Jocelyn laced the last of the stays of her dress and risked one quick glance in the full-length mirror on the bedroom wall. She was careful to avoid her eyes. The numb, nameless pain she had felt for days pulled deep and sharp in her chest. She looked away quickly. Her eyes would show her too much. She brushed her hands down the length of the bodice carefully, smoothing the soft lavender velvet as she went. Maggie had loved this dress on her. She ran her long, pale fingers over the rough black edging, pulled the sleeves over her wrists. She risked another quick look in the mirror, turning thoughtfully so she could feel the heavy length of the velvet drape against her snakeskin boots. She had wanted to see what Maggie must have seen. Had wanted to feel something of what Maggie must have felt, seeing her in this dress. But there was nothing. Only this crushing, nameless numbness, pain. This feeling that she was dying.
She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. Long, staggering breaths that caught against the emotions that weren’t there. Her body ached with a longing she couldn’t understand anymore. Her breasts swelled painfully against the velvet of the dress, waiting for Maggie’s hands. But Maggie was no longer beside her, no longer next to her in their bed at night. Jocelyn felt like she had lost the functioning half of her body. She no longer slept. The dreams of her had stopped at the same time as the feeling of her. Now there was nothing, and Jocelyn lay awake in the darkness, staring unseeing at the ceiling, waiting. Waiting, and longing, in the soundless, empty night.
She breathed out one last, long, shuddering breath and opened her eyes. The world was the same. Maggie wasn't here. The absence of her pulled painfully at her chest. She waved her hand in the direction of the curtains to open them, let in the pale, bleak, mid-winter light. The wide-open expanse of fields that surrounded Annie’s cottage stared back at her. Empty. Patchy and wet with melting snow. It had been four months. Four months today. Maggie had left the cottage on her usual two-day recognisance and reporting mission. She hadn’t returned. She hadn’t been seen or heard from since. But Jocelyn had still felt her, or felt something of her. Three days ago, that connection was suddenly no longer there. Jocelyn knew what that meant. And she had begun to die.
“Oh my darling, where are you?” she whispered softly.
She held herself still for a moment. For the past forty years, there had always been an answer. Now, now there was nothing.
She made her way into the kitchen quietly. She didn’t want to disturb Annie as she did her rounds in the next room. Jocelyn sighed. She didn’t want to have to face Annie. She looked out the kitchen window, passed the greenhouses to the Apparating point just beyond the protection of their concealment charms. It was empty. Just like every time she had checked it, sleepless and longing, last night. Every time she had checked it yesterday. Every time she had checked it the day before that, slowly as she had begun to break into all the empty days of all the empty months Maggie had not been here. Her heart had collapsed into the great dark abyss of her waiting. Of her not knowing. There was no point, in trying to live. There was no thought of a life without her. She smoothed her hands down her dress.
“My darling, what did you see?” she asked silently of the vast emptiness inside her. But her hands fell loosely to her sides in despondency. There was nothing. Her breath caught painfully in her throat. Her despair threatened to tear her chest wide open.
The dark, tentacled plant on the windowsill gurgled up at her hopefully, breaking her thoughts. She wrenched her gaze from the empty fields, watched without seeing as the dark sentient flesh gave up on her and returned to basking in the weak winter light, stretching itself out lavishly across the wooden sill and up onto the glass. She poured a cup of coffee from the pot Annie had left warming on the hob, sat down at the rough, wooden kitchen table. She stared down at her dress. Maggie was gone. She didn’t know what else to do. It had been six months since the world had gone mad and declared outright war on itself. The Ministry of Magic had been overthrown. There were now sanctioned, gangland killings of Muggle-born witches and wizards and their families. The attacks had quickly spread to France. The Order of the Phoenix had been decimated. Their British safe houses razed to the ground. Albus Dumbledore, their greatest hope, was dead. Killed by the Death Eater he had persuaded them to trust.
The gold of her wedding band shimmered silently. Occasionally, like now, it burnt at her skin. Maggie wore an identical ring. She had conjured them the night they had met, as she had lain warm and naked in Jocelyn’s arms. Jocelyn could still smell her, yellow and musky and eternal. This feels like a forever thing, Maggie had said quietly, slipping one of the rings onto Jocelyn’s finger. Jocelyn ran the pad of her thumb across its smoothness. She had worn it for forty years. She had never taken it off. Jocelyn had felt it too. Had felt her. They had both known what this was. Jocelyn’s hands tightened painfully around the mug of coffee in front of her. The memories hurt her.
There were too many what might have happeneds, the loss of this feeling. Charity Burbage, Maggie’s cousin, was now confirmed dead. Captured and tortured by Death Eaters. Targeted because she, like Maggie, was Muggle-born. That pain she could no longer understand, desperate and yearning, tore sharply through the numbness. She pushed it down. She couldn’t bear to contemplate it. There was Bernie, too. Bernie Wolfe, retired auror. Missing presumed dead after she had tried to thwart an attack on a busload of Muggle schoolchildren in London two months ago. Ministry officials hadn’t responded to the scene. She hadn’t been picked up by Muggle emergency services. Jocelyn and Annie had scrabbled through the wreckage for hours in the dark that night, fearful of another attack, desperate to find something, anything, that told them Bernie was alive. Just before light, just before they had to return to the safety of the cottage, they had found her wand. Intact. A witch – an auror – separated from her wand was good as dead in this war. But neither had said it out loud. And neither had told Serena they had found it.
Annie, Jocelyn knew, coped by looking after others. Jocelyn let her. Her wife Minerva, by choosing to stay at Hogwarts, was on the frontline of this war as much as Maggie, as much as Bernie. At first, Annie had tried to make light of it. “Bloody Gryffindors,” she had grumbled as the three younger witches had sat round the table after dinner one night just before the start of the war, discussing strategy. “They’re all three the same. Old women thinking they can still fight.” Serena had said nothing, but Jocelyn had met both their eyes and she had seen worry, and fear. They had all lived through the first war.
Jocelyn looked up at the arrival point. Pain threatened just below the surface of her chest. Then nothing. The world was empty without her. She, Annie, and Serena, wives of the three long-time friends, left in this limbo of worry and despair. Part of a network of older witches across France and the wider continent, guarding the safe houses that remained, nursing those caught between the two sides, burying the dead, picking up the pieces of a world suddenly and catastrophically insane. They worked, because they didn’t know what else to do. Serena, administrator extraordinaire, sifted intelligence in Paris. Annie, before the war a psych healer at St. Mungos, now used her master potion skills to save what was left of those they could find in the carnage. Jocelyn’s hands tightened so painfully around her coffee that her knuckles went white. She couldn’t think about it. Voldemort’s supporters toyed with their victims. They ensured Muggle-borns lost their minds before they begged for death. The void of her loss screamed at her. Dumbledore had entrusted her to develop a separate legal code to try these war crimes, a long-term bid in an effort to prevent another war, to prevent more killings. She worked, or she had worked, before the loss of her feeling, because she hadn’t known what else to do.
And in the evenings, she and Annie, sometimes joined by Serena, sat by the fire and drank vast quantities of good red wine in an effort not to think. Jocelyn hadn’t told them, that she could no longer feel Maggie. They had always respected the intensity of her and Maggie’s relationship without questioning it, although Jocelyn suspected that Annie and Minerva, and possibly Serena, had guessed what it was. Jocelyn had no wish to tell them. All the wine did was solidify the empty, lonely pain in her chest, the deep, inescapable sense that she was dying. Please let me touch her one last time, she asked the void. But there was nothing. Maggie was gone.
Annie’s voice called her softly. She was sitting opposite her, her blue eyes looking into her own, her hands gentle and kind on Jocelyn’s tight around the mug. Jocelyn looked down. The coffee was cold. The yearning ripping through her body was so intense she couldn’t breathe. Her whole body was poised for flight ... but where? There was nowhere to go. Her body was lost without her.
Annie moved her hand over Jocelyn’s slowly, calmly, rubbing the skin softly. Her hands were very warm. Jocelyn felt herself breathing, exhaling out into the rhythm, into Annie’s steady calm, oscillating slowly through the blinding, inexplicable numbness as Annie continued to rub her hand. Slowly, slowly, the pain lessened.
“When last did you eat?” asked Annie softly, still rubbing Jocelyn’s hand.
The numbness pulled dully at her chest. She didn’t know. Her darling, precious Maggie was gone. The emptiness was louder than the silence.
Annie let go of her hands gently and went over to her potions cabinet on the far side of the wall. When she sat back down, she was holding a small goblet of purple liquid. She took the mug out of Jocelyn’s hands slowly and placed the goblet between them, closing her fingers around it for her gently.
“I’m going to need you to take something,” she said, resuming her soft, gentle strokes against the back of Jocelyn’s hand. “Can you do that for me?”
Jocelyn nodded unevenly. She felt very warm. She knew Annie coped. And she knew she let her. And she knew Maggie was gone. And now, now there was nothing.