“Why. Can’t. I. Do it?!” She growled, as I successfully blocked her stunning spell for the thirty sixth time.
I beamed. Wasn’t every day that I was better at something than our esteemed Head Girl. Oh wait. Yes it was. Since we’d started combat, anyway.
“Because my super-sensory spell are just so darned super. And sensory.” I informed her.
“But you can get passed mine!” She complained, practically pulling out long strands of shiny red hair. Not being perfect at something wasn’t suiting her.
I didn’t think there was a nice way to tell her that the reason I could get passed hers was because she was shit at it.
“I have good reactions.” I invented. “Um. Quidditch. You know.”
She narrowed her pretty little eyes at me. Bloody hell. Now I knew what it felt like to be James. Why the hell did he continue to annoy her when he was subjected to this? “I have good reactions. And you’re lying.” Her voice was dangerous.
“Let me try again.” She swept her hair back over her shoulder, took in a breath and turned away from me.
I sighed. We’d been doing super-sensory charms in DADA for the past week or so. Supposed to be useful in a combat situation, allows you to have an awareness even when you can’t see. But it’s tricky. It’s not just about the strength of your spell, it’s how you react to it. Lily’s spells were fine. Great, in fact. She just wasn’t great at reacting to them.
Well, I sure as hell wasn’t going to help her. I’d offered her advice the first time and I’d discovered that the ends of my hair were mysteriously on fire.
She denied any involvement.
Not good at talking constructive criticism, my Lillers. A side-effect, I suppose, of being perfect at everything in the world ever.
“Ready?” I asked her, wearily.
“You’re not supposed to ask me if I’m ready.” She said. I could hear that her teeth were gritted. “Do you think an attacker is going to considerately inform me they’re about to kill me?”
“Melodramatic, much?” I asked, idly.
Honestly. The way she was acting you’d think she was planning on using the sodding spells at all points in time. Actually she probably was. James better look out, next time he stops by for a ‘chat’.
“It’s not melodramatic, Deb.” Lily lectured. “Didn’t you read the papers over the summer?”
“Um, no.” Because I’m not the newspaper-reader-type. That sort of thing is best left to the elderly warlocks that visit the Three Broomsticks for a spot of afternoon tea.
“Typical.” She was still facing away from me. Still lecturing. “Well this is important. This was in the list of advisory behaviour set by the Ministry of Magic. Didn’t you hear what happened to Audrey Blackburn’s grandmother? People have been getting attacked all over the country. This is important. You can’t rely on other people for protection forever, Debbie.”
I frowned, and before I even realised what had happened my wand felt warm, like I’d just cast a spell.
I looked up and luckily saw Lily’s wand speeding backwards towards me. I instinctively stuck out my wand hand and caught it right beside my own wand before it could hit me in the face.
“Ow!” Lily was rubbing her hand. “Friction burn.”
Bloody hell. I’d just disarmed her without realising. Lucky all I did was disarm, really.
“I was talking.” Lily protested, “I wasn’t ready.”
“An attacker isn’t going to wait till you’re ready, Lil.” I quoted back to her in a childish sing-song voice, but still looking in confusion at my still-warm wand. I hadn’t meant to disarm her. I hadn’t meant to even cast a spell yet. Had I?
“Give me that.” She snatched her wand back out of my hand.
“Excellent work, Miss McKinnon!” Our rather too enthusiastic DADA teacher was upon us. Rumour had it that Professor Dawlish was a newly qualified auror, but had taken a year out to teach after a request from Dumbledore. Almost the entire school was in awe of him, after word spread that he was the recipient of the highest NEWT grades in two hundred years, and had completed his auror training in record time.
Truth was, he annoyed me. Here was this bloke just three years older than us, no real experience in combat apart from his training, and he was telling us how it was?
“Thanks, Sir.” I rolled my eyes at Lily, who wasn’t paying attention. She was too busy looking reproachfully at Dawlish for not noting her efforts.
“You make quite an attacker,” His over-the-top grin indicated he was joking. It made me step back in alarm. I could count his teeth, that wasn’t normal.
“Um. Right.” Excellent. I’ll start on the path to becoming a Dark Witch at once, as this appears to be my calling.
“Her super-sensory charms are good too,” Lily added, grudgingly. Bless her. I could see how much she wished it was her that was good at it, but she’d never miss a chance to back up her friend. I did love Lily Evans. “I haven’t been able to hit her once.”
“Superb!” Dawlish exclaimed. Suberb. Who even says that? “Ah, I wonder, Miss McKinnon… I was hoping to put together a small demonstration at the end of class in a few moments, just to show those less able how it’s done, eh? A sort of… competition.”
Oh lord. He made me cringe with his enthusiastic chumminess. And he wanted me to help. Excellent. Merlin knew I’d forget the moment the whole class was watching how to do it, and end up flat on my back or something. Hello, humiliation.
“I’d do it myself, of course, but it’s really not setting the right example having a teacher attack a student now, is it?” Dawlish shook his head, smiling at his own joke. “So you’ll help?”
“Um, I’d rather not…”
Dawlish looked shocked.
“It’s just that I’m not very good when I have an audience and -”
“But Miss McKinnon, you are one of the very few that has mastered the spell!”
“Yes but couldn’t you just use someone else -”
“Well yes, I’d ask Mr Potter and Mr Black, but they are far too evenly matched. Not once have either of them managed to break through the other’s defences, I fear their abilities are too equal and they know one another far too well -”
I choked on air. How did that happen?
“No, really. I’d rather not, Sir…” I protested. Really not a tempting situation.
“Miss McKinnon -”
“I, er… I know them too well too.” I said, hastily, “We’re friends.” We were friends. Past tense.
Dawlish looked puzzled, “But I haven’t seen you speak to them once, in the three weeks of term.”
An excellent point.
I hadn’t so much as looked at the prats. Much.
I opened my mouth but couldn’t invent an excuse quick enough.
Dawlish smirked. Sly bugger. “Excellent.” He raised his voice. “Silence, class.”
There were a few furtive bangs, grunt and sniggers as students took advantage of their partners’ attention being otherwise occupied before the buzz of chatter died down.
“You’ve given a good effort, very good indeed. Before we go to lunch I’d just like you to take a seat -” With a wave of his wand the chairs, previously stacked at the sides of the room, lines up along the edges, providing a wide square of space in the middle of the room. “- And perhaps learn a thing or two from those who have perfected the spell.”
Oh marvellous, a stage.
I really wasn’t built for performing. People shuffled back towards seats and I avoided looking directly at them, apart from Lily. Who I glared at, resentfully. Couldn’t she have kept her mouth closed for a second? I didn’t care how good her bloody intentions were… they probably weren’t good. Probably getting me back for being better than her at it. Toe-rag.
Please Potter, please Potter, please Potter…
Tension in the room reached a suffocating level. And it wasn’t just me. The whole class were holding their breaths. Because they all knew. Everybody knew.
I’ll say it again, hello humiliation.
“Actually Sir, I’d rather Prongs - er, James - did it…” At least Sirius was about as keen as me.
Unlucky mate. Dawlish doesn’t take into account what you do and don’t want.
“Nonsense, Mr Black. The two of you are far too modest.”
I cringed again. I had a disgusted expression on my face at the thought of what the rest of the class must be thinking of us. I glanced up and accidentally caught Sirius’ eye.
For a moment the disgust at Dawlish on his face mirrored my own, and I thought I saw the extremely faint and reduced glimmer of a smirk…
No. Statue. It was always statue.
Really? Was this really happening?
We were about to duel. After three weeks of not breathing a word to one another, not sparing a glance in the direction of the other.
It hadn’t been a fun-filled three weeks.
After that first night I’d been hideously dependent on whomever I was with at times when I had to be in some sort of proximity to him. Lily, more often than not. Or Londy. Or Ray, at a lot of meal times or between class.
Sirius didn’t seem to be having the same trouble.
He barely looked at me. Of course, I was barely looking at him either. But he didn’t even seem to notice me. It just looked so easy for him. Well, I suppose that made sense. It was his idea, this not-being-friends malarkey. He was perfectly happy acting like we’d never met.
Lily, not so happy.
She’d kidnapped me up to her dorm the very next day.
“He shouldn’t have acted like that,” She told me, “He was stupid. And harsh. And stupid.”
“I don’t care.” I blustered.
Lily raised an eyebrow. She knew I was bluffing. I knew she knew. She knew I knew she knew.
“If we can’t be friends, we can’t be friends.” My voice was sounding a lot more level than it had the previous night. “I don’t want to be around someone that hates me anyway.”
That was true. In theory. I couldn’t be face-to-face with him hating me all the time. I’d thought it would be ok. It wasn’t. I had to deal with it. Simple.
In reality, it didn’t matter whether I was with him or not. It still hurt like a bitch. I could blame it on the whole, it’s-not-nice-having-someone-hate-you thing. I could try. But, let’s be honest, I’ve lasted this long with the majority of the Slytherin house hating me. Being hated wasn’t the issue.
Being hated by him was the issue.
“He didn’t mean it. You know he didn’t mean it,” Lily was foolishly optimistic.
“I’m going to disagree.”
“Deb, he’s not… you don’t get it. He’s just better at pretending than you.”
What in hell?
“He is not better than me!” I was outraged. “He’s shit! He’s the worst actor ever -”
“I know that. But he’s managed to convince himself, that’s the main thing.”
If that is true then he is the most gullible human being in the history of morons.
“Lily, I get that you’re trying to make me feel better. And I love you for it. But I just need to face it, I’ve had enough of running off and pretending it’s all ok. He hates me. I need to just get on with it.”
It was like Ray said. You can dwell on it, fix it or get over it. I was done with dwelling on it. It couldn’t be fixed. So I’d get over it. Simple.
Painful, but simple.
“Deb, you didn’t… you didn’t see him over the summer, ok?”
“And you did?” I enquired, nonplussed.
“Yeah. I -”
I didn’t quite grasp at what she intended to get across. She wanted to tell me something about Sirius over the summer. But I was stuck at the fact that she’d…
“You willingly went to the Potters? In school holidays? When you could have had months away from him?”
“Yes.” Were her cheeks pink? I couldn’t tell. Maybe a little… or was that just reflection from her bed hangings? “James… James wrote to me.”
“James?” I echoed.
“Will you get over it, McKinnon? Yes, I went to Potters house. No, it does not mean I’m in love with him. I did it for our friend.”
The wrath of Lily Evans could be a little terrifying. “Sorry. He wrote to you. I’m listening. Go on.” I sat cross-legged and apologetic on her bed.
“So Potter wrote to me,” He was Potter again. Bollocks. I should never have pointed it out, it made her uncomfortable. “Apparently Sirius hasn’t quite been himself this summer.”
Wasn’t quite himself… what in hell was that supposed to mean? Had he developed the uncontrollable desire to grow his hair as a fashion statement? Because, you know, I might have noticed something along those lines…
“Well yeah, we’d just broken up. We had a bit of a dramatic end of term if you remember correctly. Probably in shock. Then consumed by his hate for me. Which I might have mentioned. A couple of times. He hates me, you know.” I pointed out.
“That’s the thing. What exactly did happen between you two? At the train station? James says -”
“James says he was alright up until we got to the station. Relatively. Optimistic, anyway. I think he thought it would all be ok, you know -“
Thought it would all be ok. Ha. Been there. Familiar with that. Just doesn’t happen, buddy.
“And then… well all he said when I was there was that he said some stuff to you that he shouldn’t have.”
“Oh. Yeah. At least he realises what a nasty prick he is, I suppose.” I relented. A little.
“He also told me how he wrote to apologise -” …Ah. “- Only someone had to be awkward, didn’t they?”
I disliked being referred to in this derogatory way.
He wrote to me?
“Well I’m sure he realised when he didn’t get a response that I hadn‘t read it…” I babbled, my mind still going over what exactly the hell had happened.
“He thought that was your ever so compassionate way of saying you didn’t give a shit.”
“Well that is a ridiculous conclusion to jump to.” I said, in a matter-of-fact manner that really wasn’t fitting in this confusing situation, what with explanations and emotions zipping about all over the place. Well, we all know my brain wanders off for a bit of a laugh in these scenes.
“So you did. Care.”
“Oh stop bloody knowing things Evans, you sodding know-it-all little… minx.” Minx? Holy hell, brain was really outdoing itself this time.
Lily just smiled superiorly. “So this is what happened…”
I don’t know why she was telling me, I was the one that was there. Just a prime example of the control and awareness I have over my sorry excuse for a life. My absent best mate apparently has all the details while I’m still stuck on ‘he hates me’.
“… he said some stuff. Then wished he hadn’t. He wrote to apologise and profess his undying love for you -”
Oh, she’s being a comedienne. How quaint.
“- Meanwhile, you’re off feeling sorry for yourself and allowing letters to pile up to the sodding ceiling in your room and not reading a single one. A miscommunication occurs. You assume he hates you and/or is a complete tosser who can say those mean things then not apologize. He think’s you’re a heartless git who can just accept these things and not even care that he’s apologized, not even reply…” She paused for a breath. “You see where I’m going here.”
“Vaguely.” I did. I suppose. “Doesn’t really change a lot though, does it? He still hates me now.”
“You are so dense.” Lily gave up her pacing in front of me and threw herself on the end of her bed. “Both of you.”
“I am not.”
“You can’t honestly believe he hates you. Deb, when I went round there on your birthday…”
I raised my eyebrows.
“Yes, we were desperate.” She acknowledged, “Anyway, when I was there, when he found out that you hadn’t read his letters… he went crazy. Seriously broke down. I’ve never seen anything like it. Strutting around like a madman, even tried to apparate to find you -”
“But we can’t… me and him can’t apparate.” I cleverly observed.
Again, what? Of all aspects of what she was saying, I chose that to ponder?
“Splinched himself.” Lily carried on. “Didn’t even make it. God knows where he ended up, but he was back in thirty seconds dripping in blood. It was disgusting. He got blood on my new suede boots.”
Oh God, no. Not the boots.
“He smashed up his motorcycle.” Lily added.
“He had a motorcycle? He’s always wanted a…” I trailed off, realising that I was again focusing on trivial parts of the story rather than the main thing. Which was…
“So he really did care.” Lily finished.
I noted one very important part of that sentence. “Did.”
“Does.” She hastily corrected herself. “Does care. He does.”
“Well why is he acting like such a jerk?”
“Why are you acting like such a jerk?”
“I’ve been nice!” I insisted, in an overly high-pitched voice.
Lily frowned condescendingly. “Think about it, moron. After all the miscommunication this summer, the only thing you say to him is ‘Hi Sirius, good summer?’.”
“That’s perfectly polite.”
“You are painfully, painfully socially underdeveloped.”
“Well what the hell was I supposed to say?” I demanded, “’Hi there, I might not be over you but feel free to publicly shove that back in my face. And spit a little’. Really? Because that’s basically what he did, you know. You heard him. ‘We can’t be friends’. Oh gosh, yes. The affection there is just touching.”
I had a point. I knew I had a point and Lily knew I had a point but she didn’t relent.
“All it takes is one of you to be the bigger man, and this will all be sorted.” She said, calmly.
“Well then, you’re talking to the wrong person. I can see that the moustache and chest hair may be misleading but he is in fact the male in this non-relationship. Not me.” Hell yes I was being childish. It was desperate times. Lily needed to stop with her bloody optimistic meddling and leave me to get over the tosser. My monk-meditation whatsit was going oh so well.
Lily sighed sharply. “Ok, you know what? Fine. I’ll leave you two to blunder about and try to solve your own problems, then maybe things will be sorted in seventy odd years. You’re obviously not ready yet, so I’m not going to force it.”
She’d kept to her word. Left it. Which was good. Good. Honest.
I could still see her itching to butt in with some sort of screamingly obvious hint whenever we were in the same room but she thankfully managed to constrain herself, and left me to ignore him in peace.
The only thing was, I did still feel a little bit bad. It was the Lily and James thing. It had happened just as I’d predicted. The divide. Me and Lily, Sirius and James.
We could become some sort of romance-fighting team, Sirius and me. Not only could we successfully destroy a perfectly functioning relationship of our own, we could even extend this generosity to others. Marvellous.
Of course, to be any sort of team you kind of have to be speaking.
Or at least acknowledging that the other is alive. That sort of thing.
And the whole murderous hatred thing might hinder us a little too.
I’ve never been a fan of challenges. When life creates a challenge, Deb runs in the opposite direction. Life isn’t meant to be a challenge. And mine has had by far too many so far for my liking.
And, the way it was shaping up right now, things weren’t going to change much.
I’d been getting by perfectly capably the past three weeks without challenges such as these. I could pretend that it got no harder than completing an advanced level potion without sending a member of class to the hospital wing, or having the organisational skills to fit in seeing Lily, Ray, Londy and the team, lessons, homework, eating and sleeping. And Quidditch, when we finally had try-outs. That was challenge enough for me.
Then comes along stupid bloody Dawlish with his stupid bloody enthusiasm and his stupid bloody super-sensory spells and his stupid bloody competitions.
“So, take a seat, take a seat now…” Dawlish ushered everyone to the sides of the room, leaving me and Sirius standing uncomfortably in the middle of the cleared room.
I wasn’t looking at him. A habit now. Instead I took the time to notice that my shirt wasn’t tucked in, and for some odd reason I had one sleeve rolled up and the other cuff dangling over my hand. Apparently as well as the ability to look at stubborn ex-boyfriends I’d also lost the talent of self-dressing.
Well I couldn’t very well start adjusting my uniform now, it’d look like I was making serious preparations. Which would look like I seriously wanted to beat the prick.
Which I didn’t. Much.
If it was this time last year, it would all be ok. This time last year things were blissfully uncomplicated. As best friend… sheer, plain, simple best friend, if Sirius and I for whatever reason had to demonstrate something for the class it would end up as a complete comedy act as he’d make a great show of being the gentleman and letting me win.
I had an inkling that wasn’t how things were going down today.
“Come on then, we haven’t got all day,” Dawlish settled himself on a chair near the front and beamed expectantly, “Let‘s get started.”
Great. Really. Just spiffing.
But I didn’t want to look like I couldn’t even look at him. I mean, how pathetic is that? So I spun around jauntily and faced him with my hands on my hips. I heard a cackle (Londy, my ally in the putting-on-a-front game) which provided me with a spark of confidence and a stifled smile.
Sirius’d got the same idea, about not wanting to look like he didn’t want to look at me. But instead of my jaunty (Jaunty? Seriously?) stance, he went for the slow ‘I’m so fucking cool that it bores me to even look at you’ approach.
That was fine. Fine.
“Right, who’s going to go first?” Dawlish wondered aloud. It seemed he was planning on giving a running commentary.
I smiled. It felt a little like a grimace but Poncey Wanker didn’t bat an eyelid.
“Would you like to go first?” I asked, the essence of politeness.
There was a beat of silence. He chewed his lip before answering. I didn’t know whether it was because he had dry lips or because it was part of his ‘I’m so bored/cool it hurts’ parade.
“Ladies first,” He replied smoothly.
I nodded briskly and turned my back on him. It was easier than looking at him,
anyway. But weird.
So weird. So, so weird.
I don’t know why we were bothering with these acts, I really don’t. It just increased the tension because the entire class had no idea what was going on, but I’m pretty sure I saw Blakely in the corner taking bets.
We really ought to have just been up front about it. In retrospect, that may have gotten us out of it. All it would have taken was a brief, ‘I’m sorry Dawlish, I’m not comfortable with competing against my depressing excuse for an ex-boyfriend/best friend. Oh, you want a brief rundown of the history between us? Of course. Hmm, where to start? His quest to bed every girl in the castle or his sleeping with my brothers girlfriend? And where to end? Me finding out about the incident with said brothers girlfriend or the fact that I’ve apparently done something wrong so that he can apparently not be friends with me? Oh, you’re walking away. Oh, you’re banging your head against a wall. Oh. Ok. Class dismissed.’
“Ready, Miss McKinnon?” Dawlish enquired.
“You know, Sir,” I informed him, “In this current time of danger, we ought to be preparing ourselves for what awaits us outside these castle walls. Do you really think an attacker would ask me if I were ready before killing me?” I winked at Lily.
Dawlish looked a little taken aback. “Oh. Er… of course. Very true, Miss McKinnon, very true. Although I don’t think death is quite what is at stake today -”
“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Someone muttered. It came from the vicinity of Londy and Blakely. Unsurprisingly.
“Nevertheless,” Dawlish rattled on, “If you could just indicate that you’re ready -”
He was interrupted. Barely a second passed, I wouldn’t be surprised if people blinked and missed it, but in that second there was a flash of bright white, a harsh buzzing that caught my attention, just in time for me to spin around and cast a heavy shield charm.
Another couple of seconds of silence passed as the class sat, probably a little stunned, Dawlish blinked rapidly and pushed his spectacles up his nose, and I regained my breath.
Meanwhile, Sirius’ statue expression had slipped just for a second and, oh, there was the murderous look.
I cleared my throat, awkwardly.
“Excellent!” Dawlish broke the stunned/homicidal silence with a burst of applause and spun around in his seat, “Did you see that? Did everybody see that? Marvellous super-sensory charm, Miss McKinnon; perfect spell work by the both of you, I couldn’t fault it. Battle of the reaction times, it seems.”
A slow build up of unsure applause scattered around the room. I was right. I bet half of them were dozing off.
“Although, Mr Black, you really ought to have waited until she confirmed that she was ready. Had she not been prepared, that stinging hex could have caused serious damage…”
Stinging hex? Ouch. We weren’t playing nice.
“She was ready.” Sirius replied, shortly. “I saw her cast it.”
A subtle dig that I had been too obvious, whilst putting Professor Dawlish under the illusion that he was a conscientious student that wasn’t actually trying to cause me actual physical and social harm through humiliation. Well played, Black, couldn’t have done it better myself.
I was just taking a step to join Lily at the seats by the door, having completed my part and done this stupid demonstration - which hadn’t make me any more at ease - when our dear Head Boy spoke up.
“Best of three?” He was grinning like a fool.
Don’t think I don’t see what you’re doing, Potter. Trying to give your bestest buddy over there a chance to get his own back. Excellent.
I stopped, about to graciously deny this. Retire, while I was ahead, you know…
Dawlish looked expectantly from me to Sirius.
I turned back around, my mouth half open with a ‘no, thank you’.
Sirius shrugged, his lip curling a little, back in the bored way after his brief slip. Bored’s better than murderous, I suppose.
“Unless Miss McKinnon would rather run away?” He dragged out the last word, his eyes locked on mine.
Alright, that’s it.
“Ready, Mr Black?” I asked, coolly, to the anticipating buzz of the rest of the class.
He responded with a cold half-smile and turned sharply around. I saw the subtle flick of his wand by his side indicating that he’d cast the charm, though I was unsure whether anyone else had spotted it.
There was no point going for the ‘take him by surprise’ option, then. My best bet was to wait, just long enough to make him a little too at ease.
Easier said than done, when you’re up in front of an entire class who are waiting with baited breath for you to do something impressive.
A battle of the reaction times, Dawlish had said. There really wasn’t much of a tactical way to do this. It was simple. Best reaction times won.
The thing was, the defence always had the best reaction times. They were waiting for something to happen. The attacker, on the other hand, has the much harder job of finding a flaw in their opponent’s concentration.
And I would bet my lucky pants that there would be no fault in Sirius Black’s concentration in this moment in time.
“Not getting any younger, here…” I heard Londy pipe up from the back. Blakely sniggered. Git.
My only hope… my only little chance would be to use the unexpected. Super-sensory charms were for safety. They worked on the basis that the bigger the danger, the bigger the signal, or the buzzing sensation, that the user gets.
My only shot was to use this. A small spell. One that might go undetected.
I did it.
One he wouldn’t be expecting. He’d set the standard with his stinging hex, we were playing nasty.
He was expecting nasty.
So I wasn’t playing nasty.
I moved quickly with a short, sharp jab of my wand. The class saw my movement.
I saw it as if in slow motion. This spell caused no disturbance of light, but a rapid vibration of air that was barely visible. I saw it travel towards him, closer… closer…
Then it wasn’t as such in slow motion anymore. I saw it just about reach him, just about to touch him when he blasted out the shield charm.
I saw this with a blow of irritation, but was prepared to accept it with a shrug.
It was one-all. I would have been fine about it.
However, not only did he block my spell but he somehow in one swift motion managed to turn, step, and before I could even manage my casual shrug, was right in front of me with his wand to my throat.
Round two was also met by silence from the class.
It seemed like a good few seconds passed while I stood frozen with his wand pressed to my neck, unable to tear my eyes from his.
We were close. Very close. I could see everything from the provoking triumph to the underlying seriousness in his steely eyes, and could probably have counted his every eyelash.
I was holding my breath.
“Get a room.” Londy called from the corner, bringing the class out of it’s second stunned silence and evoking some giggles.
“Very good, very good!” Dawlish recovered and initiated a second round of applause, “I hope you all note, class, that Mr Black has here demonstrated nicely how, even though one’s super-sensory charms may have worked perfectly, you must always follow through with another defence. Very important this.” He nodded around, knowledgably, as if he’d actually told Sirius what to do. “An unusual choice of spell for attack, though, Miss McKinnon…?”
“Severing charm?” Sirius enquired, in a low voice but just loud enough for everyone to hear. I could feel his breath when he spoke.
It made me hold my breath again for a second. Like I didn’t want to breath in the air he’d just exhaled.
“The hair.” I stated, in explanation, indicating with my wand his rather too-long hair flicking over his ears and into his eyes.
There was a dramatic ‘ooh’ from the class, anticipating Sirius’ reaction.
I bit my lip.
But he merely responded with a quirk of his lip. “She’s always been jealous of my hair.” He announced, to bouts of laughter from the class. His eyes didn’t leave mine.
I looked down, automatically shaking my head to try and block him out with some of my own hair. Why did I choose today to tie it back? Damn Londy Nara and her informing me my hair looked ‘squiffy’ this morning.
“Ah, ok.” Dawlish grabbed onto this opportunity to play teacher, “What Miss McKinnon displayed here was how the effectiveness of the super-sensory charms is directly related to the strength of the attacking spell, or the likelihood of damage. Miss McKinnon aimed to play on this in hopes that Mr Black would not react as quickly to the warning but, alas, he was fully prepared. Now, for one final… um, Mr Black? I… you can remove your wand from Miss McKinnon’s throat now…”
I waited for a second and he didn’t move. Then I looked up, just in time to see his eyes avert and he stepped back, taking his wand with him.
I had space. It was a little cold.
“So, round three!” Dawlish was beside himself with excitement. I don’t think he’d expected a competition of this…uh, intensity. “Both ready for one final round? You’re not too tired… I know these spells can be quite taxing at first…”
“I’m fine.” Sirius said. Although I wasn’t looking I could hear a hint of challenge in his voice, “Though I’m not sure about Miss McKinnon. She usually likes to give up when things get a bit tough.”
I’d been twirling my wand but I froze.
I like to give up?!
What. A. Git.
There was another dramatic ‘ooh’ from the class at that incredibly subtle (not) dig. It was apparent to everyone but Dawlish that it was a personal insult, rather than the defence-related comment it could have been.
Perhaps I should have been a bit more subtle about my own retort.
“Not the best option,” I admitted, “Of course, I could just jump into bed with the nearest available slag, couldn’t I? Oh wait, no. They don’t have to be available.”
Or I could have even thought at all before opening my mouth. Maybe.
Dawlish spluttered a little in bewilderment and loosened his tie while the rest of the class tried to stifle sniggers.
Sirius’ expression didn’t change.
“Right. Um,” Dawlish cleared his throat, “We can, um, postpone this. This competition. We don’t really need to decide on a winner… it’s nearly lunchtime -”
“I’m ready, Mr Black.” I spoke over Dawlish and turned neatly around.
We were so going to finish this.
I wasn’t fooled by the way his expression didn’t change. It was Sirius, for crying out loud. No expression was on a par with Calm Voice, which signalled a severe internal battle as he tried to keep his temper under control. I don’t even know why I was provoking him. Maybe because this was all a bit new. Not him losing his temper, obviously, but… well, losing it in this way with me. I’d never even considered that he might hurt me before.
But, strangely, I wasn’t scared. It felt good, this little bit of risk. It felt good that I could get to him that much to make him lose control. I was behaving a bit like the old Debbie, who would say and do what she wanted and not even think about the consequences, because she knew someone would be there the save her butt.
Small problem with that - there was no one here to save me anymore.
But, fuck it. I didn’t need anyone else. I was good at these sodding charms. And I was trying my very best for once. I could do this.
I could ignore what a bloody whirlwind of emotion he put my head in just as long as I could keep pissing him off. And I could definitely beat him at this.
Like Dawlish had said, the better you know someone, the better you are at defending yourself against them. You almost don’t need the super sensory charms, especially when you’re accidentally so bloody attuned to someone that you’ve been able to feel it on the back of your neck every sodding time the twat glances your way for the past three weeks. I’d thought that was some sort of a trick used by fiction writers that didn’t really exist. But it did for me. With him.
But, in this case, it was a bloody good job I had this little connection thing.
Because I’d underestimated how pissed off Sirius was.
Because I hadn’t had time to cast the charms.
Because I’d automatically relied on this gut instinct that something was going to happen right now.
I forgot about the super-sensory charms.
I forgot about defending myself non-verbally, which was supposed to be an automatic response by now.
I forgot we were in a classroom and that I ought to probably regulate the strength of my shield charm.
I just spun and yelled, “Protego!” At the top of my voice.
It would an understatement to say a wee bit of havoc ensued.
Less than a second before I’d cast my shield a flash of bright white light erupted from the end of Sirius’ wand, and from the angered look on his face I’d say he’d acted on impulse - casting the stinging hex again - not thinking about it.
Because I’d done it. He’d lost his temper.
The strength of our two spells was far greater than any we’d just done. They collided in the space between us, his hex and my shield, with crack of impact like two charging hippogriffs.
I was knocked off my feet. That was all that registered. Like an invisible wall of energy from the collision had thrown me back into the blackboard.
My head spun for a few seconds and I merely lay there, breathing a little heavily and slowly testing out my limbs for movement, the way I would after a heavy fall in Quidditch.
When I sat up, a cloud of chalk that had surrounded me as I crashed into the blackboard slowly settled and I could take in the scene before me.
It didn’t as such look like much of a classroom anymore.
Where the chairs had previously been arranged in a neat circle around the edge of the room, they were now scattered as if they’d been blown over, a couple even missing legs or backs. The students that had been occupying them were crouched on the floor in a state of shock, their eyes darting anxiously from me to…
Sirius was sitting up just as I was. It looked like he’d been thrown backwards into Peter’s chair, which was now pinning Peter to the back wall. Sirius ignored Pete’s whimpers as he was being a little crushed by his chair and supposed mate, and slowly climbed to his feet.
I did likewise, still surveying the ‘slight havoc’ we’d caused.
In our defence, we hadn’t volunteered for this.
“I thought detention was a little excessive.” I met Lily for dinner that evening, after the entire class had been sent to the hospital for various healing and/or calming draughts.
We were sat at opposite ends of the Gryffindor table obviously, from Sirius and James. Sirius and I hadn’t been able to look at one another since Dawlish had stopped his ‘disappointed chat’ with us. Yes. He was one of those teachers.
“Johnson sprained a wrist.” Lily pointed out. “Mary and Louisa both had bruising to the face, and a lot of the Slytherins are claiming injuries to their arms so they can’t write in class. And Dorcas Meadows was hyperventilating for forty-five minutes afterwards.”
“Like I said, an overreaction.” I dismissed with a wave of the hand, “I fully expected to lose a few house points over it, but detention? It was Dawlish’s own bloody fault in the first place! I never wanted to demonstrate, you know I can’t handle pressure.”
“Yes, I got that. A little.” Lily rolled her eyes. “You blasted out a shield big enough to protect the entire west of Europe.”
“I’ll say. Your detention’s fine anyway, just polishing the Astronomy equipment.” Lily reasoned. Stupid Head Girl. Loving her stupid rules. And stupid detentions.
“I hated Astronomy.” I shuddered, “And Oz is going to kill me.”
“He hasn’t heard yet?” Lily peered over my shoulder to the Ravenclaw table. I didn’t dare look.
“Doesn’t take Defence. And I’ve blackmailed Londy into keeping it to herself. But there’s no trusting her now she’s all in a relationship and whatnot. She’s into honesty. Told Blakely that if he wants a real girlfriend he needs to stop showing off and just be himself. Blakely told her he was perfectly happy with random snogging and she told him he was kidding himself. It’s really thrown him...”
“I’m sure he’ll get by.” Lily was very dismissive of Blakely’s feelings. She really ought to be more sympathetic. It had really confused the poor tosser. Just last week he confided in me how he’d had the perfect opportunity to go in for the kiss with Harriet Knightly the other night when he walked her to the Hufflepuff common room, and instead he’d bid her a good night with a weird little head nod / bow. It sounded quite frankly hilarious but at the same time disconcerting. Londy was changing, and she was changing us. And we weren’t sure it was in a good way.
“When are you going to tell him you can’t make try-outs then?” Lily asked.
“Shh!” I hushed her, as if Oz possessed superhuman hearing as well as volume, and could hear from across the Hall. “I don’t know. Maybe I just won’t. Maybe try-outs will be so busy tomorrow that he won’t even notice I’m not there -”
“Debbie, they’re trying out to be chasers.”
“Now, I don’t know Quidditch but I’m pretty sure that, as fellow chaser, you’ll be quite important in the try-out process.”
“Not necessarily -”
Damn Lily Evans to hell with her incessant knowing it all.
“I’ll tell him later.”
“Fine. Fine, tonight. Fine.”
This facing your problems head on thing was a nightmare.
Thankfully a new presence came along to save me from the hassle of pondering it.
“Heard about your Defence mishap.”
“Oh, hi Ray. Nice to see you too. My day’s been just lovely, thanks for asking -”
“Don’t waste my time with pleasantries,” He plonked himself next to Lily and opposite me, “Tell me about this incident. There’ve been rumours, you know. The second floor classrooms are being referred to as a war zone.”
“An overreaction.” I insisted.
Lily betrayed me, “She floored an entire classroom. Including Sirius Black. Whom she was meant to be demonstrating the correct use of super-sensory spells with.”
Ray laughed delightedly, “Really? Awesome.”
“It’s not awesome.” Lily frowned, sternly. “Do not encourage her. This is just going to add to the awkwardness that is practically my life now. It’s unbearable even being in the same room as them.”
I winced, guiltily. That was exactly what I hadn’t wanted.
“It’s that bad?” Ray asked, having not shared any of our lessons and therefore not having felt the waves of hate. I suppose in the Great Hall the effect was less obvious.
“Lily, I’m sorry.” I apologised. Bloody guilt tripper. “I never meant it to be like this. I tried, you know I did. It’s not me that’s being a wanker about it all, you saw -”
“Yes, yes. He was the one who said you couldn’t be friends, I know.” Lily shook her head wearily. “They’re like children.” She told Ray.
I fought the instinct to reply ‘we are not’, which would just be effectively proving her point.
She knew exactly what I was thinking anyway.
“You are.” She said, “You’re the one that provoked him.”
“Provoked him? So what exactly happened?” Ray asked, grinning.
“They were asked to demonstrate. They’re both incredibly stubborn. Obviously it turned into some sort of contest about who was more over who -”
“It wasn’t like that.” I loudly pointed out. Neither of them took any notice whatsoever.
“- And Debbie said some things she knew would make him lose his temper.” Lily finished, giving me a disapproving look.
All I could come back with was, “He started it.”
Ray was still grinning at the whole thing like it was all incredibly amusing rather than slightly depressing and embarrassing, while Lily sighed.
“Why did you do it, Deb?”
I shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know.”
“Did you really think it would make anything better?”
“I don’t know.” I said, helplessly. “I didn’t mean to do or say anything. I didn’t even want to do the stupid demo. I’m sorry that it’s made things worse for you, Lil. Really, I am. But it doesn’t have to affect you or James -”
“Yes it does, fool.” She rolled her eyes tolerantly, “We’re your best friends.”
“But you -”
“It’s fine.” She insisted, “It’ll.. all work out.” She glanced sideways down the table towards James and Sirius.
“What’re you looking at?” I asked, not daring follow her gaze but warily noting the creepily optimistic sparkle.
“Nothing.” She said, brightly. “I just remembered I have some… James and I have some Head duties to get on with…”
“Lily it’s dinner time.”
“Are you alright?” I asked, suspiciously, “You seem weird.”
“Fine. Just…” For the briefest moment a smug smile crossed her face, but I blinked and wasn’t sure I hadn’t imagined it. “Just meet me in the library tonight, ok? At nine.”
“What? We don’t have any homework due in for ages -”
“Be there. Nine!” She said, hurriedly, before striding up the other end of the table, grabbing James by the upper arm and dragging him bodily from the room.
“What in the name of hell happened to her?” I asked, my wide eyes still watching the door she’d departed from.
Ray shrugged. “No idea.” His voice was perfectly innocent.
I glanced sharply at him. “You know.”
“I don’t know!”
“You get it. You understand her madness, you always understand madness!”
Ray merely snagged a chip from my plate. “I’m telling you, I have no idea.”
I don’t know why I allowed myself to be summoned like a sodding House Elf. I was fully planning on ignoring Lily’s command to join her in the library at nine and just go to bed to ponder my ever increasingly depressing/bizarre being.
But of course I didn’t have the guts. The Lily wrath would simply not be worth it. So I found myself, at nine o’clock, making my way reluctantly towards the library.
The library? Really?
Alright, it wasn’t too uncommon for Lily to set up a base camp there. She loved the place. But to ask me to go? And at nine o’clock? It was supposed to close in half an hour, surely we’d have no time to get any work done or whatever the hell she had in mind…
I soon found out what her dastardly plans were.
The library was fairly empty. It was week bloody three of term, the only people keen enough to be in there this early were obviously clinically insane. But I couldn’t see the queen of insane herself anywhere to begin with.
“Lily?” I called, in a hushed voice. Then I felt a moron. I wanted to yell loudly so she could hear ( obviously) but Madam Pince and I had an unresolved misunderstanding involving me, some Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and a copy of Hogwarts, A History, so I didn’t want to attract attention. She wasn’t my biggest fan.
I made my way through various shelves towards the work area, hidden in the back corner. As I rounded the corner that put the desks in my view I took in the scene before me and stopped dead, stomach churing.
“Hi!” Lily stepped in front swiftly, as if in some sort of attempt to block my view.
It didn’t work. I narrowed my eyes.
“Are you insane?” I asked, politely, peering over her shoulder to the pair of boys at the desk behind her.
She grinned, sheepishly. “You were the one that fell for it.”
To be fair, it looked like James was getting similar treatment from Sirius, who looked about as impressed as me at the situation we’d found ourselves in.
Mr and Mrs Head Girl/Boy thought their plan was so cunning.
‘Let’s get our best friends, who incidentally almost killed one another earlier today, together in the library so we can play match-maker’.
They thought they were so wily.
No, Evans. No, Potter. The reason I wasn’t expecting this is because your pathetic excuse for a plan was actually so juvenile and flawed that only an absolute moron would try it.
“I’m going to go now,” I told her calmly, and turned away towards the exit.
“Just hear us out.” Lily caught my wrist and brought me to a halt.
“I thought you were leaving us to it?” I turned back around slowly and spoke through gritted teeth. I accidentally looked over her shoulder again and accidentally caught Sirius’ eye. Accidentally. Of course.
And his absolute disdain made me feel instantly a thousand times worse.
Oh hi, Awkwardness, it’s been a while. Not.
“That was the old plan.” Lily said, in a business-like manner than made me wonder whether she’d actually set out a number of plans. Most likely in a personal organiser. And colour coded.
I found myself being dragged over to the table that the boys were sat at.
Awkwardness was practically skipping naked around us.
I stood uncomfortably in front of the table as Sirius glared accusingly at James.
“Sit.” James suggested, kicking out the chair opposite him. It hit me in the knees.
“Ow.” I said, pointedly.
“Oh, don’t be difficult, Deb.” Lily rolled her eyes as if I were throwing some sort of a tantrum rather than just briefly expressing a little bit of pain.
I took my seat in a dignified manner, just to prove her wrong.
There were a few moments of incredibly tense silence in which no one looked at anyone else. The sort of silence I usually felt compelled to break with a witty joke. I focused on breathing regularly so that I didn’t come out with a ‘why did the chicken cross the road’. It’s been known to happen.
“Ok.” Lily broke the silence, “You both need to listen.”
As if we were otherwise occupied in this current moment.
“Ja - Potter and I are sick of this. You hear me? Sick. You’re both being completely childish and it’s just not fair on us.” Lily scolded.
“I told you,” I said to Lily, “It doesn’t have to -”
“I know, I know.” Lily shook her head. “’You didn’t mean it to be like this’, ‘it doesn’t have to affect us’, whatever. Well it does. You think you’re being all big and clever with this not-talking phase and well, quite frankly it’s ridiculous. It’s solving nothing and I’m sick of tip-toeing around you both.”
I glanced sideways out of the corner of my eye at Sirius. Accidentally. Again. And he was looking right back at me. It was a bit of a relief to see his eyes anything less than furious, even if it was guilt that had replaced the anger. Guilt that I was pretty sure was reflected in my own eyes. But then he snapped his eyes away from me and back at Lily.
“I don’t expect you to be best buddies again, immediately. I’m not thick. But you need to at least be civil towards each other and promise to work on it. Because you’re being utterly selfish in all this, and I’m not putting up with it anymore.”
There was a long beat of silence.
I met Lily’s eyes, ready to apologise for the millionth time, but her fierce gaze softened and she shook her head slightly, indicating that there was no need for apology.
I felt a rush of affection for her in that moment. She may have created this incredibly awkward gathering, she may have been being hugely bossy and she may have been making things worse… but she was genuinely upset by the whole thing. And wanted what was best for us.
I just wished that that was possible.
“Ok?” She stood up. I stared at her in alarm.
“We’re going.” She nodded at James. “And you two are going to talk.”
James got up and followed her through the book shelves. I could hear them bickering in hushed voices on the way out.
“Thanks for the support, Potter.”
“There was nothing left for me to say!”
“I had to say it all because you just sat there gawking -”
“Maybe if you paused for breath next time -”
Their voices faded as they left the library, probably feeling unbearably smug, leaving our old friend Awkwardness to thrive in their absence.
Sirius and I stayed sat at the desk, completely stationary for at least a minute after they’d gone. It probably looked ridiculous, us staring in opposite direction just to avoid one another.
It was ridiculous.
I was ever so slightly terrified that he was still furious. I couldn't handle him saying something or looking at me in a way that made me feel like utter shit. I just couldn't.
It seemed so long that I’d seen anything on his face other than a determined contempt.
But when he did speak it was more defeated than anything.
“That was the worst plan they’ve ever come up with.” He commented, wearily.
I breathed a sigh of relief that he wasn’t yelling or telling me we couldn’t talk. But this didn’t make the situation any clearer.
“It was the worst plan anyone’s ever come up with in the history of the world.” I corrected.
There was another brief stint of silence, in which we both realised that we could have left by now.
But we hadn’t.
“Worked, though. Hasn’t it.” Sirius pointed out.
“We can just go.” I said, half-heartedly.
He really wasn’t making this ‘conversation’ any easier. It was like talking to a brick wall. A brick wall that came up with retorts that left you stumped and full of questions. A sodding clever brick wall.
“I’m sorry if I was a bitch. In defence.” I said, after another lifetime’s silence. Even though I wasn’t sure if I was actually sorry. I was sorry I’d caused a scene. But was I sorry I’d said what I’d said and done what I’d done? I didn’t know.
“I’m sorry if I could have hurt you.” Sirius replied, rather formally.
“You couldn’t have hurt me…” Before I knew it I’d come out with a nonchalant comment and smirked, oh so modestly.
Oh, now I can do nonchalant. I see. Not in potentially humiliating situations, no, but now when etiquette seemed to be along the lines of awkward and polite, sure.
A brief shadow of humour lit up his face for a second before passing. Back to statue. Of course.
This. Was. Painful.
“Why can’t we be friends?” Again, my mouth operated without consulting my brain. And, for some odd reason, I was glad. Inhibitions were getting in the way. If we carried on at that rate we’d be eighty-nine before we left the library. Sure, it was a little degrading to have to ask the question, but I actually preferred it to the mind-numbing discomfort. “You said we couldn’t be friends. Why?”
Sirius didn’t answer for a long time. He stared down at his clasped hands on the desk, motionless apart from the steady rising and falling of his shoulders as he breathed. Again, I got the urge to whip out my wand and cut off the hair that was falling down his forehead. Long hair on him was weird.
I didn’t think he was going to answer at all. I was considering just getting up and leaving when he finally spoke up.
“I don’t know.”
It didn’t make any sense. He’d been so sure, both before and after the summer that we couldn’t be friends. And now he couldn’t even come up with a justifiable reason.
I waited for him to elaborate but I got nothing.
“Great. Informative. Thanks.” I scraped back my chair, ready to get up.
“I thought it would be too hard.” He said suddenly, over the top of my chair scraping.
Thought it would be too hard? Why? Because we hadn’t been ‘friends’ (or just friends, anyway) in so long? Because we’d fight? Because I’d done something wrong? Or, the reason I didn’t quite dare consider… he couldn’t still have feelings…
“After everything that’s happened.” He carried on, “I thought it would be… I just thought it’d be too hard.”
What the bloody hell did he mean by hard?
We were quiet again for a moment. I had no idea what he was thinking, just was frantically overanalysing, a key skill of mine. Wonderful.
Eventually I felt the need to break the silence again.
“This is harder.” I said, referring to this giant swarm of awkwardness around us.
“Maybe.” He still sounded so guarded. What was he thinking that he wasn’t telling me? A bloody lot, I knew that much. What happened to him? I used to have trouble shutting him up.
“If Lily and James are…” I started to say.
“I’ve said it before, I really couldn’t care less about Lily and James when it comes to this.” Sirius said, emotionlessly.
“Yes you do.” I said, annoyed. “I know you do. You feel as guilty as me about it.”
He exhaled heavily, caught out. Because he did care about his best mate, of course he did. “So? What are we supposed to do about it?”
I shrugged, “Be friends. Apparently.”
He leant back in his chair and rubbed his face quite viciously with both hands in a habitual way that I recognised as a sign he was tired.
“Can we do that?” He wasn’t asking my permission. It was a genuine question about whether we actually had the capability. As if we were so ‘socially underdeveloped’ as
I’m pretty sure Lily referred to it, that we weren’t capable of being friends.
“I don’t know. Can we?” I gave a small shrug.
He caught my eye for a second with a raised eyebrow. He’d always hated it when I avoided the question. In that instant I felt a rush of warm, even though I hadn’t even realised I was cold. It felt good, I realised. The way that his actions and mannerisms were still so familiar, the way we still knew each other. It felt good.
“I don’t know.” He shrugged and slumped back down.
We really were getting nowhere with this.
“But maybe… maybe we could try.” He said, slowly.
The warmth surrounded me again.
“Maybe.” I said, calmly. I didn’t dare say anything more.
“I mean… civil, right? How hard can that be?” He met my eyes, a hint of the old life that used to be so clear in his storm-cloud eyes was back. But still bloody guarded.
“Civil. I can do civil. I can do civil with the Slytherins, I think I can do it with you… You might struggle though.” I considered, recalling past run-ins with said Slytherins. Including the one at the train station at the end of last year. I never had found out exactly what had been going on there…
“Is that a challenge?”
I raised my eyebrows. “I don’t think that’s exactly what Lily had in mind by ‘civil’.”
He looked back down at his hands, then up at my face again. And it wasn’t difficult to meet his gaze. Alright, it still was. Just not… not as painful. Or apprehensive.
“Friends?” He asked, in a quiet, mocking tone. He cocked his head on one side and offered me a hand.
I stared at it.
“You shake it, moron.” He said, with a brief smile. He was practically straining to act as though this was easy, when it was actually anything but.
I gingerly took his hand and shook it. It was all very strange and formal. Although he was making a joke out of it there seemed something very serious and honest about the whole thing. That seemed positive. Right?
But, on the more negative side, we hadn’t actually accomplished anything in this delightful little chat. Sure, we’re apparently ‘friends’. Just as Lily had wanted. Just like that.
But no issues had been resolved.
We were skating on thin ice.
“You realise we’ve never shaken hands before. I don’t think I’ve ever shaken hands with anyone in my life.” My mouth was blathering on into the slight awkwardness.
“It’s a new start.” Sirius said, “Anything can happen.”
A.N. First things first... HOW speedy are my updates?! I don't want to jinx it though... but I'm feeling good about this. And I really want it to last. You really never know when you're going to get stuck for months again.
So, this is all a bit more action-packed and a little more upbeat than the last chapter (though thats not hard) but I hope the contrast wasn't too much? It's just kind of a 'not realising what you lost til you get it back' kind of situation. Deb knows she's not over him but she doesn't know what she's supposed to do about it so she's just going by what's he's doing. It's a vicious circle.
So I'd love to know what you think...
Deb/Lily back together after their summer apart.
Deb find out (some of) the story behind Sirius' summer. Will they discuss in now that they're 'friends'
James & Lily's 'cunning' plan
The truce. Going to go smoothly? Ha...
And of course Londy. And Oz. And Blakely. They may be small characters but I love them and would love it if you did also (:
Oh and by the way, I'll be sticking to Dee's POV for the forseeable future. Unless it calls for Sirius. Which it most likely won't. Apart from the last chapter, which I anticipate will be him. Though I'm still unsure how to end. I know how I'd like to but whether it would work or people would hate me... mehh. Got a while yet.
Thanks for reading, and please leave a review!
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