Chapter 1 : 94 Days After
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The gentle breeze that coursed through Hogsmeade, while normally nothing more than a reason to put on a jacket, was instead a drawer of attention. The pages stamped across all of High Street fluttered and rippled, each crinkle enough to avert eyes and cause worry to flash across the faces of passers-by. "And purple would be nice, don’t you think? Much better than blue," said Candice, who was very aware of the signage, yet very unaware of her companion’s preoccupation with them. "Maybe a lavender?" Her brows knitted together, the imagery and colours twisting through her mind like a paint splattered canvas.
Keeping up with Candi had always been difficult, but even more so today - Gemma’s efforts were cut by half, steps lagging as she longed to stop and simply stare. There was hardly ever a time where she wished to do that, instead she usually opted to look away, to pretend that they didn’t exist. Their nonexistence was easier to deal with, because it meant that nothing had happened and there was nothing to worry about or to feel guilty about. Life would go on, just as it was supposed to. But that’s not how it was and Gemma loathed to accept it. Her feet slowly turned to lead and, in turn, her steps slowed. She halted in front of a store window, determinedly ignoring the flashing advertisements and focusing on the one thing that mattered.
Candice continued forward several more steps, mind still focused on proper matching colours and arrangements, her mouth rattling off just as fast as these thoughts entered her mind. After a moment, she paused, finally realising that her younger sister had disappeared from her side. Candice turned, registering the fact that she probably hadn’t been listened to in the first place. She frowned, irritated, and moved to where her sister stood. "Gemma. Just what are you doing?"
Gemma hesitated, fingers trembling, before a derisive snort escaped and she shook her head. Mouth turning into a frown, she snatched the page off the old building and the tape snagged, leaving a long rip through the main photo. "She would have hated this," she commented, twisting away from the window. "Hated it." Shoving the page forward, Gemma watched as the realisation dawned over her sister’s face, the easy smile giving way to a hardened scowl - an expression that the younger had grown to know quite well. There had been a time where signs like these were none of her concern - nothing more than a passing glance, a brief frown or an offhanded 'that’s such a shame.' Now, however, it was something that she could both comprehend and hardly understand at the same time.
If she were anyone other than Gemma Aubrey, things would be different. Sometimes she wished she was someone different. A stranger. It was a scenario the youngest girl had gone over many times. It was so very clear in her mind; from across the street, she’d see a pretty blonde girl smile and wave. She’s beautiful, she would think, and wonder what the advertising was for. Until she’d step forward, and would realise what it was. The blinking red letters that would have been previously unnoticed would now become painfully obvious.
Have you seen this girl?
Maybe she would then frown, hide a shiver of fear, before moving away. She wouldn’t want to stare too long and become noticed, because the girl on the sign was beautiful and everyone noticed a beautiful girl.
That would never be and, as an icy voice cut through her momentary revere, Gemma pushed the thought away completely. "Who cares if she would have hated it?" barked Candice, mouth tight. "This is for her." She waved the page in Gemma’s face, whose expression shifted to something that could only be described as stubborn. "It’s to help her," insisted Candice again. She tried her best to sound sure, like she believed what she was saying, but her younger sister knew enough to know this was untrue.
Gemma snatched the page back. "I care," she snapped, fingers tightening. "If Lizzie were-"
"Well, she’s not!" Voice raising to a shout, Candice couldn’t suppress her irritation with her sister any further. "And you’re creasing the page!" The sisters stared at one another for a moment, eyes slightly wild, before giving way to a scramble, fighting to gain control of Elizabeth’s page, and, after a moment, Gemma shoved Candice hard, nearly sending her sprawling into the street.
"Piss off, Candi," she bit out, furious, and she cradled her other sister’s picture to her chest. Why this particular one mattered, Gemma didn’t know as there were plenty of others plastered across the streets of Hogsmeade. They had been there for months and probably would continue to be there, at least until nature had run its course and the pages wasted away. "I’m not putting it-"
A bemused voice came from behind the pair. "Gemma? Candice?" She pulled her eyes from her sister, only to flush and glance away as she realised who called her name. "What are you doing?" James Potter frowned and stared at Candice for a moment, before his eyes dropped away, gaze lingering on the picture of Elizabeth. He paused briefly, distracted by the flutter of blonde hair and the waving of her delicate hand. "Gemma?" he repeated when neither of the sisters offered an explanation. He pulled his gaze up, brown meeting icy blue.
"Nothing." For Gemma, James’ expression was inscrutable and she couldn’t quite read what flashed over his face moments before. "I was just-" Her voice trailed off. She was just what? Fighting with her sister? The only sister she had left? It was petty and the nineteen year old couldn’t bring herself to say it.
Candice saved her sister from having to scramble for an explanation and stated, voice flat, "I was just leaving." Drawing herself to full height, and pausing to brush whatever speck of dirt that had managed to make its way onto her coat off, the older girl offered the man as polite a smile she could manage. She turned to her sister. "I’ll see you tonight," she said darkly and, without another word, turned and stalked off down the road.
Shocked, Gemma watched her sister’s retreating back. They were supposed to be meeting Charlie, though she was sure that the plans were now different. It would be lunch for two, rather than three. "Gem?" James spoke again, and she couldn’t help but notice how his voice was much gentler than it was before.
"What do you want James?" she questioned flatly, turning back to face him. Her lips pressed into a flat line. This conversation was not exactly on the top of her priority list and her ability to avoid was clearly not as good as she had originally thought.
He looked uncomfortable, not that she could blame him. "Were you and Candi..." Shifting, James ran a hand through his already messy hair. Sex hair, Lizzie would have called it, and then smile her secretive smile. "Fighting?" he offered finally and, before she could answer, continued, "What’s going on with you, Gem? I feel like you’ve been avoiding me."
Of course she had been avoiding him, though she had thought it was obvious. Apparently not. "No, of course we weren’t," she said primly, shooting a quick glance over her shoulder. "We always get along great, Candi and I. Thick as thieves." A sharp laugh bubbled over Gemma’s lips before she could stop it, the sound foreign to even her own ears. Laughing was for normal people, for those who were happy and she hadn’t been normal for a long time and being happy was almost out of the question. The brief flashes of happiness that once happened were gone, their source removed quite unwillingly. "And I’m not avoiding you," she countered, forcing the lie out, and she smiled, looking pained. "I just haven’t felt like company." Surely he couldn’t disagree with that as Gemma was certain he felt the very same way.
He frowned, not looking entirely convinced. "Gemma, seriously, I-" He cut his train of thought off, and shook his head. Talking with her had always been difficult and today wasn’t about to be any different. "How have you been?" he asked finally, brows furrowing. "It’s been a while." It was the very same line of questioning, though he thought perhaps Gemma would respond differently to softer questions.
She swallowed, words sticking in her throat. Eyes dropping to the ground, Gemma shifted, feeling distinctly uncomfortable. Questions like that were redundant and irritating and everyone felt like they should ask them, though she would never understand why. What was the point in asking how someone was, when you probably already knew the answer? It was illogical and, rather than give in to whatever stupid social rules that said you should be polite, Gemma instead responded with a question of her own, "Do you ever feel guilty?"
Their eyes met once more and, from his expression, she could tell that he certainly hadn’t been expecting that. "Because I do. When I’m in the shower, and there’s no Lizzie to tell me I’m hogging the hot water. When I’m reading and there’s no laughter coming from the kitchen." There was a brief pause and she took a moment to breathe, tears welling up in her eyes. "When I’m hiding from my mother and Candice and there’s no Lizzie to hide with me." She sniffed, willing herself not to cry in front of James. That would be more awful than she could even begin to explain. "I miss her, James, and it’s my fault that she’s gone."
His expression was stricken, eyes staring, but unseeing. Revulsion and guilt bubbled up in his stomach and he felt sick. "No," he said firmly. "No. I don’t feel guilty." Not for that, at least. "It is not your fault," said James fiercely. His hand moved forward almost instinctively, reaching for hers. Gemma stepped back, out of reach, and his hand dropped to his side. He frowned. "And it is not my fault. It’s... it’s... no one’s fault." If anything, it was Lizzie’s fault and her inability to act her age.
"Don’t. It’s someone’s fault. If it’s not yours, and it’s not mine, then whose is it?" Mouth twisting, Gemma’s hands snapped to her waist and she read the words on his face, just as clearly as if he had said them out loud. "Lizzie’s? I don’t think so." She paused and the breath she had been holding gusted over her lips. "If it wasn’t for us, she wouldn’t have left and she certainly wouldn’t have gone missing!"
Frozen, the words stuck in James’ throat. He had nothing to say to that, nothing at all because, much like she always did, Gemma had struck a bullseye. She wouldn’t have left. Elizabeth had been many things, but dramatic topped the list. The pair stood stiffly, silently, their breaths soft puffs in the October air.
"I’m sorry...but, I have to go," she said finally, dropping eye contact and breaking the silence with unease. "I’m running late. Charlie. I’m supposed to be meeting Charlie." Gemma glanced up one last time and a fleeting smile brushed across her lips before she twisted away and jogged down the street. Though she didn’t glance back, she could feel James’ eyes burning a hole in her back.
It had always been this way; James watched, and the chaos would unfold around him.