At least it isn't raining, Al thought to himself, glancing upward at the pallid grey sky. He imagined himself fortunate in that it hadn't dawned a sunny day, which he felt would be the ultimate insult today.
The small white coffin was all but submerged under a blanket of tiny pale pink rosebuds. The roses emitted a sweet, heady fragrance, despite their small size. Al used to like the smell of roses in the summer, but today, they made his stomach turn. He turned his attention to the trio of white headstones several yards away that bore the names of his paternal grandparents, as well as his father's godfather. Even in the muted light of this particular morning, they shone with an otherworldly glimmer. Al had often found himself musing over the past few days on the existence of an afterlife. He hoped, rather than believed, that if one existed, perhaps his grandmother Lily might keep an eye on his daughter.
The name twisted in his heart, and Al had to suppress the urge to gasp, to fight for his next breath. He could still feel her negligible weight in his arms, as he cradled her against his chest, willing her heart to beat, just one more time until it stopped. The downy black fluff that tickled his chin.
Al felt, rather than heard, the shuddering sigh that signaled Bailey keeping an iron grip on her own grief. She wouldn't give in to the luxury of tears just now. Not in front of the assembled family and certainly not in a communal location like the cemetery. She'd been raised to keep her emotions in check while out in public, and with her mother Emily standing stiffly to the side, it took a Herculean effort to maintain her control over them. His arm tightened around Bailey's hunched shoulders and she let her head rest briefly against his chest before resolutely straightening her body and staring straight ahead.
Al's eyes shifted back to the coffin. Not for the first time since Bailey and he had been informed of Abigail's prognosis, Al wondered if he was being punished for some sin he had committed in his more reckless days. They weren't that long ago, he admitted to himself. He had been foolish then. Willful and arrogant to a fault. The number of people he had hurt and disappointed had been legion. While the family wasn't really religious, his cousin Hugo had spent years making a study of the subject and how it molded human behavior. Al made a mental note to corner Hugo and demand to know what kind of deity felt the need to punish a father by snatching away his child. He felt a hand wrap around his free one and glanced down to see his stepson Lucas take a step closer. Should we have let Lucas come to Abby's funeral? Al asked himself. Lucas wasn't quite nine years old. Perhaps nine was a bit young to handle the death of an eagerly awaited baby sister. Al was having more than rough time handling it himself at the age of twenty-four.
A loud clicking sound penetrated through the fog enveloping Al, and he lifted his head to see a few photographers clustered outside the wrought-iron fence, intruding on his private anguish. Why can't they leave me alone, especially today? More clicks accompanied by puffs of purple smoke that drifted over the fence. Al stared straight at them for a long moment, then deliberately returned his focus to the coffin. It was so close, he could have touched it, had he wanted.
A loud pop echoed through the valley, and another photographer joined the others. He didn't waste time, taking photographs as soon as he appeared. Al's shoulders stiffened at the sound. James, standing behind him, shifted Liam to his other hip, and in the process managed to move so he partially blocked Al from view. Fred and Jacob casually rearranged their positions to shield Bailey, and Parker, keeping a firm grip on his daughter's hand, completed the veritable wall by standing between the photographers and Lucas. Al silently exhaled with relief. Whatever they might have thought about him, and whatever grudge they might still carry, they would ensure something this personal would remain free of encroachment by the press.
The Ministry witch held her wand aloft, signaling the end of the service. Al hadn't heard a single word. He abruptly stepped forward, and yanked a handful of the roses from the arrangement draped over the coffin. They were nearly the same shade as Abigail's fragile skin, and almost as soft. He didn't know the first thing about preserving the roses. Perhaps Molly or Ginny would know. He wanted some sort of tangible reminder of his daughter's brief life. There was, in fact, a single photograph of Abigail taken when she was a few hours old. Al had peeked at it, of course, out of a morbid sense of curiosity, but it only brought choking despondency when he realized the swaddled figure bore little resemblance to the child he'd cuddled.
The witch gently set the coffin down in the ground and Bailey stepped forward, body rigid, to scoop a handful of damp earth from the pile nearby and delicately scatter it over Abigail's coffin. Lucas copied his mother's actions, a line deepening between his small brows as he concentrated on not flinging the dirt into the grave. Al watched numbly as his own hand filled with soil, clenched around it, then opened over the gaping hole in the ground, allowing it to stream lightly from his fist. Bailey took Lucas' hand and the two of them began to pick their way toward the kissing gate. Al took one last look over his shoulder. A small headstone of ivory-hued marble, shot through with dusky pink veins, had appeared at the head of a mound of earth covering the grave.
Abigail Margaret Potter
22 April 2031 – 24 April 2031
Al felt a hand on his shoulder and he blinked hard, Harry's face set in impassive lines swimming into view. Al's head ducked in a small nod. The stronger the emotions, the more expressionless Harry became. You had to look at his eyes. The sadness he saw in them was more than a reflection of his own. After all the death his father had seen, this one made the least sense of them all.