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Wander By Me by lessformore
Chapter 34 : The Technicalities of Surviving Death
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 98


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Chapter 34
The Technicalities of Surviving Death





Deep in the mountains of China I crouch in the dirt, knees bent, muscles waiting. The familiar weight of the sword is at my back, and I know, instinctively, that I am hunting. I make no sound as I sluice through the trees, invisible, otherwordly, stalking the scent of human through the wild. There is just one man, I can tell, carrying a pack that weighs twenty kilos or less, his left foot slightly arthritic. He knows what he is about, the leaves barely stirred where he has passed, but I have the taste of him on my tongue, and I know he is not far ahead.

Soon the faint smell of burning wafts past me and I see the flicker of a fire through the trees. Night has fallen, not that it makes much difference, and he has settled in. I draw to the edge of the clearing, a shadow of the shadows, and watch. Grizzled hair, once black, now gray, trails in a braid over lumpy shoulders wrapped in a grey jacket. The fire is so small the seated figure blocks all but flickers of its light, but I can see the pack settled by the man’s knee, a small bowl for tea, a palm knife, rice paper. An acrid smell drifts in the air, a smell that is not tea or supper or burning wood. I step forward.

When the tip of my sword rests even with his eye he blinks, and says, ‘Welcome. You are quiet tonight.’

‘Thank you,’ I reply. ‘Master.’

He nods, gestures to the ground at his right, and waits for me to fold my legs. ‘You are late.’ His voice is soft, smoky in the night. He is Fa Li, Poisons Master. Sitting tailor style in the brush he plies his trade, a small satchel of powders and vials, crumbled leaves and pale, tasteless liquids that are among the quietest brands of death unfurled by his knee. He is a different sort of man, no feline grace infuses his movements, but he is powerful nonetheless, not a man cross. Pale blots coat his left hand, burns from the acids and flammables he uses; his right hand is smoother, but only because there is less of it. The thumb and two fingers remain, the other two and a portion of the palm shorn off and rounded over, healed by pale, slick skin. “Never deal with the devil” he told us when we asked. Now that hand-and-a-half are moving with deft ease, fingers plucking delicate splinters of bamboo from a pile on his knee and dipping them in a steaming tea pot.

‘These are for health,’ he tells me, his fingers nimbly dropping another splinter into the pile, the tip stained black now, glittering and wicked.

‘Yes,’ I agree, ‘for health.’

‘You have new enemies, now,’ he adds, the last of the splinters between the fingers of his mangled hand, dipping into the tea pot, coming out tipped with pitch. ‘You will want them to be alive.’ I have no reply to this, and so I make none; instead, I watch as he places the top back onto the teapot and lifts it in his palms, swirling it to remix the contents. In the light of the low fire he is half-shadow, half-gold, his slanting eyes dark and mysterious. Transferring the pot to his whole hand, he lifts the bowl with his other and pours a measure. Then the pot is on the ground and he is pressing the bowl to me.

I accept without hesitation, the porcelain cool against my fingers. Inside the black liquid winks malevolently up at me, thick and dark as tar. I look back to Fa Li, who is watching me steadily. In the half-light he flashes a sly, slow smile. ‘You’ve had worse.’

And I have. Nodding once, I lift the bowl and drink.



My eyes snap open, tongue already swilling away the foul, acrid taste coating my mouth. A dream I remind myself a dream. This is the first time I have woken in a start, with no creeping pull of reality overtaking me. You’re healing my body tells me amusedly. Don’t rush it. The taste is nearly gone now and I am free to stare up at the ceiling, the rosy light of dawn pressing through the window glass. I ought to be running. I recongnise the shifting impatience in my muscles, the need to stretch them. You’ve been in this bed six days.

Well that’s it then. I’m through – time to get up. I move to push up onto my elbows and my left arm, unfaithful piece of shite, goes to rubber. ‘Pathetic,’ I mumble. The stinging in my back is enough to wet my eyes, but I ignored it in favour of shoveling myself up onto my pillow and scrabbling with my shirt. How was I so much more mobile last night, when Sirius was here? And speaking of… I glance at the table, where a small scrap of parchment waits, folded in half. I flip it open and grin down at the drawing – a stick figure charmed to move across the page – of a boy yawning, stretching, and going to bed.

‘Good for you,’ I mutter to myself, tucking the parchment under my pillow. My sword, I am surprised to see, is already there – he must have moved it before he left. Clever boy. Pleased that he was thinking so clearly, I return to my first priority: namely, examining my wounds. Adrenaline would have accounted for my strength before, but I haven’t got any such shock to power me now, so it’s just fumbling and cursing as I draw the sleeve down and slowly peel back the bandages. ‘Eughgh,’ I groan, turning my head away.

The skin is healing over, no longer curled and dead at the edges, but faintly pink and pale – new skin, fresh skin. Unfortunately, this means that the sickly black gunge - the poison? – that was infecting the wound, has oozed out and seeped into the bandages. And it doesn’t smell very nice. Unable to stand the odour, I peel the rest of the fabric away and cradle my non-functioning arm to my chest. The table beside me is littered with medical supplies – surely I can manage to bandage this one-handed.


*



Twenty minutes later I pant, exhausted, against my pillows, my shoulder clumsily – but freshly – cleaned and bandaged. The cleanser stung horribly, but the smell is gone now, and it’s worth not having to wait for Madame Pomfrey to do it. A few curious passes over my back indicate that there’s nothing there but shirt and skin that feels freshly flayed. For the first time this strikes me as truly odd; the Encorius bite, being a true anomaly, would be difficult to heal, but if my back were simply scraped our cut… can’t she heal that in, oh, a half a second or something? I mean, she patched up Sirius’s ribs and shoulder in no time at all, and that had to be worse than a few measly cuts.

But what if it’s more than a few measly cuts? a cool, faintly amused voice asks, and I shiver slightly. Suddenly there is an overwhelming need to see what it looks like, which of course will involve a mirror, and the only one of those too far away for a decent view. I’m in the back of the ward already, it seeming to have been curtained off for me, but the full-length glass is still six metres away. Well, sod that. High time you were up and about I tell myself firmly, bracing my left arm against me chest and using my right to throw the sheets off my legs.

It’s a scrabble, and I’m fiercely glad no one is about to witness it because it takes me several minutes just to push myself out of bed. My legs require a bit of help in going over the side of the bed, and once my feet touch the floor an ache sets in. It’s a familiar ache, the feel of a body recently and completely pummeled. Most people assume that the worst pain comes with the actual beating, but that’s not quite the truth. A day or even two after you’ve been thrashed, when your body has just begun to allow all the nerves and muscles to feel again, that’s when it hurts most. And judging by the twinges, I’ve suffered a particularly nasty job. Well yes, my common sense says snidely, you did die after all.

‘Technicalities, technicalities,’ I mumble aloud, easing my weight onto my legs and standing against the edge of the bed. There is a faint tremor, the muscles gnawing at their proverbial lips to keep from whingeing about it. The stone is harsh and cold, and soon the tremor is overridden by a shiver – it was quite a bit warmer under my blankets. But I shake it off and start forward, forcing the stiff muscles to bend and move. I ought to be doing simple stretches, a basic tai chi form, but I can already tell that I won’t have the energy. Pushing away from the bed completely I make my way slowly across the floor, holding my body as rigid as I can.

A walk that ought to have taken mere moments stretches into some minutes, and as I approach the mirror, I have ample time to see that I look what Rozzer would lightly term “a fright”. Pale as wax, my face is marked by a livid gash, the plaster only making it more noticeable, that bisects my cheekbone. Purple-black blossoms, bruises so dark they look fresh, not days old, trail down my neck and disappear under the pyjama shirt. My left arm is scraped and gashed, the cuts healed over but still visible. Above it all my hair, barely contained in the braid that I must have put it in early last Saturday, is snarled and tangled from days of shifting between my scalp and the pillow, and resembles nothing so much as a bird’s nest…and a very greasy one, at that. I could definitely do with a shower.

When I finally pause before the mirror I make a thorough assessment of the girl standing there, and find myself grimacing: she is positively gaunt, her cheeks hollowed, her eyes sunken and shadowed. Even her lips, pale and chapped, seem too thin for her face. If this is truly what I look like, I find myself glad that Sirius did not light any candles last night – the apparition in the glass looks like walking death, which, in a way, I suppose she is. Quit being so melodramatic I snarl at myself. Have a look at your back and be done.

‘Right,’ I tell myself, ‘look at your back.’

The creature in the mirror looks even less excited about the prospect than I feel, and I see her eyes shadowing further as I turn my back on her and begin to fumble with the buttons on the shirt. Gingerly I ease it off of my right arm, not bothering with the left, letting the fabric hang down my left side, only attached to me by that sleeve. The air is cold and harsh on my skin, and I feel chills wrack me as I turn to look over my right shoulder. Bloody fecking hell….

A dragon. Dumbledore said I turned into a dragon – sprouted wings and breathed fire… and he must be telling the truth, because there, on my back, carved into my flesh in livid red weals, are wings.

Like a line drawing that etches out only the bone structure of a bat’s wing they trace over my skin. Thick gouges just inside my shoulder blades are the heaviest of them, but the others are no trifles. They arch up on either side of my spine, nearly cresting over my trapezius muscles at the tops of my shoulders, perfectly symmetrical impressions of half-folded wings that follow down just inside the contours of my back, tapering slightly in at my waist and following down, down past my lumbar to disappear beneath the waist of the pyjama trousers.

Where they are deepest they still ooze slightly, glistening faintly in the early light. The thinnest bits have already healed over, scabbing and puckering, and I know that I will carry these as scars all my life. Well Sirius my mind says dryly, we’ll see if you’ve anything to compare to this. The thought of another human being – of anything except the fascinating, horrifying sight in the glass, drags me back to reality – to the fact that I am standing half naked in a freezing room, my body shuddering with cold and fatigue.

My knees half buckle with the knowledge, and I clutch the shirt back round my shoulders, feeling the soft cotton stick to the wounds. I don’t bother to thread my arm through the sleeve, or to do up the buttons – I simply hold it closed and begin to hobble back towards my bed, aware that the sunrise is setting the world aglow outside the window. Light and dark no longer have a hold on my sleeping patterns though, and it is all I can do to stop myself from crawling those last few steps to the cot. I manage to haul myself onto the mattress, folding my right arm under my body as I curl onto my side, left shoulder and back exposed. The covers are too much to manage, and I allow my eyes to drift closed, taking me back into the gray soft of sleep, telling myself that I have really done it this time.



* * *





When I wake again I am on my back. I realise this before I open my eyes, and realise too that my head feels different, that I smell different –

My eyes pop open to see that my pyjamas are no longer white, but pale blue with stripes, and my right hand rises to feel that my hair is pulled back and braided freshly, and much looser than is my usual practise. My skin feels better, fresher, cleaner, and when I shift my left shoulder I discover that the patchy bandaging job has been replaced. Though I feel much better, I cannot stop a grimace: having a bath while you’re unconscious is all sorts of embarrassing.

Sunlight dances in bars across my feet, and I manage to shift up onto my right elbow: out the window the sun is halfway up the sky, and I do a few calculations: not quite eleven, still morning, but only just. And then it strikes me: I have slept without dreaming. This morning, what was it I woke to…a taste, foul and unfamiliar – poison. And Fa Li was there, making darts – and tea, he made me tea…

I shake off the hazy memory and push farther up, until I am sitting fully and can feel the cuts on my back pulling. Good – if I can feel you, you’re healing I think darkly, and wonder how long it will be before my left hand can take the weight of my sword. I glance down at the appendage, grit my teeth and demand that my hand flex; it complies, but avenges itself with a dart of pain so intense I hiss and feel my eyes narrow. But, like the cuts, the pain is a good sign – the nerves are not permanently damaged… at least, not all of them. I look around and spot my wand on the table by the bed. Grabbing it up with my right hand I pass it into my left. The muscles spasm when I try to form a solid grip, and, gritting my teeth, I bend the fingers around and hold them closed, feeling sweat bead on my forehead and lip as I sustain the grip for ten full seconds.

When the pain reaches its climax and my vision dances with stars I allow the muscles to release, and they twitch back open, my wand rolling out of the useless fingers and across the sheets to stop against my thigh. I look down at my shuddering hand – not much, but it’s a start. The muscles will need constant stimulation if they’re to return to their previous strength. And I should do the same for my legs – if I lie here any longer, I’ll forget to walk – as much was proved by my short stroll to the mirror just after dawn. And since I’m already paining myself, I might as well get on with it. Ignoring the slight echo my movements create off of the stone walls I throw back the sheets again and order my legs to swing over the side of the bed. They don’t manage much enthusiasm in the gesture, but they obey.

The stone is still cold against the soles of my feet, but my toes willingly flex at the chill of it, and I feel a small flare of pleasure at the reaction. Once both feet are firmly planted I slide forward, easing my weight onto my legs for the second time today. They take it slightly better than they did earlier, and there are no immediate bucklings or tremblings. I glance down the ward and decide that the mirror doesn’t need a second visit. Perhaps the opposite wall will do – walk, touch, and return. Rehabilitation is all about setting goals, after all.

With a firm nod, I set out, planting one foot in front of the other and discovering that this is much harder than it used to be. The wall is farther than the mirror was, the room being a full twelve metres wide, and by the time I reach the halfway point my legs are shuddering. When my fingers finally touch the stone I lean into it for support, ordering my legs to stop their infernal shaking. Sitting down for a rest, however, is not an option – if I go down now, there will be no getting back up. But the bed is looking very far away. Just get it done I snap to myself, shoving away from the wall and taking three grating steps out. Forty feet never seemed so far before, and it’s a stiff, aching haul. By the time I’m two metres from the bed I’m ready to crawl and have done with it.

And that’s when the curtains pull back and Professor Dumbledore looks down at me, smiling faintly. ‘Pushing the limits already Miss Rumer?’

I will not crawl in front of Albus Dumbledore. I will not. Gritting my teeth I ignore him and, managing my legs more from force of will than muscular strength, I gain the final distance and balance my hands on the bed to keep from collapsing onto the floor. I do not look at him, do not need to to know that he is looking at me. But he is not offering to help – he is simply standing, waiting patiently for me to do it myself. I rather think he knows I can, too – there isn’t much about Dumbledore that gives the impression of coddling. Once I have managed to shift myself into a sitting position on the bed, my legs still dangling over the side, my back now to where he stands, I speak. ‘Limits are often conceptual, rather than physical – in either case, pushing them is the only way to move forward.’

‘Hm,’ he replies, coming round to take the chair in front of me. ‘And which direction was forward today – towards the bed, or away from it?’

He is eyeing me carefully as he says it, but I can’t help a smile. ‘Both…for the moment.’ My body, thankfully, does not seem to want to collapse into sleep again – perhaps I’ve had enough of that for the moment – and I’m quite glad. I have no doubt that Dumbledore has a reason for his visit – at least, something besides assuring himself that I’m still breathing – and so instead of asking polite questions I set to massaging my legs, folding the right one into my lap and using my right hand to pound the knots out of the muscles.

‘That does not look comfortable,’ he says after a moment, and I am surprised to hear a note of squeamishness in his voice – he does not strike me as the sort who is often put off.

‘It isn’t,’ I agree. ‘But it will make tomorrow more comfortable, and the day after that as well.’

‘A proponent of forethought then – I salute you.’ It isn’t quite a joke, but the worry is gone from his voice.

The front of my mind is so busy directing my hand that the back corner manages to sneak by me, and before I know it my lips have formed the statement: ‘You already knew my mother’s name.’

Dumbledore eases back in his seat at the same moment my hands stills, and our eyes meet, his bright and blue and serious. ‘Yes,’ he agrees tonelessly, ‘I did.’

‘Did you know her?’ My own voice is toneless as well, but there is suddenly a great deal of importance behind the question.

‘I knew of her,’ he allows. But when I open my mouth to continue, he holds up a hand. ‘Kellyn, I think… it will not be wise for you to question me about your family. That, I rather believe, is a quest you must make for yourself. When… there will come a time,’ he continues after a pause, ‘a time when you will need to ask questions of me, and then I will answer them but… there are certain things that only you can puzzle out. A great deal of what I know is only a guess, and to form your opinion with my own… it would be not only a mistake, but a disservice.’

‘You make it sound like a great mystery,’ I say quietly after a moment, my leg folded in my lap, my braid trailing over my shoulder. As his eyes bore into mine I feel more like a child than I have in many, many years – young and lost and unable to find a way to express either without being weak.

‘How did you know I knew her name before I asked?’ Dumbledore says to break the silence, and I glance down, thinking.

‘I…I discovered it while I was sleeping,’ I say at last.

‘In your dreams?’

‘Yes.’

‘Do you keep a diary, Kellyn?’ he asks gently, and a snigger escapes me. ‘I will take that as a ‘no’ –‘

‘I…had one,’ I say, suddenly remembering that infernal book Grace gave me before I departed for school. It was barely two months ago, and yet it feels like years. Of course, I don’t have it any more, thanks to Claire… ‘How is Claire?’ I ask suddenly, looking brightly at him.

‘Miss Norrington?’ he leans back, seeming surprised by the sudden change in topic. ‘She is well. Quiet though,’ he adds with a small smile. ‘I believe she had something of a shock.’

I snort again, picking at the blanket, and resist the urge to smile. ‘I’m sorry – you wanted to know about a diary,’ I say at last, aware that the entire conversation has jumped about horribly.

‘I was merely going to suggest that you keep one of your dreams.’

This time the glance I send him is perplexed. ‘Cardew had us do that in fifth year,’ I say, ‘as a homework assignment – I don’t believe it did me any good.’

He smiles again, faint and amused. ‘This is not for Professor Cardew, so you need not invent nonsense – this is for your own…edification. I believe your dreams will mean a great deal to you Kellyn. It would certainly do you no harm to understand them.’

I think back over the last few days, the images from my sleep blurring together like fog. ‘I cannot…I cannot precisely remember them,’ I explain.

He nods. ‘That is not unusual – simply write down what you do remember each morning when you awake.’

Abruptly I am aware that this entire situation is surreal; the conversation has no thread – it is simply a slew of odd questions, neither one of us having much of an idea of why the other might be asking, or even answering. I sense that he feels he ought to answer as many of my questions as possible – to prepare me? But for what? ‘You did not come here to discuss my dreams.’

‘No, I did not.’

‘Why then?’

‘First, to see how you are progressing. Since I found you walking, I think I can safely say you’re doing well,’ he adds with a faint smile, but the amusement is absent. ‘Second, to discuss your return to classes.’

Suddenly the bottom of my stomach has gone out, and a chill that has nothing to do with temperature sweeps over my skin. Last night Sirius mentioned the gossip, the fact that suddenly everyone knows my name, that the…events… of last Saturday are all anyone talks about. Which of course means that parents will know – and what parents know, the School Governors will know. And that is as good as saying they want me gone. ‘I understand. If you would prefer I leave immediately I’m sure it can be arranged – I’m strong enough to stand, and I can certainly –‘

‘Leave?’ he repeats, sounding flat incredulous.

‘Well…yes.’

‘Why would you leave?’

‘Because… you will not want me with the others. The others will not want me – and their parents certainly won’t want a- a killer wandering the halls either.’ How can he look so confused, so perplexed?

‘Kellyn, I think you misunderstand me. I do not mean that we need to discuss whether or not you will return to class, but when you might be ready to do so,’ Dumbledore is saying gently. ‘And you most certainly will be returning – I would not accept your withdrawal under any circumstances.’

‘Yes, but you know.’

‘Is it so very bad that I know? That others know?’

I look at him, unwilling to be fooled by the kindness in that craggy face. It is one thing for Sirius to know, for Lily and Remus and James. It makes me nervous, but it’s bearable. And the rest of the students…well, they most likely don’t understand precisely what happened. But Dumbledore understands – Dumbledore watched me slit the throat of something that looked like a child, knows I did it without compunction, and further knows that I would do it again. Remorselessly. ‘You know what I am. You know what Coke is. You know what we are capable of, what we are trained for. It is not an innocent purpose, sir, and those lessons once learnt can never be taken back. I have killed. I will kill again. Only a fool would allow someone like me to move freely among the children he was entrusted with.’

If he is cowed by the chill in my voice, he does not show it. ‘Ah, but you forget that I have already entrusted Professor Coke with those same children. As you say, I know what he is. If I were not completely assured that he was capable of doing his job, do you think I would have hired him?’

‘Professor Coke came to it late – much of what he is was already formed. It is different with me. And while I would be a fool to think you didn’t have some idea of what I was when you let me through those doors six years ago, I can’t believe you understood completely.’

‘No,’ he agrees, looking almost sad as he stares at me. ‘I did not know. Had I… perhaps I would have interfered, but… that is not the case. All I can say, know, is that you have never shown yourself to be a danger unless provoked. In fact, the only violence I have ever seen from you was in response to a situation that most grown witches would have crumpled in the face of. Yes, you are a formidable opponent, but I feel certain that a part of the training that rendered you such were careful lessons in controlling and properly using the skills you possess. Whatever you have done in the past, I suspect you have acted honourably and wisely. As for your future…few can know what lies in their way, and they are rarely any happier for it. We are all faced with choices Kellyn, decisions that are unavoidable, that force us to define ourselves in ways that are not always pleasant. In every life there are words, deeds, that would be taken back if such opportunity existed. But one of the many burdens of being human is living with the knowledge that our actions, however deliberate or hasty they may be, are irrevocable, and that while we may beg the pardon of those we harm, we can never hope to reverse the damage. Whether by chance or by choice we all do someone injury in the course of our lives, and while we may be forgiven our misdeeds, we are rarely capable of forgetting them. Therefore it is lucky that it is often not what we see in ourselves, but what others see in us that provides opportunity. You may think yourself lost Kellyn, but I do not believe so. Here you are, and here you shall remain.’

The words seep into me, pricking my skin and sliding under it, his voice hypnotic and sure, weaving a spell of its own. The relief that I will be allowed to stay is secondary to what feels almost like a benediction; had he laid his hand on my head and blessed me, I could not feel more at peace with myself. ‘Thank you,’ I say very quietly, and he nods.

‘Even if I could consent to let you go, your peers would not – and not only your friends. There are others as well, you know,’ he adds with the ghost of a smile. ‘You may think these curtains were hung to keep you out of sight, but it was actually to form a blockade for the tributes your classmates have been bringing. I believe someone actually made you a replica of a dragon out of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans.’

‘That’s disgusting.’

He shrugs ‘Depends on which bit you bite, I suspect. Tricky things, sweets.’

‘Yes, especially when compared to dragons,’ I agree, feeling a smile tugging at my own lips. How we are back to joking conversation I don’t know.

‘Indeed. Now, I have spoken with Madame Pomfrey, and she is of the opinion that it will be at least a week before you are ready to return to class.’

‘Monday,’ I say flatly. ‘I’ll be ready on Monday.’

‘Hmm, perhaps we might humour you both? I suggest next Wednesday or Thursday, provided you are rested enough. Do not rush the body – it tends to be even more temperamental than the mind in these cases.’

‘I will not rush, but I have every intention of being well as quickly as possible. I do not care for being in hospital, Professor.’

‘Really? I had no idea,’ he chuckles. ‘We will take it slowly – your body is badly injured Kellyn, as I am sure you have noticed. The fatigue stems from more than your visible wounds, and I think it likely that you will be tired for quite some time.’

‘The tiredness I can work through, the muscles I can rebuild and recondition. What concerns me are the wings. They’re not normal.’

He cocks his head. ‘Not normal in that they’re healing oddly, or not normal in that you have them?’

I’m almost tempted to blush: of course its abnormal that I have them. Honestly Kellyn – when did you learn to speak without thinking? ‘Healing oddly,’ I explain. ‘I’ve always been a fast healer – it’s a natural advantage that I’ve counted on for years. These haven’t closed up properly – it’s been a week, and they don’t seem terribly deep so something’s off. Could Madame Pomfrey not close them?’

Dumbledore sighs and rubs the bridge of his nose. ‘She did close them. Three times, actually – they had a penchant for reopening themselves. They did not, however, bleed. I would suggest that you not think of them as ordinary wounds, Kellyn, because they will be with you some time.’

‘What caused them?’ I ask flatly, the tiredness seeping back in. I am determined to ignore it though – I want, need, answers, and I am not going to fall asleep again until I get them.

‘You did. I am not entirely sure how, and I apologise for not having a full and ready explanation at hand. Your body changed form partially – I am sure you remember the pain of it, if not the actual event.’

I swallow, the memory enough to give me gooseflesh. ‘Yes.’

He nods slowly, his eyes bright and keen. ‘Again, I believe this is a mystery you would better solve for yourself, but my theory is this: there is something inside you Kellyn, some part of you that does not depend completely upon the corporeal shell of your body. To think of it as an entity defined by physical or “real” constraints would be…unhelpful. It is something that is not governed by the laws of our world – by shape, or space – and as such, is able to go where it chooses. In those last moments it sought to preserve your essence, your soul, if you will – sought to protect it from the destruction being wrought upon your body. And so, it abandoned your corporeal self. But, being a rather… stubborn person, you did not let go so easily of your skin – hence, your physical self attempting to morph into something that could combat the danger facing it.’

For several seconds there’s absolute silence. I’m rather tempted to ask him if he’s taking the piss. I mean, honestly – that’s a load of rubbish. Aside from the fact that he’s treading in the decidedly metaphysical (not that I’m averse, I’m simply sceptical), it sounds as though he’s trying to say I have some sort of – of – inner dragon. I eye him for a moment: is it possible Albus Dumbledore, greatest living wizard and all-around genius, is a fan of Bruce Lee films? Because really, after that speech, I wouldn’t be surprised. ‘Hm,’ is all I can think to say.

‘Oh yes, it does sound rather far-fetched, doesn’t it?’ he asks wryly. ‘Especially when one is used to thinking in practical terms.’

‘And when one takes great pains to explore and know every nuance of one’s body and mind,’ I add, equally dry.

Dumbledore smiles, and it’s the sort of smile that makes you shiver, and I am reminded again that he is so very dangerous. ‘We never know ourselves as well as we need to, Miss Rumer – that is what makes getting out of bed in the morning worthwhile.’

Footsteps tap on the stone outside, and the curtain opens to reveal Rozzer carrying a rucksack. ‘I don’t know how to say this nicely, so I’ll just say it – you smel-‘ She stops mid-insult, realising that I’m not alone. For a moment she glances back and forth between the headmaster and me. ‘I’m sorry – am I interrupting?’





A/N - mea culpa. this update has been far too long in coming, and I must apologise – I’m not an over-organised person, but I shall have to create some sort of system if I’m going to balance writing with everything else. so, I have a goal – every two weeks I will write and fully edit a chapter – this means that (at current validation speed) a chapter will be out every three weeks or so. I know this is hardly speedy – and believe me, it’s a right pain in the arse to do it this way – but I’ve been going out of my head trying to figure a way to get this finished along with everything else. but, rather than submitting truly crap chapters (and this one is far from spectacular and I’m not happy with it at all, so don’t be surprised if I rewrite it completely…) I’m determined to schedule it so that I get things together. holidays are coming in just under a month as well, so that’s SOME break at least. I am also going to go back through previous chapters and revise – there are truly embarrassing mistakes in almost every single one, but that’s a much lower priority than getting more of the story out. loads of new and (hopefully) interesting things are about to start happening, if I can just get it all written out…

and, speaking of writing it out, there will be some point of view changes in future chapters. anything written in the first person will be Kellyn, but there will be some third person narrative as well, so let me know if it becomes too distracting – or overly confusing. this has now become incredibly long, so, thanks for reading, thanks for being patient, and thanks to all who review – again, my profuse apologies for not responding – I’ll try!!! ‘


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