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Chapter 8 : Shipwrecked
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You know that feeling when an heavy, dark-grey rain cloud had settled over life and you just can't seem to shake the feeling that something's about to go wrong? That's how life felt for the next couple of days.
I couldn't stop thinking about the article in the Prophet. It consumed my every thought, daggering me with tiny shreds of doubt and disgust. I kept imagining the mother of the woman who had been murdered, crying hysterically when they told her that her daughter had been killed − her father staring in blank shock as he received news that filled him with unimaginable horror − her friends and family shaken and appalled and despaired that she had been so undeservedly taken away from them.
It was impossible for me to think about these images without putting myself in their shoes. What if someday, it was me being told the news? That she'd been murdered, that she was gone? Gone forever.
I couldn't bear the thought, so I did what came most naturedly whenever I got preoccupied with something: I talked to a friend.
This time I decided to go with the mature end of the Marauders, so I unloaded my mental burden on Remus one Thursday afternoon as we walked across the grounds, skirting the Forbidden Forest.
"Politics are trivial, Prongs," he told me when I'd finished expressing my concerns to him. Feeble remnants of frost-bitten grass and skeletal leaves speckled the path we walked, but new life was blooming in the trees. "Not to mention ever-changing. For all we know, the Ministry could solve all this tomorrow and the whole thing could just blow over."
I looked over at him, because I'd heard in his voice that he knew as well as I did that no such thing would happen. Stuffing my hands in the pockets of my coat, I sighed. "I wish you were right."
He echoed my sigh. "Me too."
We walked in silence for a few moments, the comforting Remus-and-James silence that we'd developed so keenly over the years.
I broke it a few minutes in. "I know you're sick of hearing about Lily, but−”
Remus interrupted me by laughing. "Oh, c’mon Prongs. I could never get tired of being told the greatest love story of all time."
I half-smiled. What a kid. "Well, it's just that this Ministry business has really made me think about the future." I paused for a second. "You know, our future."
Nodding, Remus seemed to see where I was going. "Still got the ring?"
I spared him a glance. "In my top left dresser drawer. Been there since December."
He nodded. "Thought so. So how long has it been, anyways? Officially, I mean."
"Five months." I laughed. "Feels like five years, though."
Remus smiled ruefully. "The next question, then, is do you think she sees you in her future?" his venture was tentative.
I looked up to the horizon. The sun flickered weakly behind a small patch of clouds as it sunk westward. A flock of birds flew across the orange-tinted sky. The wideness of the universe seemed daunting for a brief moment in time. "I honestly couldn't tell you either way."
"Well, let me put it into perspective for you." Remus proposed, halting his steps. "If you got down on one knee today, right now, and asked, what do you think she would say?"
The universe widened exponentially. "I don't know," I answered, truthfully. I looked over at my friend with a feeling of intense vulnerability and swallowed unevenly. “And that scares me.”
Lifeless collection of papers and ink. Whatever am I to do?
The next dawned uneasily for me. I was worried − worried about the state of the wizarding world, worried about my Potions exam, worried about whether or not Lily would ever marry me. Anxiety choked my chest. It was a most uncomfortable feeling.
However, I knew better than to let the fear show. Reading people was the crowning jewel of Lily's emotional intelligence, and if she found out how worried I was − about, well, everything − I'd have bigger problems on my hands. So I hid it. I smiled and laughed and ignored the nagging feeling of wrongness and went on.
"Want to go to Hogsmeade tomorrow?" Lily asked me at lunch that day. "Charlotte and I were going to do some shopping and I thought maybe you'd like to have lunch beforehand?"
I looked at her face, so unknowing of what was going on inside my heart. Crushed with worry. Crushed with uncertainty. "Yeah, of course. I'd love to." I'd love to spend five more minutes with you that make me wonder if you'll ever want to talk to me again after we graduate. It's my pleasure.
Don't get me wrong. I love spending time with Lily, as you well know. But the prospect of doing so with my new best friend unease hanging around my neck, I wasn't so sure it would be as enjoyable as usual.
But on Saturday I shed my desire to feign sickness and stay in bed, pulled on jeans and a sweater, and walked down to Hogsmeade with Lily.
"Beautiful day, isn't it?" She inquired, smiling up at the sunny sky. Her curls flowed backwards in the breeze.
I sighed. How many of these types of days did I have left with her? I shook the thought from my head. "It is indeed."
Green eyes glanced over at me. They rivaled the brightness of the sun. "You're weird this morning."
She narrowed her eyes. "Your eyes − they don't have their usual shine."
"Shine?" I laughed. "Since when do my eyes shine?"
"Since always." She reached over and ran her fingers up the back of my neck. "Is something wrong?"
Yes. Everything's wrong. I'm entirely unconvinced that you want to spend the rest of your life with me, and the world is changing rapidly, and what if I'm unable to keep you safe in the face of danger? There's no one thing that is wrong right now. It's just everything.
That, obviously, is not what I said, for fear of upsetting her. "No, everything's fine. Just didn't sleep very well last night."
"Oh, I'm sorry." Her voice was so concerned, so caring.
"It's alright." I made an effort to smile as reassuringly as I could, sneaking my arm around her waist and kissing her cheek.
Her sunny smile brightened.
Lily, Charlotte, and I ate a quick lunch of soup and sandwiches at The Three Broomsticks. Afterwards, the pair went off to shop as promised, leaving me to wander the streets of Hogsmeade with my new companion, worry.
He's not a very friendly chap.
I scuffed my shoes against the pebbly road, thinking about how it was probably hundreds of years old. I also wondered also on how unfair it was that such awful things were going on when we were alive. Why couldn't they have at least waited another generation? Didn't we deserve lives un-plagued by war and conflict?
While my mind rambled on about how unjustified and cruel life was, my eyes registered something in front of me. Five yards or so from where I stood, I saw two legs sticking out from an alleyway, an abandoned niche between two shops. My eyebrows crinkled and I told my mind to shut up. I walked closer, until I was in full view of the alleyway.
My breath caught in my throat. A man lay in the alley, a scarlet-red stain spreading across his chest. I couldn't see his face.
But before I had the chance to think or scream or get help, something exploded.
No, not something inside of me, not some bursting emotion or sentiment but something physical that deafened my ears. It happened behind me, far behind me. A building.
I wheeled around. Down the street, where seconds before the air had been a serene sky of blue and cloud, red fire and smoke and black billowed upwards. Bricks and glass and wood, pieces of a whole that should have remained stationary in their natural order, in their natural structure, were suspended, it seemed, midair. The atmosphere was congealed with swelling grey clouds that made time move slowly. I watched the scene play out in slow motion, just as they say you do. There was not a building where there just had been and that meant something was wrong. Very wrong.
I stood there, unharmed. A building had exploded. I heard screaming that felt like it was coming from far away and faces suddenly swarmed around me, scared faces, shocked faces, faces smeared with smoke and blood. And there was a man not far from me, abandoned in an alleyway, dying, and no one knew.
I didn't give myself time to wonder why a building had just exploded. My body jolted into action. I sprinted forward and pushed people aside as if I had no care for their well-being, their swollen and screaming faces. My sweater caught on someone's zipper and tore. I swiveled my head frantically, searching for a patch of bright red, something that wasn't flame. My heart beat out of time, the air was heavy with smoke that stung my eyes. I heard a distant, strangled voice scream "Lily!", not realizing it was my own. The building still wasn't whole. It still lay scattered across the road in pieces. It was all wrong.
The crowd was getting thicker. Somewhere, a baby wailed. Medical wizards had emerged out of nowhere, there were bobbies trying to control the mob of hurt and screaming. What went wrong? The question hung in the air thicker than the smoke. I shrugged past a mother and her shrieking son, pushed my way by a group of hysterical students. One of them looked up at me as I past, her eyes were running as they met mine. "Are you okay?" My voice acted on its own again, as if I was separated from it. The girl pointed to the ground. "She's dead."
I stopped dead in my tracks, and for a horrifying second didn't want to look down. But I had to.
It was a sheath of blonde hair that sprawled across the tip of my shoe, not red. I couldn't bring myself to feel relief, because I recognized the girl. Martha Shipshiner. Sixth-year Ravenclaw prefect. Her face was covered in blood flowing from a quarter-sized wound at the edge of her forehead. Her eyes were wide open but glazed over. Vomit rose in my throat. "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry" I chanted, mechanically, but I couldn't look up at the other girl. I couldn't look into her eyes and not collapse. So I pushed passed her and screamed so loud it seemed so loud it seemed my lungs would burst. "Lily!"
I didn't want to find her dead on the road.
Then I heard it. "James?"
My neck snapped around so quickly I was shocked it didn't break. I spotted the red patch I was looking for finally, flying at me through the crowd. "Lily!"
I pushed and shoved some more and then she was in my arms and sobbing and I sank down to my knees because it wasn't her dead on the street but someone else, someone else who had a family and maybe a boyfriend and a whole life ahead of her that wasn't there anymore. It was over for her.
I clutched Lily closer to me to get the vision out of my head. The two dead eyes, staring up at me, begging don’t we deserve lives un-plagued by war and conflict?
The ticking of my watch was annoyingly loud. As if I needed another reminder that time was passing.
I held Lily's hand in one of mine, the other in a death grip around her shoulders. I think my mindset in that moment was that if I let go of her, she would somehow end up being the one in the Infirmary, surrounded by hoards of Emergency Medical Wizards sent directly from the Ministry, already dead.
Lily's cheeks were dry only because I think she'd dehydrated herself somewhere between the Hogsmeade street where we'd found each other and the bench we sat on now. A crowd of anxious, curious, and crying students stood at the other side of the Infirmary doors. The scene made me sick to my stomach.
The girl that had pointed and said "she's dead" was crumpled on the ground. It hurt me to look at her, so I didn't.
"Will she live?" Lily whispered fearfully.
I clenched my teeth. I didn't want to tell her what I already knew − that Martha was already dead. I wasn't sure if the emergency medical team had appeared just for show or false hope, but I'd seen her lying there. I'd seen her eyes. I'd seen the blood covering her face. She was gone.
"Lils," I replied, as gently as I could. "I don't think there's any chance that she will."
She slumped against my chest, my shirt muffling the sob that escaped her throat. "How could this happen?" She whispered, her voice reedy and broken. I tightened my fingers around her shoulder. "Who did this?"
I wished desperately that I had answers to her questions, because I had the same ones myself.
But for the moment, we had to experience the suffocation of not knowing. And suffocating it was.
I lay in bed that night, staring at the ceiling. Closing my eyes didn't help to erase the dead-eyes image. Nothing did.
Hours earlier, Dumbledore had emerged from the Infirmary with the expected news: Martha was dead. He'd walked away without further comment. The girl crumpled on the floor didn't even raise her head.
I couldn't help but relate Martha's death to the one we'd read about in the Prophet. Was this explosion connected to the mysterious killings that had been going on? Had they been targeting someone? I couldn't think of a single reason why anyone would have wanted Martha Shipshiner dead, specifically. It was unfair. That was it. I couldn't think of any other way to put it. Martha hadn't deserved death.
When I thought too far into it, like that, I turned over and made myself stop. I needed sleep.
Seconds turned into hours and I found myself blinking at a clock that read 2 AM, still wide awake. Then I heard a knock at the door. "James?"
"Come in, it's open," I responded, my voice groggy from hours of silence. I reached for my glasses on the bedside table.
Lily opened the door stepped quietly inside. Her face was soaked with tears. She tugged at the fabric of her nightgown over and over again. "I can't stop thinking about it."
"C'mere," I motioned towards the bed.
She stumbled forward and crawled into the bed next to me. She looked at me with frightened eyes. "I'm scared." Her forehead was a network of creases and valleys. She blinked once, slowly, and a single tear ran its course down her cheek.
I touched her back, partially bare from her nightgown, and pulled her towards me. "It's okay now. You're safe."
She looked at me with her dripping green eyes, sad and wide in the 2 AM darkness. Her face scrunched up with pain as she stretched out against me. I wove my arms around her back and pulled her closer to my chest. I felt eyelashes flutter against my sternum. "You're safe." I repeated into her hair.
I closed my eyes and held her. I thought about the ring I had tucked away in my sock drawer. I thought about how that ring may have just become a lot more relevant.
I was awoken the next morning by sunlight tickling my eyelids. They squeezed open, a deep sigh emerging from inside my chest. It seemed like a different millennium. Saturday seemed a million miles away.
A weight on my chest drew me into the present. Lily was still asleep, nestled soundly against me. I couldn't help but smile, despite the atrocities of the previous day. The pain and heartache aside, Lily had slept over in my room.
Not like that. Not yet.
It felt nice just to have her there with me. I liked the way her head fit into the crevice between my neck and my shoulder, the way her fingers sprawled against my back. I liked her next to me, safe and sound.
Not dead on a cobblestone street.
Lily stirred against me. Her eyes fluttered open quietly, and lifted to examine me with confusion. A squeaky version of her voice asked "James?"
I laughed. "Good morning to you, too."
She looked around, registering that she was indeed in my bedroom, not her own; in my bed, not her own; with me, not by herself. "Did I sleep here?"
"Yes," I laughed again. "Do you not remember?"
Rubbing her lips together, she rolled over on her back. "I guess I do." She looked back over at me, her hair a messy halo framing her face. I lingered on how pretty she was, even after just waking up. It was a privilege I'd never been afforded, to see her the moment she woke up. Radiant and red-haired, but with sleepy eyes. She wore morning well.
Her lips quirked into a small smile as her hand reached out to graze my cheek, rough with morning stubble. "This is odd, seeing you without your glasses." She considered me. "You look different. Younger."
"Is that good or bad?" I wondered, turning my lips to kiss her palm.
Her eyes smiled wildly. "Neither, really. Just different. You're still James." She turned back on her side and brought her face inches from mine.
Our eyes connected. Yesterday was forgotten, at least momentarily. I brought a hand to connect with hers, our fingers intertwining against the sheets. Our mouths intertwined similarly, soft as the sheets in which we were wrapped.
I'd never felt more at home.
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