May 19, 2004

Disclaimer: I am not the half blood prince. Beta thanks to C, Kest and Merry. Do not archive this story without permission.

After the earth

She knew well in advance that they were coming. She'd already cleaned everything off the mantelpiece — the photographs, the display case, the flowers. The dust. While she waited, she straightened the old crocheted shawl hanging over the back of the armchair, ran a cloth over the delicate crystal vase on the table, and shifted the geranium pots on the windowsill, turning them more fully towards the sun.

When the knock on the door came, she stood for a long moment with one hand on the small of her back, looking at the floor and breathing slowly. Then she went to open.

One of the men waiting outside the door was unfamiliar to her. He introduced himself as a representative for the Ministry of Magic, Jacob Summerbee, looked very uncomfortable, and shook her hand a little too heartily. The other man was quite familiar indeed, though she had not seen him for several years. Remus Lupin's hair was heavily streaked with grey now, and his face was drawn.

"Please come in," she said to them. "You can hang your cloaks over here."

"No, thank you, ma'am." Summerbee shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "It might be best if we just got this over with as quickly as possible."

"I'm sorry," Lupin said. "I'm really..." His voice sounded as though he had been crying, but she didn't think it was for her.

She turned and went to the table and picked up the small box, staring down for a moment at the golden disc and its bright red ribbon. She'd looked at the words engraved on it so many times, she felt as though they were also engraved on her heart. Turning to Summerbee, she shoved the box into his hand, and he almost dropped it. "There it is," she said. "Do I need to sign anything?"

"No, ma'am. The rolls will be automatically updated to show the, ah. The change. Thank you."

Lupin tugged at his ragged sleeve and cleared his throat. "Would you like me to — I could stay, if you—"

"No," she said. "No."

Still he looked at her. "I know how it feels when people you love die to you twice over."

She shook her head. "Just go. Please."

Summerbee shook her hand again; Lupin gave her a mournful look, and she closed the door in his face.

Back in the living room, she saw that the geraniums needed watering. There was a darker square on the wall above the mantelpiece, where the sun had bleached the wallpaper around the display case for the Order of Merlin, First Class. She'd have to have the room repapered. Something with flowers, maybe. Forget-me-nots.

Serena Pettigrew sat down in her armchair, clutched the soft shawl she'd once wrapped her baby boy in to her chest, and cried.

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