Wow. Emily goes through some pretty intense highs and lows in this chapter. It seems like she and Heather will have a lot to talk about at their next session. :-/
First off, however, congratulations on creating the most cringe-inducing vision of Madam Puddifoot that I've ever read. No wonder the boys of Hogwarts take their dates there as an absolute last resort. You deserve some sort of literary award for coming up with "permanent-wave-quaffed-within-an-inch-of-its-life". :p Also, what is it about witches and wizards and their ability to eat enormous quantities of food without ever gaining any weight? Now that's magic! Apparently it takes an entire lifetime of gluttony to end up fat, ala Slughorn.
Our little round table is crowded with so many pieces of china crockery that I can barely see the cream coloured lacy tablecloth beneath. A delicate sugar bowl with a rosebud pattern painted on it sits next to a small crystal vase of real roses, which seem to be softly humming. I pour some milk into my coffee from a delicate milk jug and stir it with an antique teaspoon, enjoying the soft tinkling sound it makes as the spoon hits the side of my cup. - That paragraph really stuck out in my mind. You did a fantastic job of building the atmosphere in the tea shop with little details like this.
The anecdote about the box of quills was a nice lead-in to the first in a series of difficult moments that seem to have led Emily to her ultimate breakdown. It started off so innocuous, a really funny mistake of the type that seem to happen with great regularity in the magical world. And then there's the cold splash of reality. George Weasley. Which unavoidably turns her mind to how "Fred and George" has become just "George". Again, I really loved the way that you paced things. You moved gradually from Emily's recollection of the twins to her memories of working with Arthur.
I remember the way Arthur’s eyes would glaze over with sadness when he thought nobody was looking, but I often noticed it because I’d always thought his eyes looked like my own when they did that. - That was a really lovely line, and it said something pretty profound about both of them.
The story about the Hogsmeade visit gave us another really good look at the person Emily used to be. She was so full of life and she was obviously fascinated by everything about the magical world. Then she shares a seat with Cedric -- a bold move for a girl that age, really -- and the feelings kick into overdrive. I really, really hope she gets that back before the story is over. At least some of it, anyway. You definitely have me rooting for her!
The clothes shopping expedition seemed like a brief high on the roller coaster ride of this chapter. Emily actually did something for herself. Something that apparently she hadn't done in a long time. She seemed to feel good about herself for a little while. Maybe she even gave a moment's thought to having her scars -- the physical ones -- looked at. And then there was this line, which I couldn't stop thinking about later: I wrap my arms around her, allowing myself to enjoy for a brief second the comfort of the embrace. I don’t get a lot of hugs these days and the physical contact is like a drug. I don't know what you had in mind with that, but to me it said a lot. She's craving these things. Part of her desperately misses her old life full of hugs and laughs and small indulgences. But something is holding her back.
Nice little detail with the winged boars. It did a good job of segueing into what was coming.
Emily's descent into her breakdown was tough to read. Not that it wasn't written beautifully, because it was. It's just that I could feel the crash coming. A few words here and there made it apparent that things were heading in a bad direction. I could feel things continuing to build until we got to this point: My heart feels like it’s beating too fast and my hands are tingling, though they’re not really shaking, more like vibrating; I just don’t know what’s wrong with me but I try not to think about it, because I’m getting a little bit scared. I think she should have been more scared at this point, but I get where she's coming from. This certainly isn't the first time she's dealt with feeling anxious. I love the physical symptoms you added to this. They did a lot to make it gripping and real.
From there until the end is just heart-breaking. The nightmare about running from snatchers -- I assumed they were snatchers -- was short, but very vivid and tense. Again, the small physical details added so much to it.
Emily's physical state when she wakes up was horrible to imagine. She seems to be in a sort of psychological paralysis. I sort of wonder how McGonagall knew she was in trouble -- elves? -- but no matter how she knows, it's quite fortunate that she does.
So Emily is still blaming herself for everything at the end, it seems. That's even more sad. She and Heather have a lot to talk about...
I only saw two little things in this chapter that might be typos, but I read a lot of it on my phone, so my nit-picking skills weren't as strong as usual:
“It’s a bit kitschy and tacky, but the coffee’s really good.” She adds, stirring in a lump of sugar before taking a sip. -- I think you need a comma after "really good" and the next word should be lower case if it's meant to be a dialog tag.
“Shhh, it ok,” McGonagall’s voice is so soft that it doesn’t even sound like her. -- it's ok. Also, "ok" sounds a bit informal for McGonagall. Maybe "alright" instead?
Overall, this was a brilliant chapter. It was one of those where it doesn't seem like too much is happening at first blush. But the more you stop and think about it, the more you actually see. I love that sort of writing, where the story gets deeper and deeper. Well done!
Author's Response: This review made me blush...literally blush! Readers quoting my own story back to me? Oh that makes me all tingly inside :) And wow...such a long review too! Whoah!
I'm glad you like my take on Puddifoots. I always feel like it gets a raw deal in FanFic because Harry didn't like it so most of the authors present it as this really awful place. But the thing is, I reckon it's probably this nice (albeit oddly decorated) little teahouse with great cakes. I've always believe there would be great cakes. And describing that woman's hair was far too much fun. I could see it in my head and described exactly what I saw!
I'm glad the little Fred/George/Arthur cameo worked alright, I want to slip in little moments with these characters we know because even though the story isn't about them, they are still there in Emily's world and her life. After all, she would have had classes with Fred and George and on some level they could have even been friends.
I like the memory in this story, it's such a carefree, happy one and I got to resurrect the next-gen fluff writer in me to compose it :) I also wanted to show how strong Emily is. In her adolescence it came across as a leader among friends who was brave enough to share her seat with a boy in the pub when she was only in third year, and now that she's older it's evident in the way she's holding her life together, trying to get help and dealing with her grief from the war.
The end of this chapter was tricky to write. I wanted it to go from this gradual, odd feelings of sadness at the start to this rapid descent that picked up incredible speed until she crash-lands at the bottom. The reason she comments that she only a 'little bit scared' is because she doesn't really know what's going on and she's still trying to justify it in her mind. For all she knows, she's just a bit tired or had too much coffee or got food poisoning or something. Deep down she knows something is off, but it's almost like she doesn't want to acknowledge it because that will make it real.
With the whole nightmare/breakdown incident, I wanted the reader to feel a little uncomfortable to get into the reality of what's happening. The anxiety and fear is so overwhelming that Emily has no control over its influence on her for a while. It's frightening and maybe a little disturbing, but it's real, and as difficult as it can be to read and write, I wanted to give it a shot.
Thanks for pointing out the errors, I think you're right about McGonagall saying 'alright' instead of 'ok'. Ok doesn't really sound like her, does it?
Once again, this review was just amazing, it made me smile and blush and just feel all round fuzzy inside :) Thank you so much!