This fic is my entry for a challenge on The Dark Lordʼs Most Faithful Forum, hosted by Lamia of the Dark, with the theme "Funerals." Dedicated to the aforementioned—happy birthday, dear! :)
The day was stifling hot, the sun beating down on them from its hiding place beyond the thick clouds of an overcast sky.
"There will be storms tonight," murmured Alphard Black, clearing his throat.
Walburga scarcely suppressed a snort. "If you have nothing more insightful or interesting to say, brother, do be quiet."
Her sibling made a non-committal noise in response. "Dear me, sister mine, be more careful. You just all but admitted you would be all too willing to listen to my nonsense, should it be entertaining enough. The setting is hardly appropriate."
"You are correct. I am bored stiff. In every sense of the term."
The coffin came hovering in. The chairs were dreadful, her back was killing her, and the baby kicked hard. Dear Salazar, kill me now, she thought.
On Alphardʼs other side, Cygnus Black threw the two of them a warning glance before he resumed staring straight ahead. It was surely quite ironical, he mused with a suppressed sigh, that his siblings should prove less well-mannered than the four-year-old that was his other immediate neighbour. But for all of her youth, little Narcissaʼs sense of duty and propriety was keen, and a solemn stare from her father had been sufficient to turn her into a right little doll; at first one might have wondered if she even allowed herself to breathe. Small and fair, she was like an embodiment of innocence and good behaviour.
The same could not be said of her sisters, however. Heat and boredom made Bellatrix and Andromeda mutter and fidget restlessly, never mind their motherʼs glares and whispered rebukes. Actually, even the picture-perfect youngest was occasionally stealing glances at her siblings, Cygnus realized; the negative influence could not be helped. Why, oh why was just one child not considered quite enough to uphold the family name, he despaired.
Druella Black would certainly not have disagreed; she had the most frightful headache, her hat was ridiculously heavy—she would have to sneak away as soon as possible for a quick feather-light charm—and she really could have murdered her two eldests on the spot, all proprieties be damned. Bellatrix, she had always known, had no patience whatsoever, and whilst Andromeda was collected enough on her own, the sisters' closeness made the oneʼs agitation automatically pass on to the other.
She was going to scream. Once the coffin had been brought floating in, she had assumed, like everyone, that the worst of the ordeal was over. But no, no—yet one more person was willing to step forth and wax lyrical about the deceased. After his sister, the unbearable Belvina Burke, and his firstborn child Callidora Longbottom nee Black, it was the younger daughter Charis Crouch who now held a long and vibrant speech, back straight, nose red and voice quivery. The womanʼs ugliness was complimented by neither black nor grief, and Druellaʼs irritation left no room for mercifulness. Dead father or no, it couldnʼt possibly be appropriate to ramble so. Then again, she would also have grieved had it been her own father in the grave, surely. But Arcturus II had only been her husband's great-uncle, and it had to be admitted, she cared nothing for his passing.
Eventually, Charis Crouch was done speaking and trudged her way back to a seat, half-blinded by the tears she could not shed in excessive amounts and terribly wishing she could just blow her nose in peace. Her husband was suppressing yawns, and her near-adult son Bartemius stealing eager glances towards his grandfatherʼs homonyme, the much more influential, charismatic and overall interesting Arcturus Black III, currently patriarch of the Black family. It was not fair. The youngest of the children always suffered such casual slights; as it had been for Arcturus Black the Second, cursed with two brothers and a sister (the two former having thankfully preceded him into the grave), so it was for Charis. The Crouches were a fine family to marry into, for sure… yet the Longbottoms were better, slightly but enough. Even Cedrella running off with her pitiful Weasley scum, flame-haired and pea-brained, had drawn such passionate attention, whereas all Charis got was boredom. Even now, Walburga Black looked like she wished she could deliver early, if that was what it took to get away. Would that not be just her luck… Another dirty little firstborn, stealing her fatherʼs very last hour in the light. The irony of this could have made her weep.
The main speeches having now taken place, the assembly all rose as one before the coffin, now resting on an altar, erupted into a great gush of silvery flames. The fire rose mighty and gleaming, sending flickers of light across the collected, watchful faces, and the nearest relatives stepped forth to behold the spectacle and pay their last respects with the appropriate level of emotion. Meanwhile, the rest of the assembly hovered, the youngest were quietly commanded to behave for a little bit longer, and muttered courtesies began to evolve into small talk. Arcturus Black III successfully avoided the eagerly deferential greetings from young Bartemius Crouch, and endeavoured to look as solemn, courteous yet imposing as a patriarch of the house of Black always ought to be. This he had thankfully never found too difficult. The family around him was numerous, forming a group that was harmonious as well as dignified: siblings and cousins, his own two children as well as the other branches of the family, and quiet outsiders, standing by their spouses or parents while quite aware that they did not have the honour of bearing the name of Black—Crouches, Longbottoms, Charlus Potter with the heavily pregnant Dorea, his own son-in-law Ignatius Prewett. Thank Merlin, Cedrella had known better than to show her face, let alone bring her Weasley husband and the resulting offspring. As long as the little ones kept observing their manners, the ceremony would turn out to be quite perfect. His gaze flickered over the three small heads, one fair, one brown, one dark. A pity there was yet no male heir to be flaunted. But soon his very own grandchild would come into the world; surely his vanity could bear the wait. It would be a son, he told himself, and meant for great things, without a doubt. Yes, the world would talk of the youngest Black, born of the eldest line, to the great pride of the family patriarch himself.
After a murmured word to her always impassive father, Lucretia Prewett nee Black slunk her way amongst the assembly to her brother and the possibility of a few instants of a company that would not be too terribly tedious. "I hope to Salazar that Belvina will not think it opportune to throw another little speech," she told Orion, leaning to kiss her sister-in-law's cheek. "I might find myself tempted to murder her. Perhaps being a Burke for that long has made her forget all about proprieties? She must have learned a shopkeeper's ways, as her husband holds no higher wish than to take over old Caractacus' shady business. Really, I do know the dear departed was her brother, but I would not waste everybody's time with tearful ramblings if you came to pass, I can promise you. Walburga, dear, are you due soon? You look it. No worries though, pregnancy doesn't befit you half so badly as it does dear Dorea. Somebody thought it a good idea to have us seated side by side and really, I thought she might explode."
"Lucretia," Orion replied. "I do wish you knew how to keep your mouth shut."
"She never shall. You ought to know that already," Walburga commented, forcing tight lips into a smile. "You look well, Lucretia, dear. Perhaps you ought to try pregnancy on for size. I'm sure your husband cannot wait."
The woman had a short, dry laugh. "Thank you for your concern! I think I will, but you know, I have enjoyed my freedom, seen the world, touched a bit of politics. It is not the same with a child or two, one cannot leave their upbringing to the house-elves, you know? Just imagine what inadequate heirs such neglect could cause. No, education takes patience, for sure, and I prefer biding my time. I thought you would understand, surely you waited long enough yourself."
"Quite right, quite right," Orion swiftly cut in before his spouse could get a chance to respond. "That is probably a good move, Lucretia. Keep waiting as long as you must, and perhaps time will make you more, ah… ripe for motherhood. Whatever you wish. In the meantime, you may get a first, small experience from your future nephew or niece—"
Walburga met his eye, looking fit to spit out flames, and he cleared his throat and fumbled to backtrack. "—once in a while. Or any rate, witnessing the happy event might make you more tempted. Who knows."
"I am not surprised you have such a natural skill with politics, Orion," Lucretia chimed. "You have always been ever so smooth."
"My husband is full of wisdom," Walburga commented in a clipped tone. "I can only hope that my future son will have inherited his insight, and my spirit."
Son. The word alone caught Orion's attention, enough to dismiss the following jab. It spread a queer warmth throughout his chest, and simultaneously made his ribcage seem to clench. "Now, my dear," he chided, "you know what the healers said, that curse they use offers no guaranteed results…"
"…and one might wonder why. Surely the house of Black is influential enough to get a healer that knows their business," Lucretia added. "How difficult can it be to tell the gender of an unborn heir, after all?"
"…and as there have been known occurrences of mistakes in the past, we may but hope, until the child is born," he finished as though his sister had not spoken.
Walburga gave him her haughtiest frown. "I am well aware, husband," she said. "My maternal intuition tells me that it is a son, yet I will surely not shout it out for the whole of society to hear, until we know for certain. You need not worry about that."
She pretended that Lucretia's quiet snort at the word intuition had fallen into deaf ears, and Orion gratefully followed her example. He caught her eye again; she gave a glare, and he gave a smile, quick and sharp. The corner of her lip twitched upward ever so slightly. She sighed, and rubbed her stomach.
"Is the future heir showing his fierce spirit already?" Lucretia inquired.
"It never stops." Walburga rolled her eyes.
Orion Black would never have gushed like a common Mudblood, rushed forward to feel his child's small limbs flutter under his palm, acted anything but dignified. Those were effusions one such man could not afford. Yet he offered his wife his arm to lean on as the whole party began to move out of the cemetery, and felt his warm weight so very close to his frame, the round protrusion that would bear their union's fruit; he glanced over straight, elegant silhouettes, from ladies' fine hats to men's commanding profiles, and caught the bobbing head of one stray niece. Bellatrix twirled, small oddity, Andromeda snorted and tiny Narcissa muffled a giggle while Druella's face expressed something that went beyond exasperation and dismay. Walburga huffed; he smirked.
Theirs might be worse. It was a notion he guiltily treasured, as well as dreaded. Their Black baby, their very own creation.
Old men died, and new heirs grew. His blood tingled with the heat, restless. Discreetly, he found Walburga's hand at his elbow, and she surrended it to the brief pressure of his fingers.
He was a Black. He was a man. A father, soon. His head whirled.
It was a good day, of passing and renewal.