the threat and I resumed my quiet grieving. Now, I was standing face to face with the father of my child, the man who’d once been my best mate in the entire world, but now seemed like a complete stranger. His face might’ve been the same and his smile was just as enigmatic, but I didn’t know the person that was standing in front of me. There was something different about him, something that I couldn’t quite peg. Whatever it was, I didn’t like it.
It was that feeling of dislike that probably encouraged me to respond to his casual greeting in such a rude manner. Instead of being polite, offering up a small ‘hi’ and maybe even giving him an unbelievably awkward hug, I did the unthinkable - I decided to be frank. I said seven little words that would’ve made Granny Gus’s eyes shine with happiness.
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
A/N: I did say that James would be making an appearance this chapter, I just didn’t specify how long (or brief) it would be. I’m not entirely sure if I’m as satisfied with this chapter as I have been with all of the others, but oh well. Drop me a line if you’ve got any questions! Oh, and thanks to everyone who has reviewed thus far - without you guys, I would get absolutely nowhere.
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