Something was off. I had noticed that since the start of the vacation Prongs and Jocelyn hadn’t really spent a lot of time on their own, and they didn’t touch much in that way in general, but today they were just acting strange. So, as the girls went to get ready for dinner, I pulled Prongs into a room with Moony and Wormtail.
“Alright, have you been fighting with Jo?” I asked him as soon as the door was shut.
“What? No, of course not”
“We think you have”
“I really haven’t”
“Then what is going on with you two? And don’t say nothing, we all agree you two are acting a bit strange” Moony jumped in. Thank you!
“Ah, well, we broke up”
I felt as if a rug had been pulled from under my feet. No. No, no, no. This couldn’t be happening. It was hard enough staying away from her and pushing my feelings for her away when she was his girlfriend. I couldn’t endure the torture of her being available to everyone but me. Absolutely not.
“What!? Why? No, you can’t, you have to fix it” I said.
“We’re better off as friends. Don’t worry, she’s okay with it” Prongs was so casual about this.
“But it’s going to be awkward now! What about our little group? What about the team, Prongs? Think about the team!” Moony was starting to look strangely at me but panic was quickly building in my chest. I didn’t feel like I was very in control of my actions or my words.
“Nothing is going to change. We’re friends, good ones, actually. She’ll be around just as much. And that girl loves Quidditch too much, even if it had been a dramatic breakup, which it totally wasn’t, it still wouldn’t interfere with the team” I wanted to strangle him. A part of my brain tried to signal to me to calm down, James didn’t know what he was doing to me, but I was past calm, logical thinking.
“What happens when you date someone else!? How are you going to expect her to just be in the same group? What is wrong with you?!” Okay, I was losing it. Moony’s expression scared me even more than the situation and I knew I had to leave or risk telling them the truth. “Whatever, I hope you know what you’re doing, mate”
I walked out of the room, out of the house and just kept walking. I didn’t come back until it was well past midnight, and everyone had gone to bed.
“Sirius” well, not everyone clearly.
“Red, what are you doing here?” The kitchen was dark, so I hadn’t seen her sat on the counter at first.
“I’ve been waiting for you to come back”
“You didn’t need to do that”
“I am worried about you”
“I’ll be fine” I scoffed. She made a noise and I rolled my eyes in the darkness “Yeah, yeah ‘Sirius, you are a bad liar’ I know what you’re going to say. There’s nothing I can do, Red”
“Well, I think you should wait a couple of months and then tell James the truth” she said.
“Are you mad? We have a strict rule about these things, and we have it for good reason”
“I think James will understand” she sighed. “If you wait a bit to tell him, of course. Not right now”
“It isn’t going to help the situation. Doesn’t matter if I tell James, Jocelyn doesn’t feel the same way so what’s the point? No, thanks, I know you’re trying to help. But no. And I don’t really feel like talking about it anymore” I stormed out of the kitchen feeling like the universe was playing some huge prank on me and wondering if I’d ever feel okay again.
I told the girls I had some news as soon as we were alone in our room. I felt a bit weird about it. It was good to know I hadn’t hurt James, but I was also mildly alarmed about it. It was the second time I had an ‘amicable’ break up. Did this mean I was just not that lovable? Jax had been a bit upset, but not too much. James had pretty much broken up with me on his own. Was it me? Was there something wrong with me?
“Are you okay?” Lily asked me.
“You came in to tell us something, but have been standing there for a full two minutes. What’s up?”
“Ah, sorry. Well, James and I broke up” I informed them calmly.
“Oh, and… well… are you okay?” Lily asked again.
“I am, actually. I feel good, kind of, I think. James and I just weren’t meant to be together that way. No, I think it’s best this way. Now, we can focus on being friends” I replied, picking out a dress to wear to dinner.
“Well, that’s it then. Now you are free to find your epic” Alice’s eyes shone with a dreamy look.
“Do you think he’s out there, for me?” I wasn’t sure myself.
“I know he is” she said. Lily smiled to herself and nodded. “I think so, too”
The next two days were a bit strange, but it had nothing to do with the fact James and I were no longer together. For undisclosed reasons, Sirius and James were fighting. They tried to act like it was nothing, but I could feel they were both hurting. I could also tell Remus was getting desperate in his attempts to repair the rift between his two friends.
That afternoon we had gone to London together. Peter was home with his mother for the next few days, and we had decided to spend some time like muggles did, just for fun. We were all by St. Paul’s. I had told them how much I loved the walk between Tower Bridge and Westminster, and they had agreed to do it. It was a pleasant summer evening. The 7th of August 1977.
We had stopped to get a good look at the beautiful cathedral when it started. One minute everything was okay, the next there was noise, chaos and fear. An explosion nearby sent a cloud of rubble flying, and we realized in horror that this was a magical attack. Spells started flying in all directions whilst confused and terrified muggles ran hopelessly trying to get to safety.
The second explosion, just a few seconds after the first one, hit directly above us. My first thought was ‘Lily’ but I saw James had already overcome his shock and was next to her, wand in hand and ready. My second thought was ‘Alice’. I shouldn’t have worried; Remus was standing in front of her in a protective stance and had a shield charm up. It was only then that I realized that Sirius was holding me. When had that happened? His face was determined, and he was gripping his wand. I took mine out too. I needed to protect my friends.
“We have to get out of here” he said. I nodded.
We ran towards our friends using shielding spells to deflect flying debris and random curses. It was obvious we weren’t the target of this attack, we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I refrained from counterattacking in the hopes it would help us slip away undetected and unharmed.
“Let’s go, this way” James and Lily took off. I grabbed Alice’s hand and, with Remus and Sirius at our heels, we followed them.
The third explosion sent us flying. Alice and I in one direction, Remus and Sirius the other. I lost hold of Alice’s hand in the air, then crashed painfully on the hard concrete floor. Debris and dust fell all around us. I pulled myself up, coughing and panting.
“Alice, you okay?” I turned to her. She was nodding, standing up without her wand. It was a few feet away from her.
She motioned with her head to indicate to me she was going to get it and I nodded. One minute she was there, and then she wasn’t. Before I could ask what was wrong, Alice jumped away from her wand and towards me, and tackled me out of the way. A red curse hit the wall next to us. I landed on the floor again and felt my wrist crack painfully but I noted with relief I was otherwise fine.
“Thanks Alice” I turned towards her.
The world slipped out from under me.
Alice was lying on the floor, half buried by the rubble where the curse had hit the wall.
“No, no, no, no, please no”
I threw myself on the floor by her side, painfully ripping up my jeans and skinning my knees. I didn’t care. I couldn’t care because Alice, my sister Alice, was breathing with difficulty.
“Jo” she said weakly.
“No. Don’t speak. You’re going to be fine, I’m going to get you help”
Alice shook her head a little. Tears filled my eyes and I couldn’t stop them from spilling. I felt as if I was falling, falling and falling with nothing and no one to catch me. I took her hand. It was limp, like it didn’t belong to my lovely friend Alice who was so full of life and joy and wonder and love for everyone and everything.
“Alice why did you do that? My life isn’t worth your own. Alice, it should be you, you need to live, you are light, and I am… well, I’m me. The world is a better place with you in it. Oh, God, Alice, why?”
She just smiled at me, a tired look overtaking her features. I panicked. “Alice, you can’t give up. I’m gonna get you help, you’ll be fine...”
“Jo, it’s too late” she said weakly. Then she smiled at me again. I felt sick but I couldn’t move, I couldn’t do anything. “You needed to live, Jo. You always give yourself and your time to others. You’ll be a great witch and help make the world a better place” I shook my head, crying.
“I can’t do it without you. I can’t, you can’t leave me alone”
“You won’t be. You have Lils, and the guys. And, most importantly, Jo, you will find your epic. Tell Remus he was mine, for me, will you? Tell him how much I love him, and that I am sorry, but I had to save you. And remember, please remember, Jo, that you deserve those fireworks”
And with one last loving look, Alice’s blue eyes shut forever.
They found me there, among the rubble, covered in dust and dirt. I was still holding her hand, and silent tears were falling down my face. I didn’t make a sound. I thought if I tried, I’d break and never be able to put myself back together. I didn’t know how long I had been there, nor did I care. I didn’t care about anything. The only thing that mattered was my pain. I thought I felt something move and then Remus was there, shouting and sobbing and shouting some more but I couldn’t hear him. It felt as when you’re underwater: everything is distorted and muffled.
Some time later, I do not know how much, someone put their hands gently on my shoulders and got me to stand up. Alice’s hand slipped from mine and I felt like a piece of me had been torn from my body. I tried to reach for her again, but a strong arm held me in place. I felt myself violently sob against the hard body that was holding me, and I held on to it instead for fear of losing myself in my grief.
The next hours or so I watched as if I had been disembodied. I saw them levitate Alice from under the rubble and stared with a sort of detachment as her dirty hair fell all around her. I thought ‘that’s not Alice, it can’t be. Her hair is always shinny’. I saw Remus in bits, standing with Lily who was also crying inconsolably. James was trying his best to make them feel better, but I knew. There was no feeling better and, in that moment, it felt as if there never would be.
“Jo, we need to get you to a healer” I recognized the voice as Sirius’. He was looking at my arm. I vaguely recalled getting hurt but I couldn’t really feel any pain. Physical pain, that is. My soul was shredded.
I would never be able to remember clearly what happened after. There were questions, lots of questions but I had no answers or voice. Someone fixed my broken wrist and checked me twice over. I drank a bitter potion. Remus was forced to choke down one, too. I heard shouts and people crying, and then, I was somehow back at the Potters’.
I looked around, feeling confused. I didn’t know how we’d got here. Why was it crowded? My parents, and Remus’ were there, and they were fawning all over us. Lily was crying, James was holding her and looking over at me with a concerned expression on his face. I noticed then that I was sat on someone’s lap. Sirius’. As I shifted my weight slightly, he tried to move and put me on the sofa. I couldn’t stand it.
“Don’t. Please, don’t let go” I whispered, holding on to his shirt with all the strength I had and looking into his silver eyes. My voice was so frail, so weak, it was a wonder he heard me, but he did. He nodded and adjusted his position again so I was more comfortable. There was a buzzing sound, like a fly was trapped inside my head. It was driving me crazy. I realized that it was my mother hovering over us, flapping her arms in an unattractive manner and saying some things I couldn’t really hear.
“Get me out of here, please” I begged of the owner of the grey eyes that were my anchor to the world as it seemed to crumble around me. He nodded and, without a word to me, or to my mother, or anyone else in the room, carried me out in his arms.
He took me to the back door at the edge of the huge garden that surrounded James’ house. We exited the Potters’ property and wandered into the small forest behind it. Sirius sat us down against a big tree. He hadn’t said a word, and I was eternally grateful for it.
In the quiet of the forest, and in Sirius’ embrace, I found I could think clearly for the first time since Alice had died in my arms. I had never lost anyone before, but I had read enough novels to know that I wasn’t going to get over it any time soon. I had to go through grief, and give myself fully to it, wherever that may lead me. Next, I thought that the world was even more unfair than I thought it was. Alice was a vibrant soul, full of light and goodness. She didn’t deserve to die. She wasn’t supposed to die. She had been collateral damage. All of a sudden, there was something else in my heart besides the pain. I was angry.
“I am angry” I said to no one in particular.
“So am I” Sirius replied. I looked at him. There wasn’t much more to say, so I resumed my quiet thinking.
I knew the world would never ever be the same now that Alice wasn’t in it. I wondered how Remus was going to make it through. I also wondered if I was being selfish, leaving him and the rest of our friends to fend for themselves but I didn’t feel like I could talk to them about it. Not yet. They didn’t know that Alice was dead because of me. All those years of being her friend and having her back, defending her when people started rumors about her promiscuity, helping her when her grades were falling too low, all of the protecting I thought I had done for her and she had died protecting me instead. I couldn’t bear it.
“She died because of me” I told Sirius. I wasn’t sure why, but I felt like he wouldn’t hate me, or judge me, or blame me. Not like Remus or Lily would if I said this to them.
“Do you want me to talk or do you want me to listen?” he asked.
“Listen” he nodded, and I continued. “It was supposed to be me, Sirius. Alice pushed me out of the way and didn’t make it. I know it is silly, but I have always felt like I had to protect them. And now, she’s gone because she protected me, instead”
At some point while I was talking, tears had started to fall down my face for about the millionth time today, but I didn’t care. “I asked her why. I told her my life wasn’t worth her own. Do you know what she said?” it was a rhetoric question and I didn’t expect him to say anything, but he surprised me.
“I do” I looked at him, and the confusion on my face must have inspired him to continue. “You don’t realise it Jo, but you touch people’s lives in a way very few can. You inspire everyone to be better, to help others like you do, to be brave and selfless like you are. I know exactly what Alice was thinking and what she felt when she decided to save you: it wasn’t a choice at all”
I was stunned. Until that moment, I had totally forgotten that Sirius had, indeed, risked his life once to save mine. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and a strong wave of nausea surged. But, as I was about to either start screaming in terror at the thought that this might happen again to another friend or just pass out cold, Sirius spoke again.
“You need to accept that people are willing to put themselves on the line for you in the same way you wouldn’t hesitate to do it for them”
I stared at him, again.
“It’s not the same thing” I said, finally.
“Yes, it is, Jo. That’s what friends are for. They aren’t there just so you look after them, it is a two-way relationship. You can’t feel guilty for Alice saving you when you know very well you would have done the exact same thing for her. Would you have wanted her to feel like this, to feel guilty about it, if you had died saving her life?”
I had nothing to say to that. So, I just stayed silent, again. Sirius didn’t seem to mind. He continued to hold me, giving me time and space to sort through my thoughts, my grief, my pain.
“I already miss her so much, Sirius” I said after what felt like hours. “I don’t know how I’m going to go back to school. I can’t go back to our room, to our classes… I don’t even know how to carry on with my life”
“None of us do, Jo. We’ll have to learn” he held me a little bit tighter.
“I am going to kill Lord Voldemort”
History books would go on to say that the First Wizarding War officially started in 1971, but for me, for us, it started on the 7th of August 1977. I didn’t know how, but I was going to take Him down. I was going to rip him to pieces just like had me. He was going to learn my name and fear it. I was going to make sure of it.
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