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Chapter 15 : Christmas surprises
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Before his mother could say a word, he had taken off, and was flying towards his master. Soaring through the air, he couldn't help but hope that his information would earn him power, or even a promotion in status. Dreamily, he imagined Severus Snape and Lucius Malfoy, and the other Death Eaters his age answering to him and cowering before him. That would show them. The squawk of an alarmed bird he had almost flown into during his fantasy brought him back to reality with a jolt, and for the remainder of the journey, he concentrated on flying. Half an hour later, he had arrived, and he burst into the front of hall of the black castle, nearly tripping over Nagini. The snake hissed at the boy and snapped its fangs, and he backed away slowly. He heard a cold chuckle in front of him, and peered through the darkness to see where it was coming from. Out of the shadows stepped Lucan, wearing a twisted grin on his face.
"Don't like snakes, Pettigrew?" the man asked, sick humor in his voice.
"Why have you come here?" Lucan interrupted.
"I-I have information for M-master that I believe is of great value," said Peter, trying to sound important and dignified.
The other Death Eater laughed cruelly.
"For you, any matter you were informed upon must seem to hold great value. But I will see if He will receive you."
Peter nodded, and Lucan left the room. He came back a few moments later, and beckoned for the boy to follow him. To his dismay, Nagini decided to join them. The two Death Eaters and the snake entered the room, and the humans bowed respectfully. Peter stared at the floor, fearful of his master.
"Wormtail," said Voldemort silkily. "Lucan tells me that you have valuable information for me."
"I d-d-do, My Lord, I-I most certainly do!" Peter exclaimed eagerly.
"Well get on with it!" his master snapped.
"Y-yes, My Lord. As you wish, My Lord," Peter muttered, turning red under his hood. "I-I-I-I discovered that Ashling McKinnon is a S-seer, M-my Lord. She herself t-t-told me, and Dumbledore kn-knows."
The smirks on the faces of the two men vanished, and Voldemort stood before Peter menacingly.
"Is this a fact, Pettigrew?"
"Y-y-y-yes, My Lord!"
"Well done. It seems that you are not completely worthless, are you?"
"N-n-no, My Lord!"
"And what of young Potter?"
"I-I-I heard Sirius and Remus saying that he's s-scared of telling Lily that he loves her b-b-because he doesn't want anything t-to happen to her," said Peter angrily, yet still fearful of his master.
Voldemort seemed to be amused.
"It seems your son is much more clever than he seems. He will do well in my service," he said to Lucan. "Pettigrew, what do you think of the precious little wench?"
Peter's eyes flashed angrily and his face held an expression of disgust.
"She's a complete tart, that one is. She thinks she's so tough. And everyone loves perfect Lily. She just traipsed in this year, and she's stolen my place! No one can see what a bitch she is!"
The Dark Lord nodded, sympathetically.
"The blindness of the world is frustrating is it not? Take comfort in knowing that you have helped to make the world free of demons such as that mudblood!"
Peter positively swelled with pride, bowed, and left his master. As soon as he had gone, Lucan laughed cruelly.
"Its almost too easy to make that oaf think what you want him to think."
"Too true," said the master, stroking Nagini in the way one would stroke a pet dog, and the snake hissed contentedly. "Still, that oaf has brought incredibly good news. The daughter of one of the Ministry's best Aurors is a Seer! We must act fast, to secure her for our side before that crackpot old fool Dumbledore has her."
"Indeed," said Lucan. "Do you have anything in mind?"
"No. I need to learn more about her: what and whom she cares for, her fears, and her strengths. Pettigrew will continue to observe her, along with the Alcantvus. Then, Lucan, our fun will begin."
Lily and James sat amid a sea of wrapping paper on Christmas Day in the Gryffindor Common Room. She was wearing a gigantic bow that Sirius had decided to top her present with on her head, and had strewn the ribbons that had incarcerated several boxes in her hair. James had burst into her room that morning and woken her up while jabbering on and on about presents. This had made her cranky and she had grumbled and attempted to go back to sleep, not nearly as excited as he. She was not expecting presents from anyone except West and Evan, and had been speechless and touched when she discovered the small mountain of boxes at the foot of her bed. Of course, she had no time to express her thoughts about them, for James had picked her up out of her bed and ordered her to get showered and changed and be in the Common Room in ten minutes to open presents. This had also left her awestruck, but in a good way. His arms were so strong, so capable. She felt at ease and far away from the hurdles of life when she was in them. Both donned muggle clothes and were enjoying the roaring fire.
"C'mon, Scrubbing Brush Head, I've given you your present, now where's mine?"
James smiled teasingly. Irritating Lily was such fun for him, especially because she looked so irresistible when she was upset.
"I told you already, I didn't buy you anything."
"That's not funny! Come on, I promise to at least pretend I like it; lord knows you've gotten me some craptacular gift like an itchy sweater or something like that," said Lily.
James pretended to be hurt.
"Well if you're going to be like that, I'm not going to give it to you at all!"
He smiled inwardly, seeing that this obviously distressed her. She now wore a sweet, seductive expression on her face.
"James, have I ever told you how much I admire your Quidditch skills and Transfiguration talents? Or that I think you're the best prefect Gryffindor has ever seen, in all its years of existence? I've been simply aching to tell you this ever since I set eyes upon you, I just never had the courage to until now."
She batted her eyes and moved closer to him, only inches away. James fought to keep himself from grabbing her and kissing her as hard as he could. *Damn, I love her.* Instead, he smiled charmingly and sympathetically at the same time. He took her hand as well, before she could comprehend what he was doing. Both shivered inwardly at each other's touch.
"Its ok, Lily, just let it all out. I know how dashing and simply irresistible I am. Its natural to feel this way."
"Oh come on, James, please? Where is it? I'll do anything!"
James grinned slyly at her.
Oh crap, what does he have in mind? Before Lily had the chance to answer his question, the portrait hole swung open to reveal Professor McGonagall, along with-
"West?" Lily shrieked, jumping up from her spot on the floor next to James, causing them to let go of each other's hands. "Oh my God! What are you doing here? It's so good to see you!"
The young man laughed and hugged Lily, as McGongall and James looked on awkwardly.
"There I was, all by myself on Christmas when Professor Dumbledore sent me an owl asking me to spend the day at Hogwarts. I figured I'd visit him�and then maybe come and see you, if I had the time to, with my busy schedule and all."
Lily laughed happily, and James couldn't help but notice a certain light in her eyes that he had never seen before. *She seems happier than she has been in a while, and more free than I've ever seen her to be. It's as if something has been missing from her for the past four months, and now she's complete again.* This made him feel oddly uneasy for some reason.
"Well I'm honored that you had time for me in your busy schedule. Um, I guess you already know Professor McGonagall, and that's my friend James Potter," she introduced.
"I recognized you from Lily's letters," said West, shaking his hand.
James smiled and wondered what exactly Lily had written about him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her blush slightly.
"Well, Minerva, do you think it would be possible for me to take Lily out of school for the day? I promise that I'll bring her back by dinnertime," said West politely.
"I see no reason why not, as long as Miss Evans has no objections," said the professor, smiling slightly.
West turned to Lily, his eyes dancing with amusement.
"Lils, do you have any objections to extracting yourself from Hogwarts for the day?"
She pretended to look as if she could have cared less, but her eyes gave her away, as they were sparkling.
"Whatever. If you insist."
"Excellent. James, would you like to come along?" asked West kindly.
Though he wanted nothing more than to be with Lily, James knew that she had been dying to see her Headmaster for ages and that he would only be a fifth wheel. *Or a third one in this case.*
"No thanks, I think I'll stay behind," he said.
"All righty then, we'll be back later."
With that, Lily and West left the Common Room.
Remus ran a hand through his already tousled brown hair for the umpteenth time and looked out the window. It was quite a picturesque Christmas afternoon. There were fat snowflakes falling softly and steadily upon the already blanketed ground, and the sun was shining faintly. *Four more hours until moonrise. Only four hours left of sanity.* He was dreading nightfall, when he would have to be locked up in the tool shed. *I'll be caged up like a wild animal.* There was a large, lush, green forest next to the Lupin's residence, but he was not allowed to simply roam free during a transformation, seeing as he would not be able to stop himself from murdering someone or something. Remus never went near the tool shed unless he was transforming. It was filled with memories and remnants of his past transformations, including the first one he had ever endured at the tender age of four. Inside it was stifling and cramped, and the smell of his own, dried blood hung in the air, which he could smell strongly during his transformations due to his heightened senses, which were side affects of the curse. Remus could have easily broken down the walls of the shed with his inhuman strength (another side affect) had it not been for the fact the walls were lined with silver�the one thing he despised more than the moon. It burned him worse than the most scalding fire, stung more than a thousand wasps. But the silver wasn't the only thing that kept him trapped inside of the shed. Remus was trapped inside of his head, while the wolf took over and destroyed the shed while trying to escape in order to taste the fresh blood it coveted for so long. It took an enormous amount of willpower and energy to attempt to control himself during transformations alone, and he was usually drained of energy for a few days after the hellish night ended. *Its going to be horrible tonight. The wolf knows that Wormtail and Padfoot and Prongs won't be here so it's going to be hungrier for a kill. Looks like its going to be quite a jolly holiday.*
"Remus!" his father called, breaking him out of his reverie. "We've got company! Straighten out the living room and put some tea on the stove! I'll get the door."
*Who's visiting us? OH DEAR GOD! PLEASE don't let it be Aunt Ingrid! I swear if she brings any more of that disgusting fruit cake I'm going to hurl on her!* Remus had just taken the kettle off of the stove when his father came into the room with Sirius behind him. His jaw practically dropped to the floor.
"Hiya, Moony, bet you weren't expecting me!" Sirius greeted his startled friend cheerfully.
Now Remus was alarmed.
"Sirius, what are you doing here? The moon's tonight! You can't be here!"
Sirius raised an eyebrow.
"Its good to see you too."
"You know what I mean."
"Come on, Moony, put two and two together. I'm here because the moon's tonight!"
Remus still didn't understand, and Sirius sighed exasperatedly.
"All righty then. Remember how James and Pete and I did a little thing called becoming Animagi for the past, oh, three years? In order to be with you during your transformations so that you could keep your mind a little bit more and so you wouldn't get hurt as much?"
Now it was Remus' father's turn to look dazed.
"You boys did what?"
"We became Animagi. James is a stag, Peter's a rat, and I-" Sirius quickly transformed into Padfoot and back again with a little pop. "-am a dog."
Mr. Lupin was touched and overwhelmed all at the same time.
"Sirius," he whispered softly. "You boys did this for my son?"
"Well yea, we-"
Remus' father, who was thanking and blessing him over and over again, engulfed him in a hug. When they had pulled apart, Sirius smiled awkwardly and shuffled his feet a bit. He had never been comfortable accepting praise, even when he deserved it.
"Really, Mr. Lupin, it was no problem. It was fun."
"So what does that have to do with today, Sirius?" asked Remus uncertainly.
His friend smirked amusedly.
"You didn't honestly think I was going to let you transform all by yourself, now did you? Come on, Remus, what's the point of becoming an Animagus if I don't use it for what I became one for? James is at Hogwarts, so he can't come, and I tried to get a hold of Peter, but he didn't reply to my owl, so I came."
Remus was overcome with emotion. The fact that his friends had not deserted him when they learned the truth about him had astounded him and terrified him at the same time. It was almost as if he believed that at any second, they were going to change their minds and desert him, sneer and look down upon him as others had done before them. He had not believed that they would actually go through the trouble of becoming Animagi for him, and when they had, his fears of their desertion had slowly begun to melt away, and his gratitude towards them had increased even more. As a young boy after he had been bitten, he had never even dared to dream about friends who would go to such great lengths for him.
"Sirius," he said hoarsely, choking on his words. "Y-you have no idea how much this means to me. But are-are you sure you want to spend your Christmas with a werewolf?"
Anger flared in Sirius' eyes at his friend's question.
"Don't ever say that again, Remus! You are not just a werewolf! You're one hell of a Quidditch player and we all know that if it wasn't for your damn stupidity about causing the team losses because of missing practice once a month you'd be on the team and I'd be commentating! We all know that you're the best wizard in our year, next to James. We all know that you're the best friend anyone could ever wish for! And don't start up on that 'how am I ever to repay you' crap because I keep telling you that you don't have debts in friendships! Do you hear me?"
Remus felt as if a thousand weights had been lifted off of his shoulder. He felt stronger, as if he was ready to face the moon as long as Sirius was there with him.
"Thank you, Padfoot."
Lily and West walked up and down the streets of Hogsmeade, talking and laughing, filling each other in on the happenings at each other's schools. It made her happier than she had been in a while to be with her honorary father, but it also caused a gnawing sensation in her stomach because every moment spent with him reminded her of her leaving Hogwarts at the end of the school year. Come on, don't think about that now!
"So what's going to go on between now and the end of the year? There must be a ball; there always is," West said as they passed the Shrieking Shack.
"Weeell, there's a Valentine's Day Formal in February," said Lily.
"Oh really? Won't you need a Muggle dress for that?"
"It's not required. I'll wear my robes," Lily replied hastily. There's no way he's going to pay for a dress for me. I can't do that! It's not worth it anyway. James will probably be going with Josie Saint-Hartford or some other bimbo. He won't care what the hell I wear.
"I know what you're thinking, and it's too late because I already bought a dress for you. I wanted to get it to you today, but it wasn't ready yet, so you'll get it the week of the formal. Consider it as a Christmas gift," the Headmaster said.
"You already gave me a Christmas gift. I won't take your charity! I'll wear my robes!" Lily protested. West has already done so much for me. I can't let him do this!
"Sorry, Lils, it's non-refundable. And its not charity, it�s a gift. And not just from me! All of the teachers at Salem pitched in to get it for you. Professor Tanner is even adding some little things to it to make it better. If you don't take it, you'll be insulting the entire staff of Salem," said West, knowing that she would not be able to refuse him now.
"Fine�but as soon as I get my first job I am going to pay you back for it, you can't stop me on that," said Lily begrudgingly.
"We'll see about that. Who are you going with to this formal, anyway?"
Who was she going to formal with.
"Nobody," Lily replied, dully.
She knew exactly who she wanted to take her to formal. Except the chances of him asking me are about a million to one, what with his fan club of eligible hussies. I don't think he even thinks of me in that way. Damn you Potter, look what you've done to me!
West arched an eyebrow at her.
"Come on, you know I don't really go for these kinds of things, Petunia was way more into them. And plus, he hasn't asked me yet-"
"HE? There's a HE? Who is it? What's he like? What are his grades? Does he say please and thank you? What about-"
"There's no he!" Lily hastily tried to cover up her slip. "I meant no one instead of he because there is no he. I don't even like any of the guys at this school in that way. Nope nope nope!" Good lord Evans, you need to brush up on your lying skills; you've been out of practice for quite a while. West isn't going to buy that.
"Are you sure? Because if I hear that you've been in a broom closet with some loser jerkoff, you're coming straight home young lady," he warned.
"Chill out, there is no he," said Lily halfheartedly. Riiight. Now I've just got to convince myself that. "And even if there was, what would it matter? I'm coming home in June."
"Oh, brilliant philosophy there, Lils. Truly excellent," said West sarcastically. "If that's what you really believe, then why did you bother to make friends in the first place? You'll be leaving them too."
"Yea, I know, but-"
"You're scared of the pain you're going to feel when you have to say goodbye to this young gentleman that you want to have a relationship with when you leave. You know that expression, better safe than sorry? Well in this case that's bull. If you don't even have the relationship, I can guarantee that you will be wondering what your life would have been like if you had had it. Life is about taking risks, Lils! If no one ever took one, then everyone in the world would be a hermit who never left their houses because they were too scared of the world outside. You can't live without risks! They teach you things that you'll never learn any other way. I'll save you the suspense and tell you that there are going to be times in your life when you want to curl up into a ball and die-"
They had now reached the massive, oaken front doors of the castle.
"I KNOW, West, I know all of this! How do you think I felt when I watched my parents die? How do you think I felt when I barely escaped with my life for stealing something? How do you think I felt when that bastard from my last foster home beat the hell out of Petunia and me? I don't need your damn lecture!" Lily screamed, tears streaming down her face.
She wasn't angry at West, though. She was angry at the confusion she felt, the frustration of him being so near to her, yet so far away. It hurt more than anything she had felt before. All she wanted was to be held in his arms forever. West merely hugged her tightly, knowing all of what she had said.
"I know you know, Lils. I know. But you didn't let me finish. There are also going to be times in your life when you're bursting with joy and you're completely happy. Those are the times that you have to remember and focus on! They make life worth living! Those are the risks you have to take. Don't cry, Lily."
"I c-can't," she said in a slightly muffled voice, breaking into a fresh wave of tears. "I'm-I'm scared."
Lily had managed to build impenetrable walls around her heart after she had lost her mother, father, and, in a way, Petunia. They kept her from caring too much about people, so that when they were gone, the pain wouldn't wound her as deeply. Somehow, West, Evan, and her friends had managed to squeeze their way into her heart, even though she had tried her best to shut them out. And then there was James. Mere look from him made the walls disintegrate into nothing, which left her exposed and vulnerable. This terrified her more than anything else.
"Lils, you're one of the strongest, bravest people I know. You're also the most stubborn ass of a student that I've ever taught. And I want you to be happy with all my heart, so I'm just going to tell you one thing: let go of yourself."
She pulled away and looked up at him, confused, but he only smiled warmly down at her.
"Take care of yourself, kiddo. I'll see you in June," and he gave her one last hug and walked towards the iron gates.
She watched him go with a bittersweet sensation in her heart, and then entered the castle.
James fidgeted nervously as he looked out the window of the Common Room at the full moon, which was high in the sky. He prayed that Remus was doing all right, wherever he was, and that Sirius and Peter were with him so that he wouldn't have to be locked in that awful tool shed. In his hand, he clutched the small box that held Lily's present. *I hope she likes it. God, I hope she likes it.* All of a sudden, he heard a noise behind him, and turned to find that Lily had returned. He quickly hid the box behind his back.
"Hey," he said. "Did you have fun?"
"Yea. And also no at the same time. It was confusing, but I'm so glad he came," said Lily, sitting on the table across from him.
"I have something for you," he said, smiling mischievously. He showed her the box. "Its your Christmas present."
Her eyes lit up with excitement, and he smiled to himself. He loved to make her happy.
"Oh, thank you so much, James!" She reached for the box, but he pulled it away.
"Uh uh, you told me that you'd do anything to have it."
Uh oh. If I have to kiss Snape in order to get the present, then its really not worth it. To her surprise, James looked nervous.
"I was wondering-that is, if you're going, and someone hasn't asked you already-w-would you like to, er, go to the Valentine's Day Formal with me?"
YES! SCORE ONE FOR ME! Lily felt as if she would explode with happiness any second now. James Potter had asked her to the formal. Out of all of the girls at Hogwarts, he had asked her. Not Trewyn (whom he had permanently broken up with once again), not Kyla Varrow, a fourth year who was now turning many a boys' head, but her. Ok. Now say yes! But don't be too over enthusiastic or else he'll know. But don't be too indifferent either! In other words, don't screw up!
"Sure, I'll go with you," said Lily, willing her voice not to be shaky or high-pitched.
James grinned happily, and she also smiled, despite herself.
"All right now, Prongs, may I please have my gift?"
He gave her the box and she opened it, and gasped. Inside was a beautiful necklace on a simple black cord with a charming, tiny, vivid white lily on it, stem as green as the first grass of spring. He had made it himself, transfiguring a blade of grass, and a splinter of white wood to create the lily, and had agonized over the right charms (it was his worst subject) to make it look right. In the end, he had almost blown it up and had had to go to Professor Flitwick for help, but she need not know about that. Her eyes grew as round as saucers as she tentatively lifted it up and looked at it closely. It was quite simple, but that made it even more beautiful. She didn't know that James had intended it to be that way, to embody his vision of her beauty: simple but breathtaking.
"James, this is-just-beautiful! I love it!"
"Really? Do you mean it?" he asked.
She noticed that he had been tense before she opened it, as if afraid that she wouldn't like it.
"This is one of the best presents I've ever gotten," she said, smiling happily, and tried to put it on, but was having difficulties.
"Here, let me do it," he said.
Lily slid off the table and stood in front of him, and he brushed her fiery red curls away, revealing the ivory skin beneath them. Stealthily, he inhaled the scent of her hair, which smelled of strawberries, and did the clasp. There was a sort of awkward silence between them for a while, as neither would say what their hearts were almost bursting to say.
"So," said Lily, desperate for conversation, "I heard you broke up with Trewyn."
This is stupid. Of course I heard that! Everyone knows that!
"Yea, we're over."
"Why?" Lily asked, and then mentally slapped herself after she realized what she had said.
It's none of your business why. You shouldn't pry! James looked at her strangely for a moment, and she reddened slightly but held his gaze. *I've got to tell her. I'll never let anything happen to her because of me. It's now or never!*
"Because I'm madly in love with someone else," he said softly.
Lily felt her heart drop into her stomach.
"O-oh," she stammered, and stared at the ground.
*Oook, she's not picking up on this. Well, I might as well have some fun with it!*
"Yea. She's amazing! She's brilliant, and funny, and beautiful, and�.just perfect! I've never felt this way about anyone else before. I can't sleep at nights sometimes because I keep thinking of her. And her eyes! I've never seen anything like them! I get lost in them every time I look at her. Her hair is like silk, and it�s the most beautiful shade of red I've ever seen. I love her personality as well; she doesn't take any crap from anyone, and she's so defensive of people who can't stand up for themselves. And she doesn�t worship me! She's really sweet, and she's a phenomenal prankster and Beater. I really admire her and I can't stand being apart from her," said James, reiterating everything that he had been thinking about Lily since the moment he saw her.
Lily, however, was oblivious to the fact that James was talking about her, and she felt as if every word he had spoken about this girl was a knife that was stabbing her heart. Tears of shame and remorse welled up in her eyes, but she fought for them not to fall. How could I be so damn stupid to even THINK that he would care about me like that? Well I tried to warn you that this would happen, but you never listened! I told you not to fall in love, it only brings pain and weakness! Look what you're left with now!
"Oh," she said again, concentrating on not letting her voice break and not bursting into tears. "W-well that's great for you, James, I hope you two are really happy together."
She couldn't look at him. She knew if she did she'd only cry, and by Tigger almighty, she would NOT cry in front of him. Lily could almost feel the walls reforming around the ruins of her heart, beginning to block him out once more. She turned to leave, but he caught her hand and pulled her close.
"There's something I wanted to ask you, Lils," he whispered. "I don't think she knows how much I love her. What should I do?"
Insensitive jerk! How can he ask me that? All right, Potter, here's what you should do: go to hell and stay there! Its your fault, Lily, you know how he is with girls! Why did you fall for HIM? Lily took a deep breath and looked at him, her body practically on fire from being so close to his. She put on a false smile.
"Just tell her what you told me. Go for it."
Lily pushed him away gently and turned to leave once more, but yet again, James caught her, pulled her in�and kissed her.
At first all she could think about were his lips on hers. They were soft and capable, and for the first few moments she just stood there in shock and let him kiss her before she kissed back. She felt her heart beat so fast that she thought it would burst. Lily sighed against his lips before her senses came back to her, and then she began to wonder. Why was he kissing her when he was in love with the other girl? Reluctantly, she pulled away. Lily opened her mouth to speak, but then realized that she had not regained the ability to function properly due to James' spectacular kissing abilities, so she made noise that must have been between a grunt and a huh. James seemed to have recovered more quickly, and couldn't help but laugh.
"Goodness, Tigger, we are slow today, aren't we?"
Lily was now back in senses.
James stroked her face gently and looked her in the eye.
"Haven't you figured it out yet? I'm in love with you. I was talking about you just now, there's no one else. There never can be anyone else for me but you."
Tears ran down her face as he said this. She felt relieved, blissful, and surreal. He brushed her tears away and hugged her, and she cried some more on his shoulder.
"Shh, Lils, why are you crying? Was it something I said?"
"God damn you, James Potter, do you know what you just put me through?! I thought you were in love with some other girl!"
He smiled at her furious countenance.
"You look so cute when you're angry."
"James, I'm serious! How could you-"
But she never finished her sentence because James was kissing her once more. Though she didn't want to stop, Lily pulled away and looked at him seriously.
"I'm not going to be one of those bimbos who worship the ground you walk on. If you're looking for that then we should stop this now. And if you're just doing this to add another notch onto your bedpost, then forget it-"
"Lily! Don't you see? I love you because you don't idolize me and fantasize over me!" James said with sincerity, but then his serious face melted into one of mischief. "Do you fantasize over me?"
Lily smiled secretively.
"Do you?" he pestered. "I want-"
James was cut off, for Lily had kissed him. As she let go of herself and he kissed her back deeply, he smiled at her touch, and decided that this was definitely one of the happiest days of his life.
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