You wives of Lamech, give heed to my speech, for I have killed a man for wounding me; and a boy for striking me.
Genesis 4:23b (New American Standard Bible)
Between seeing the news, laid out in Daily Prophet ink as though it were just another report, and his arrival on the premises, Sirius’ memory was a blur. He did not travel to Paddock House so much as find himself there, standing at the edge of the Potter family’s property just beyond the Anti-Apparition Ward.
Ministry wizards bustled to and fro beyond that line, collecting physical remains and magical signatures in a process which Sirius himself had assisted with in the past, but which now seemed as alien and indecipherable as the rituals of a foreign culture from halfway across the world. Dimly, he perceived what was going on, but he could not really comprehend it. Sirius had eaten Sunday roast with them just a couple of days before. He could still taste it on his lips: the beef ribs and potatoes, the redcurrant jelly, the cauliflower and cheddar cheese sauce. The stupid jokes which James made, the business stories that Fleamont told, and Euphemia’s little anecdotes that were historical trivia as much as they were the gossip of long-dead generations.
All gone, and now the thought of roast had the taste of ashes in his mouth, like the black dust and wreckage that littered the scene before him.
Sirius didn’t realize that he was walking closer until a Ministry employee held out a hand to stop him. “I’m an auror too, dammit, let me through!” he cried, but he was held back by another wizard behind him.
“Sirius, no, you shouldn’t. There’s nothing to see,” someone said, but Sirius twisted out of his grip and stumbled a few feet further before a lack of balance brought him down to his knees. The premises were black as far as he could see in every direction but north, where the destruction terminated at a stretch of twisted metal that might once have been a fence. Beneath him, the remains of Paddock House felt like coarse grains of sand and bits of charcoal, and it filled his nose with a musky scent like bangers and gammon, burnt hair, and copper. His stomach roiled and its contents threatened to come up as the scene continued to assault his senses.
Then the other wizard put a hand on his shoulder—lightly, rather than in any way that suggested that someone might try to draw him away again. It was a lifeline of sorts, and Sirius lifted a hand to meet it, though he couldn’t close his eyes or take them away from what they beheld. “There was a reason they didn’t call you for this one,” said the wizard, whose voice Sirius finally recognized.
“Fudge,” said Sirius, only half-cognizant that he was speaking. “DMAC.” They’d met a few times before, in circumstances no better than this one. Work for the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes was like that, with much of the horror of the Auror Corps and none of the glamour.
“That’s right,” Fudge said. “Now let’s get out of here. You haven’t eaten, I’ll bet. Up and at ‘em, lad, and let your fellows do their work.”
It took a little more coaxing, but Fudge was eventually able to lead him beyond the wards and Side-Along him to the man’s house. With Sirius in tow it took a couple of Apparitions, but as Fudge had said after the first stop, “By Merlin, the day I can’t make a trip to Kent without having a lie-down, I’ll hang up my hat.”
“Fudge,” said Sirius while the man ushered him into the sitting room, but Fudge immediately cut him off.
“I told you already: it’s Cornelius to my friends,” he said as Sirius allowed himself to be guided to a comfortable old armchair by the hearth.
Sirius let that sit in his thoughts for a moment. “But we’re not friends,” he said hesitatingly.
“We are, at least as of today,” came the reply from the kitchen, and that was that, for it was clear by Cornelius’ tone that he would brook no further argument on the matter. “By Merlin, a man ought to have everyone be his friend in a time like this. Hm. No meats, I think,” Cornelius added, but the meaning of his comment became apparent in moments when he came out with a couple of mugs of tea and a floating platter of berries, mushrooms, and beans. Cornelius set it all between them and took a seat on a rocking chair that he accio’d over. “The missus would give a terrible fit if she knew we were taking our meal in the sitting room, but she’s out, you know, so I don’t think we’ll have any problems there.”
“Fud—,” Sirius started, but he corrected himself. “Cornelius. Thank you,” he said softly. “Are you sure that they won’t be missing you at...there?”
Cornelius shrugged, then shook his head and took up his tea. “Lemon balm,” he said. “It’s soothing. I like to keep a couple gallons of it warm and ready for when I get back from the job, work being what… Oh, but I’m sure that we can find better topics to cover. I seem to recall that you purchased a place in Bristol. Are you still living there, or have you found a nice young woman to steal your heart away?”
For the first time that morning, Sirius found himself able to smile. “Quite a few nice young women, though not at the same time. Usually,” he added, with a deepening smirk.
“Well,” said Cornelius. His expression tightened, then relaxed with an air of sympathy. “Do be sure to settle down when you can. I can’t say for myself, but I have had some friends who were of the profligate disposition, and by their report all that running around can be tiring. One day you’ll be too old to manage it.” Cornelius summoned another cup of tea. “You will appreciate the stability as well. Why, Agnes Smethwyck, in my department…” and Cornelius proceeded to try his hand at matchmaking.
Sirius permitted it for a little while, out of gratitude as much as for the distraction, but it couldn’t last forever. On his chest, the Mark began to burn.