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The Art of Breathing. by AC_rules
Chapter 43 : Drifting.
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 123


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A/N - Merry Christmas my beautiful readers. There are two more chapters after this one, I will have written them both by the 1st of January, they will be put up shortly after this... Christmas present reviews would be appretiated, especially as it's this stories two years anniversary! I started writing it on a fatefull Christmas day all those (two) years ago... and now we're nearlly finished! My how times have changed. I love you all.

As children, I don’t think we really appreciate our parents. We just assume that they’ll always be around to look after us, to care about us, to bail us out... we don’t think about what it is to be a parent. We forget that they love us. Bloody hell do they love us. They love us enough to feed us, respect us, and let us grow apart from them. People say you don’t understand how much your parents love you until you’ve had children of your own, but Dad walked into the hospital wing that morning, a hand resting on Johnny’s shoulder – being there for him, making sure he felt safe – with eyes on me, this unfathomable expression on his face.

He might have a hand resting on his shoulder, but he was paying no attention to anyone but me, and suddenly I was overwhelmed by it. Karen was behind –being absolutely huge, Johnny to his side, Becky wavering between them all – but his focus was on me in the hospital bed. Dad had held me when I was a baby, fed me, let me have those stupid childish tantrums, taught me things, cooked for me, he’d looked after me even when mum had died, when Becky was sick... he’d been heartbroken when I went to Hogwarts, this... attachment we had was different when I was miles away. He’d hugged me so tightly I thought I might die, he never acted like my looming death bothered him – in case it upset me, he wrote to me every week even though I told him not to... I told him I didn’t want him too, I didn’t want him cramping my style....

He went out and brought my first bras, and goodness knows that must have been embarrassing for him, and he told me about sex and periods. He could have gotten Becky to do it, but he didn’t. He told me. He did the protective dad thing when I had dates. He took me along on his constant visits to the hospital... he was always there, doing all these things that he didn’t have to do because he loved me, he loved me so fiercely that he’d do anything to help – and he couldn’t.

What had I given him in return? Half-hearted attempts at Christmas and birthday presents, long periods of silence, and endless grief about the one good thing that had happened to him – Karen. I’d resented him for it. I’d never shown him any respect. I’d been a horrible, horrible daughter, and he’d let me drift because he thought that was what I wanted. It was all for me, or all for Johnny, Becky and now – Karen and Ria. When did he come first? And what did he gain from any of it... nothing. Nothing at all. He was just going to lose someone else.

I was overwhelmed by this love, and how I’d been cherished. I couldn’t have been cared for better, he’d done perfectly... imagine having two people who loved me like Dad did? Imagine having two parents, indulging in your winging, permitting the habits and qualities that everyone would shun you before because they loved you with everything they possessed. We were all spoilt, to have two parents like that – if you were lucky enough to have parents like that – and suddenly my tears were welling up again and I was reaching out towards him.

“Dad,” I croaked, my voice cracking. Dad. Dad. Daddy. He was there in an instant, crushing me to his chest with his strong grip that made me feel protected and safe. He loved me. He loved me so much, and I’d never done anything for him. I was crying. He cried. We stayed like that for a long time – minutes drifted past and I remained crying silently against him. His jumper soaked up my tears and it brought back so many memories of me, crying... when I was little...

When I finally pulled back away from him – because he wasn’t going to, ever – the other’s had gone, disappeared, and I supposed it was time for the first of my chats. I didn’t feel ready to say goodbye to him just yet. This felt like more of a hello, than I goodbye. I loved my Dad, but he loved me so much more.

“Was I a bad father?” He asked. I shook my head, even though it felt as though my brain was pounding against my skull, and grabbed his hands. They were beginning to feel old, but they were warm, and I slipped my fingers between his own. His dwarfed mine, just as they should, and I held up our entwined hand and squeezed.

“Never,” I breathed, looking at his hands so I could memorise them forever. These hands had wiped my tears and wiped my bottom. They’d cradled me and wrapped up my Christmas presents and let Santa take all the credit. “Do you remember,” I asked now looking back into his face and smiling, “That holiday we went on, before Mum died?” He nodded slowly. “And do you remember how you won at everything – golf, tennis, bowling and I got so angry and upset, that I threw a huge tantrum about how I was rubbish, in the middle of the swimming pool changing rooms? And you said,” I began. “You said ‘let’s go swimming’ – Mum said you had to let me win, and you refused, and you said ‘let’s see who can swim the furthest underwater’ and I said no, I wasn’t going to, because I was only going to lose. You said ‘come on my Mary-fairy, you’re not going to give up on me are you?’So I didn’t.”

“And you won,” Dad finished.

“You knew I would, because you’re a hopeless swimmer, but you didn’t let me win. That’s why you’re a good father.” I said. “Because you knew me, and you knew that it wouldn’t help if you let me win, and you knew that I needed to win or I might not ever try again.”

A small smile tugged at his lips.

“And,” I said, “You love me too much to be a bad father,” And a tear leaked down his face. I reached up and brushed it away; I leant against his shoulder and closed my eyes. His face was still scratchy, like I remembered it, and he smelt like the washing powder at home. I filled my lungs with it and held it in as long as I could. “Don’t think about me Dad,” I said after a long pause, “Because nothing more can happen to me – I’ll be safe. Think about Johnny, Becky, Ria and the baby.” He said nothing. “Promise me. Promise me that they’re the most important – that you’ll concentrate on the living, not the dead.”

“I can’t promise,” he said his voice cracking slightly.

“Yes you can,” I said fiercely, taking up his hand again and staring at him definitely. “I’m asking you to. You have to do what I ask, I’m dying. I’m dying and I’m making you promise that you’ll concentrate on them, and that you’ll concentrate on yourself. Buy yourself a nice watch or something – indulge, you deserve it. And Johnny, Ria, Becky, Karen and the baby need you more than I do. Promise me.”

“I promise,” He swallowed, forcing a smile onto his old-looking features and gripping my fingers slightly, as if any second I was going to slip out of his grasp. Slip, and fall...

*****************

I had wrongly thought that the vomiting thing had stopped since I’d be confined to my death bed, but suddenly – about twenty minutes after I’d battled my way though waffles for breakfast – I felt that familiar wave of nausea. “Nate!” I croaked, because it wasn’t like I could go anyway. I could barely move without it taking some great effort. “Nate!” I called again, trying to swallow the feeling down and not...

Nate came bursting in “What...?”  He began before seeing the interesting colour I’d become. “Oh shit,” He said conjuring a basin and shoving it in my direction just as I started to throw up. He edgily stepped around me and pulled my hair out of the way.

I’d forgotten how utterly horrible it felt to throw up. “Urgh,” I groaned, displaying my great knowledge of the English language impeccably.  My whole body ached with an extreme tiredness – I’d thought I’d been tired before, but this was different. Now my body was shutting down, stopping... and it was all I could not to just sleep.

Nate half sat down on the edge of my bed and put a comforting hand on my back. “I feel awful, Nate,” I told him, now my vomiting had finished, and I buried my face in his shoulder and groaned again. “Everywhere aches,”

He put his arm around my now tiny body, and vanished the basin (complete with vomit) into nothingness. “Wish there was something I could do,” Nate said.

“You’ve done enough,” I said leaning back onto his arms and feeling that familiar safeness and security that came with being with someone you loved.

“If I’d done enough, you wouldn’t be in a hospital bad right now,”

“You’ve done plenty – seriously Nate, you’ve done plenty.” I said before letting my eyes flicker shut on Nate’s shoulder. There was so much more I could have said, but it almost felt unnecessary to drag things out now... what was the point? There was only so much time left? Why waist a single second?

*****************

Sirius’s lips brushed the back of my neck for a gorgeous long second, and I smiled. I wanted to turn and look at him properly, but my stupid legs were making movement difficult, I stretched my neck to look at him properly and smiled warmly. He kissed the smile right off my face. I melted. I guessed I was forgiven from declaring my oncoming death, at any rate. “Why,” I began letting my words hover in the air. “Are you so perfect?”

“Practice,” he whispered into my lips before I laughed and pulled backwards.

“I meant to ask you something,” I said. He nodded and slipped into my bed beside me, and pulled the covers up so they lay over both of us.

 “Shoot,” He returned as I rested my head on his shoulder and contemplated how lovely it would be just to sleep. He was so comfortable and warm and complicated.

“That Francesca girl said she was a regular visitor to your dorm?”

“Oh, right,” Sirius said resting his forehead against my head and speaking into my hair.

“Who?”

 “You won’t believe it,”

“James finally given up?”

“Oh no,” Sirius returned and I could only imagine the expression on his face. “James’s reign of abstinence continues. Infact, I think he’s even more determined and quietly confident.”

“Peter then?” I asked feeling slightly incredulous.

“Nu-uh,” Sirius muttered, his breath tickled my skin glorious.

“If you say it’s you you’re going to hell, Sirius.”

“Nope.”

“Then who...? Remus!?” I asked suddenly sitting up so quickly that Sirius snapped his head up in surprised and groaned in complaint, bringing his fingers up to his forehead and squeezing his eyes shut before he spoke again.

“He’s going through a fuck the system phase.” Sirius explained warily, as this was just a little sideshow which detracted from the main event.

“And the system is...?”

“Well, general dating system, and the system of Remus Lupin’s morals. It’s quite scary actually – I’m a little concerned.”

“A little?”

“I’ve got bigger things on my mind, all right.” Sirius snapped. “It’s your fault anyway, he’s decided he’s got to live life or something, and that being sensible is a complete  waste of life, and that he’s actually lucky and all this other stuff. I don’t know. All I know is he’s gone fucking mental, and Alice is a bit... erm, well, she actually worked out the whole werewolf thing and... it’s not been good for the state of his mental health, let’s say.”

“Right,” I said. “I’ll need to talk to both of them,”

“Oh come on,” Sirius complained. “I want to talk to you.”

“I know I’m awesome, but you can’t hog my all to yourself.”

“Why the bloody hell not?” Sirius muttered, running his fingers through his hair in a James-like fashion. “It’s your life, Mary; you can do what you want with it. No one will stop you.”

“Sirius,” I said furrowing my eyebrows. “Sure, I’d love to spend the rest of my time with you – I love you, but I also love all the others and I want to talk to them too. I’ve got to talk to them; it’s the right thing to do.”

“When did you get so moral?”

“When did you get so selfish?”

“I’ve always been selfish.” Sirius answered hotly. Then he took a deep breath and let it out again slowly. “I’ll get Remus for you,” He said kissing my on my forehead and offering me a mildly apologetic – but not too apologetic, remember this was Sirius and he had his macho-manly-pride to consider – smile before he disappeared.

Well, that could have been worse.

*********

“How’s it going, wolfboy?” I asked as Remus stepped into the hospital wing, he seemed to have lost part of his sheepishness and, unless I was making it seem that way because I wanted it to be, he was standing up a little straighter and appeared to possess a certain defiance. I loved it. I’d always found Remus distant and a little apart from the rest of us mere mortals, and now he seemed on a level I actually had a chance of understanding. His own brand of arrogance – he was a marauder, after all – was a little clearer and he looked much less tired. Sirius might be slightly concerned, but I wasn’t.

“How are you feeling?” Remus asked kindly. He was still deliciously quiet, but he seemed sure of himself and far less worried. If this was my legacy on earth, then it was a good one.

“All right,” I said, unable to communicate my current status of wellbeing in any more sophisticated words. “You know how it is,”

“Hardly,” Remus said setting himself down on the chair beside my bed and smiling slightly at me.

“Francesca, eh?” I said, quirking my eyebrows up at him and hoping for a blush... Remus just shrugged. “She’s hot I suppose,” I commented trying to say anything that would provoke an explanation or reasoning, or, well... anything. Alas Remus remained silently in control – a mystery. “Little random?” I suggested.

“What’s life without a random, er...?”

“Fuck?”

“Not the term I was going for, but I suppose it will do.”

“Remus Lupin,” I said with a satisfied smile. “What have you turned into?”

“I haven’t turned into anything.”

“You’d know all about turning into things, wouldn’t you Remus?” He looked sufficiently irritated so I decided that enough was enough. “I’ve heard Alice found out about your furry little problem?” He grimaced properly this time and turned to glance out of the window.

“Yeah, well,” He said. “Should have known it would happen eventually,”

“When did you get bitten, Remus?” I asked settling back on my covers and really looking at him, for a second his eyes clouded over slightly and his facial expression hardened.

“Awhile ago,” He answered.

“Enough with the elusive answers,” I said firmly. “I’m not going to tell anyone, you probably haven’t been able to talk about it to anyone for years, and I already know, so...”

“I was five.” He said. Five... five years old. I blinked. I’d never even thought about when he’d become a werewolf... but if I’d have been asked to guess I would have expected him to be much older, much much older... Five was barely old enough for primary school...

“Dad works at the ministry, Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures–bit ironic really.”

“But, how?”

“Oh, you know,” Remus shrugged. “Bright night, so I was playing on the edge of the woods outside my house when... when it happened.” He stopped suddenly.

“You were five? Why were you allowed to play in the dark, on your own?!”

“It was winter, it went dark early,”

“But surely someone –?”

“I still remember it.” He said, probably just to interrupt my question which didn’t appear to be one he wanted to answer. “This huge grey thing... With these yellow eyes...” He began before stopping again. “I was paralysed by fear, not that it would have much difference, and it bit me, nearly tore me apart – there wasn’t much to tear apart- but then mum saw and she came out running and screaming and... and that seemed to be enough, because then it turned and ran away.”

“What did it feel like?” I asked in a horrified whisper – the scene was playing out before. Little sandy-haired Remus Lupin running around the edge of the forest unsupervised... and then the wolf came...

He turned to look at me, raising one eyebrow. “It felt like a dirty great wolf was ripping apart my flesh,” The sarcasm in his voice didn’t detract away from the horrible image that was now developing in my mind. “It wasn’t too bad, compared to, I mean... it was at the time – I was young – but within a couple of months I would have given anything for that to have been the worst of it.”

“Transformation?” I asked, now imagining a five year old mid-transformation, howling in pain and screaming like he was dying. Half wolf, half boy, whilst his parents watched, bolted inside their house – his mother crying.

“My dad had been working on some werewolf legislation, and suddenly he didn’t know what to do anymore, both my parents seemed to really hate the werewolf who’d bit me, and they wanted him to answer for it, but he didn’t want to tighten the legislation to restrict my life, any more I mean.”

“What did he do?”

“The worst thing possible pulled out of the legislation due to ‘personal reasons’ and let someone else do it. Luckily one of his friends stepped in and kept the plans roughly the same, but now...”

“Now?” I prompted.

“The ministry’s become a little more anti-werewolf.” He supplied grimly.

“You said your parents hated the werewolf – does that mean you didn’t?”

“Perhaps if they understood how much it fucking hurts then they’d feel bad. Werewolves aren’t in control – they lose all their human instincts – and then they read about a werewolf attack in the paper the next day, I wasn’t named of course, and then whoever it was would always be wondering if it was their fault. I always wondered,” He began his eyes staring unfocusedly out the window, “What made him stop – I was tiny, he could have ripped my apart, I could have died – I probably should have died, even though sometimes I wish...”He stopped suddenly.

“Are you honestly going to talk about wanting to die in front of me?”

“It never lasts very long, it’s just, when I’m waiting for the full moon to come up, knowing full well how much it’s going to hurt, and that I could do anything, that I won’t have any control over my actions – that I could so easily just kill.”

“I get it.” I said honestly. “I never said before, I’m really sorry Remus. It couldn’t have happened to a better person.”

“I never told you that I was sorry.” Remus said gesturing to my hospital bed. “I should have been more sympathetic or...”

“Nah,” I said honestly. “Well, maybe you should have been – and maybe I should have been, but that’s just it – I’m only human, and you’re only human.” I paused. “Well, most of the time.”

“And you should probably remember, that the rest of the time I’m a whooping great wolf,” he said before biting his teeth together in a mock-menacing fashion.

“I’m so scared.” I told him seriously.

“That’s right,” He added sarcastically. “Fear me – I’m a werewolf.”

“You’ll be all right, won’t you?” I asked. “You’ll keep Sirius and James in check?”

“I’ve never been able to do that, so I doubt much will change in that sense,”

“Well,” I said, “Just make sure they don’t do anything too dangerous – don’t let themselves get killed.”

“Nothing more dangerous than being illegal animagi and running around with a werewolf every month you mean?” He questioned.

“Yeah, that sort of thing. I’m serious though, Remus, James might be a better leader, but you’re far more sensible – you keep them alive. I don’t want any of you joining me until you’re at least eighty. I don’t care what it is. I don’t care if they have a chance to fight you know who himself, you’ve got to stop them from doing anything stupid, or rash. I want all of you safe, married and happy – that includes you. Got it?” I asked.

“I’ll do my best Mary,” He said. “But if I’m honest, I don’t think I have much influence over them.”

“I think,” I said seriously. “You have a lot more than you think.”

*********

“McDonald,” Marlene said hovering around the edge of my bedside awkwardly. There was something different about her – something strange and foreign in her expression, and I suddenly felt incredibly sorry for her again. “I... I wanted to talk to you,” She said, her fingers went towards her pocket, and then froze millimetres away from her pocket. She blinked. She looked more vulnerable and less sure of herself than ever – a stark difference to how Remus had looked. “Well no,” She said, “I want to apologise, I should have... I should’ve helped more with the cure,” She said. She stood for a few more seconds before she made the decision to sit, she slumped on the chair and seemed to be trying to make herself as small as possible. “My brother wanted to visit,” She said, “But mum’s really sick at the moment, so he can’t – he’ll probably write to you though,” She said and her confidence was gone, and she looked ill.

“Marlene,” I began slowly. “Are you... are you okay?”

She sniffed and I was seriously worried. “Yeah,” She said unconvincingly. “I’m fine. It’s... it’s really good that Daniel’s going to be cured,” She said, “Then he’ll be able to, to, live properly.”

“What about your Mum?” I asked.

“I’m going to look after her.” Marlene said, a slight defiance in her voice this time.

“What? You’re... you’re dropping out of Hogwarts?” I asked in shock. I felt a twinge of recognition of the fact that I was still capable of shock, I’d briefly considered the hypothesis that I had lost my ability to feel... but it seemed this news, this strange and nonsensical news, was enough to break through that barrier. At least a little.

“I don’t have much choice.”

“What... what do you mean?” I asked her.

“I’ve really fucked up this time, Mary,” She said, dropping her gaze to her feet. I had a feeling that she was crying, and this time I didn’t feel shocked. If Remus could enter into, which was basically, an agreement of casual sex, and if I could die before I was seventeen years old, then Marlene McKinnon could cry – these things happened, they were just beyond the norm. Unusual.

“What’s happened?” I asked seriously, resting one of my hands on her shaking arm. She pulled out a tissue from her pocket and dabbed her face with it, before looking back up at me. Her face was red and blotchy – she looked truly horrible. She was paler than normal and looked like she’d been sick and...Had she lost weight?  Her face seemed thinner, but her robes seemed tight across her chest and stomach...

“Pregnant.”

I was speechless. Honest to God speechless.

My barrier of emotionless was shattered by the force of this news... pregnant? Marlene McKinnon, my age, pregnant? There was a long few seconds of silence that hung the air whilst I tried to restart my heart, and not yell ‘what the fuck is happening to the world’ at the top of my voice.

Eventually I recovered the use of my voice box (which was always a bonus – I didn’t need to lose the function of anymore body parts), but then all I could manage was a little squeak. It took me another few seconds before I could think of actual words to say, and even then I was interrupted halfway through - “Reg -?”

“Yes,” She cut across me. “But he doesn’t know, and he’s not going too.” She said firmly. Saying the words out loud seemed to have let her regain some of her strength again, and her resolve seemed to be building itself up again. I couldn’t even begin to imagine being pregnant at this age... then again, I doubted Marlene McKinnon could imagine dying...

“You can’t keep -” I began, wonderingly passively if it was worth mentioning how hypocritical this was, or threaten to blackmail her in some way... all that seemed so far away now.

“He’s a death eater. I’m a half blood, if they find out about it they’ll... they’ll kill me, or him, or worse – they’ll torture him with it, I want him safe.” I couldn’t say anything in response to that, because it made perfect, horrible, sense. “Because, he’s worse than anyone knows yet.”

“So you’re leaving Hogwarts?” I asked, still unable to believe it.

“I’m going to disappear.” She said. “I doubt...  I doubt anyone will exactly miss me.”

“I would.” I told her. She blinked a couple more tears down her face. “I just can’t believe I’ve been so...” She laughed bitterly. “Maybe I did pick the wrong Black – should have gone after Sirius instead, at least then I’d know he wasn’t going to murder me or something.”

“He would never,”

“I doubt he’d have much of a choice, Mary. You don’t understand it, Sirius probably does, but no one else... they don’t get what he’s like. I guess it will all come out soon enough,” She sighed. “Unfortunately.”

“What did your brother say?” I asked.

“I’m not going to repeat it.” She sighed, wiping a few tears off her cheeks and taking one of the tissues out of my box. “But he wasn’t thrilled.”

“I can imagine,” I said.

“I’m going to fight it though, Mary – Voldermort.” She said. “I’m going to do whatever I can to stop good people like, like Reg, being taken in and forced to destroy lives. And to protect this thing,” She said gesturing to her stomach. “Because we’re all in danger until he’s gone.”

“Just...” I said slowly, knowing there was nothing I could do to dissuade her. Marlene was like that, sure in her own decisions to the point where they were unalterable... but the, Lily was like that –never changing her mind. And Marlene sat there, the traces of tears on her cheeks – refreshingly not for me, but for her – and she was so full of regret and potential that I thought it cruel that she might risk her life, when life was growing insider her. I’d admired her, and maybe I still did, and maybe there was a twinge of satisfaction that she could screw up too, but most of all there was fear. Maybe Marlene McKinnon was a bitch, but maybe she had every reason to be a bitch, and maybe there was much more to her than anyone knew. “Just don’t die,”

She laughed again, the same bitter sound, “Don’t worry McDonald,” She said as her cheeks regained colour, “I have no plans on joining you just yet.”

********

“How does it feel?” Johnny asked blinking up at me with his blue eyes that so exactly reflected mine. He was squashed next to me on my bed, resting his head against me whilst I wrapped an arm around me. He’d sat in silence for a long few minutes before he spoke.

I thought about it, really thought about it, before I spoke.

“It feels like I’m disappearing, like... bit by bit I’m losing myself, and then I feel more and more distant.”

“Losing yourself where?” He asked. “I don’t believe in heaven.”

“I didn’t,” I said slowly. “But, I don’t feel like those bits of me are lost forever, it’s just temporary...”

“Things will be really weird when you’re gone.” Johnny said, still not looking at me, but closing his eyes and burying himself in the folds of my blankets.

“It’ll be weirder for me,” I said. “Johnny,” I began after another long silence. “Don’t grow up to fast,” I told him. He looked up at me at this time. “And don’t have sex,” I said banking on the fact that his face would turn that glorious shade of red. He blushed and screwed up his face. “Seriously Johnny, NEVER have sex!” I declared.

“Mary!” He complained.

“And don’t do drugs!” I added, laughing as he turned scarlet and a look of indignation and embarrassment found its way onto his features. “Nah, I’m only kidding, well, not about the drugs” I said, ruffling up his hair. “Have lots and lots of sex.”

“Stop it!” He whined.

“In lots of different positions!” I added and he cringed away from me.

“Mary! You’re horrible!” He wailed before clapping a hand over his mouth. “I didn’t mean it!” He said quickly.

“I know you didn’t,” I said, “Don’t worry about it, bro, I know you love me.” He smiled. “Seriously, though Johnny, please stay this innocent forever and if that fails, live your life – really live it.” He nodded. “Take a couple of risks, don’t get yourself killed, believe in yourself, know that you’re loved and don’t break too many hearts!” I said. “Think of your poor sister and remember us girls have feelings too,”

“Do you want me to remember you?” He asked.

“A bit,” I said, “But not lots – be excited about Hogwarts,” I said, my hands still in his hair and grinning at him. “Don’t feel guilty about being happy, just be happy. Remember me, but be happy,” I said and then he settled back down against my shoulder, closed his eyes and fell asleep.

I imagined for a moment that he wasn’t eleven years old, that he was six again and I was eleven, and death was so far away that I felt invincible.

**************

Dinner time became a daily performance of sorts. They’d all gather around with their own meals in an attempt to encourage me to eat – Nate had put them up to it I was sure – and each meal I was presented with a plate of carbohydrates with vitamins and minerals stack it the side in form of veg. They all must have put on pounds of weight, because they continued to eat the entire length of time that I picked and played with my dish.

Becky alone sat eating the same amount, and staring at me blankly whilst I chased the pasta around the plate with little conviction. Then, when Nate had decided that no more food was going to be consumed and was exercising his most persuasive techniques to get me to swallow just another mouthful...

“Leave her be,” Becky said. “If she wants to die quicker, it’s her prerogative.” There was a few seconds of silence. “I mean, I would have thought you’d have at least tried, considering you have less than two weeks to live, but...”

“Maybe,” I began, finding my voice after a few seconds of silence, “I could try eating something else?”

Several people grinned, and James clapped a hand on Becky’s back. “And, erm... maybe we could talk.”

“Alright,” James said, “We know when we’re not wanted,” And he the lead the way out. Sirius was the last to the door, and he paused in the threshold and drank me in with gaze.

“What about plain biscuits?” Nate suggested, walking back from his office armed with a packet of said biscuits.

“Yeah, actually,” I decided. “That’s sounds all right.” And I picked one up, and I ate it. And I didn’t feel sick. Nate smiled at me, nodded at Becky, and then left – his footsteps echoing around the room.

Becky took the seat next to my bedside and attempted a smile, but her lips wobbled slightly and her eyes betrayed her.

“I used to be worried about you most,” I said, “After I died, I mean. But you’ve more than proved yourself,” She tried to smile at that. “And I’m really proud of that, and I’m really proud that you’re my sister.”

“I’m really proud of you,” She returned, and she hugged me tightly and I could barely feel her bones and instead her weight was almost normal, if a little on the skinny side. And a tear plopped onto my shoulder. “Biscuit?” I asked, she smiled and shook her head. I could see the word calories swimming around her brain. A raised an eyebrow.

She took one. And I took one. And we finished the whole packet off, together.

***********

“My dad,” Alice began falling into the well used seat and hardly looking at me. “Was a squib.” I nodded, even though her gaze was directed elsewhere. “He hated magic, and he stopped talking to all of his relatives, all of the Prewetts – that’s why I don’t know any of my relatives, most of them don’t know I exist. He converted to Catholicism and he met my mum, and they had me, and they were all pretty happy for a couple of years,”

“And then?”

“And then I started to show signs of magic,” She said darkly. “It was normally in front of my mother, and she just thought she was going round the twist – didn’t know a thing about magic, and then...” she trailed off. “She mentioned something to my dad, and he went mental,”

“What did he do?” I asked.

“Threw something at me. Mum maintains that he was just testing if I was magical. I was, and I managed to make it change course mid throw. He hated me from then on, and he left when Mum said that I should go to Hogwarts.”

“Alice,” I said softly. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because...” She paused. “Because I’m a Christian, and it’s not because I’ve been brainwashed by my parents – I can’t stand my parents – and I wanted you to know that because, because... I believe in heaven, and I just.” She stopped and looked at me properly. “Can I pray for you? I just, I know you don’t believe in it, but if it makes any difference at all – then surely it should be worth it?”

“Of course you can,” I told her, and then she rested a hand on my shoulder. I closed my eyes and let her words wash over me, there was a heavenly quality about the way her words strung together and the way Alice was talking to this God like she knew him.

“God,” She whispered. “Thank you for Mary McDonald...” And I scrunched my eyes up and added my elaborations onto her lines, and tried my very hardest to believe.

************

Lily was a wash of bright colours – vibrant red hair, bright green eyes, and pink pale skin. Her robes were black, and the colours seemed to have silted – calmed down, and she sat, hugging her knees to her chest and making herself as small as possible. She was breaking – I was causing it.

She needed someone and there was nothing I could do about it now, because I was leaving.

 A shiny tear rolled down her cheek. I imagined that she hadn’t kept up her skin care routine for awhile, and her skin went pink and blotchy whilst she cried.

“I don’t blame you,” She muttered. “For not telling me,” I nodded, watching her.  She was so bright it almost hurt to look at her, but her beauty made up for that. And she sat in front for me, broken, and I was filled with regret. I’d caused this. “It was better not to know, for the most part,” She said.

I nodded, unsure of what to say.

“What am I going to do?” Lily asked, her voice shaking and her eyes blurring with tears, “Without you,” and I wanted to cry with her, and sob and we could feel the grief together. But I was done. There was nothing left to cry, nothing left to feel and not all that many words left to say. So I smiled at her.

It must have seemed strange to her that me, Mary – whose use of the smile was limited and best, and who cried like a baby on regularly occasions, instead chose to smile on her deathbed – but it made sense to me. Why not get a few more smiles in before it was all over? Even though these were no longer smiles of happiness – they still counted. And that was all that mattered.

“You’ll be okay,” I told her honestly and I knew I was right. Maybe I was her best friend, but Lily Evans could never be alone. People like Lily and James were like that, they were too classically brilliant and lucky to ever really be alone. They had that natural ability to be liked, and to be popular – to be successful in life. It might be hard, but they’d never be alone.

Not like the others. Remus, the werewolf was the epitome of unlucky – bitten when he was young with a long expanse of tainted life ahead of him. Peter, the unremarkable, doomed to be overshadowed by his slightly more brilliant friends. And Sirius who would always be judged because he was a Black, and who’d always be on the outside trying to catch up with those who were lucky enough to start off well. They were a motley crew of misfits, but not James. And not Lily.

They were so sure of themselves, in their beliefs, and had the irresistible air about them which made people want to be near with them. They were attractive people, and I knew Lily would be okay. She’d get everything she ever wanted – that’s the way the world worked. They were the type of people who’d come shinning through it all.

Hopefully, they’d do it together.

But how could I convey that to Lily? Who felt like her world was imploding?

“Trust me, Lily,” I told her, clutching her hand in my own fingers and staring right at her. If she could see what I saw, she’d know that she’d live after my death. She’d be okay. She was strong enough to deal with it – strong enough to hold her own.

Lily Evans would be fine.

“I can’t trust you Mary,” Lily said, “Because you lied to me.”

“Everybody lies,” I told her, “All the time – petty excuses, white lies, ‘I’m fine’ and... well, Lily, sometimes it’s better to lie, because it saves people pain.”

“But they feel it more when they find out,” Lily muttered.

“No,” I said, “In this case, it’s just the same... you just didn’t... feel it for as long. You should,” I began, “Forgive people.”

“Have you forgiven Severus?” Lily asked.

“Almost,” I told her. The thought of Snape’s face no longer brought that bubbling boiling hate to the pit of my stomach, but it still made me flush with annoyance. I hoped I could forgive him before I died. I didn’t want that burden of accusation and anger with me.

“I won’t,” She said harshly. “Not now, not ever. I don’t care,” She said heaving with that same sickly hate that I’d felt towards him, “If he ‘loves me’” she spat. “Because that’s a load of rubbish!” She declared. “Because he doesn’t care about any of my emotions, as long as I’m in his life he doesn’t care about me. He just wants me for himself. He’s selfish.” And suddenly she was fourteen again, and burning with injustice about James Potter and how arrogant he was, and she was so sure of her opinion that it was funny. She yelled with all the passion a fourteen year old could have, and she cried with anger, ranting and ranting about James Potter – her red hair falling out of place and her green eyes narrowing.

I had to agree with James, she was beautiful when she was angry. And it was refreshing and glorious to turn back time to when hate was hate, and not sexual tension, and none of our classmates were going to become murderers, and no one was going to die. When boys were icky, when makeup was essential and flirting was throwing bits of paper at Sirius’s Black’s head.

Before these days of sex, alcohol, and Voldermort – life had been so simple. And, there was this niggling feeling, that it was about to get much more complicated.

“I hate him.” She declared, folding her arms. “And he doesn’t know anything about love.”

“Do you?” I asked.

“Love is an excuse.” She spat, her anger still prominent. “I don’t care if he hits me – I love him. I don’t care that I’m acting like a slut – I love him. I don’t care if he’s the biggest prat in the world – I’m in love.”

“But, it’s such a good excuse.”  I said. “It works for everything. Don’t be a hater, Lil’s – it’s so tiring.”

“Because being a lover isn’t tiring?” She questioned the tiniest incline at the corner of her lips.

“Well,” I said. “I dare you to fall in love,” I said. “Just to see what its like,” She shook her head like I was saying something that could be conceived as a bad joke, and smiled a little. “You’ll be okay,” I said, and she rested her head on my shoulder and a tear spilled down her cheek again. “You’ll be just fine,” I said, and she closed her eyes and was still.

************

“Hey James,” I said softly examining his feature with more care than I’d ever done. James was attractive – he had that whole scruffy thing going on, but the glasses made him look smart and clever. I wished I’d concentrated my efforts on ensuring the two of them (Lily and James) got together before my death, I would have loved to see how they worked as a couple – as they would inevitably be – and the dynamics between them would have been... fascinating, and wonderful because, in reality, they were perfect.

“Hey Mary,” He said with an easy smile. James didn’t really know me, it was true, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t sad about my death. He was just better at keeping things a little more hidden, and keeping up appearances. He was much more in control of his emotions than Sirius was, which made him all the more perfect for Lily who tried her very best to keep her emotions in check, but eventually they’d always spill out over the damns she’d created trying to stop them. James would never try to stop his emotions, just... not prolong them. He was smart. Perfect for the suffering Lily, because he could conjure up an easy smile from his built up source of happiness that made things feel okay.

Not that I needed it, I was dry of emotions – just a bystander really, sitting outside of my body unfeelingly. Still, I thought that maybe it was easier to be detached from it. From that haunting fact – death.

“Take a seat,” I said, and he did – the one beside my bedside. “You’re a really good guy, James.”

“You’re making me blush, Mary,” James said, and I smiled, half-laughed and carried on looking at him. He probably thought I was a bit of a stalker, but the truth is, I’d never really considered what good catches the Marauders were before. I just hoped that they’d find nice girls that would make them happy... well. I hoped that James would find Lily. That Remus and Peter would find nice girls and that Sirius would...

That Sirius would be happy.

“I’m serious James, you really are great.”

“Shhs, Sirius might hear!” He said in the laidback and rather lovely fashion of his. Why was I suddenly seeing so much good in everyone? Maybe it a dying thing...

“Keep chasing after Lily won’t you?” I asked him. “I reckon she might be a bit...unhappy after this,”

“Well,” James said, “She’s hardly going to want to cry on my shoulder after... after the Snape thing,” James admitted. “She’s barely looked at me this past week,”

“So you’re going to give up?” I asked.

James looked up at me, startled, and his glasses slid a little down his nose. “No way. I maintain the fact that these years haven’t been a waste of time, but it would have been essentially pointless if I gave up now.”

“So you’re not going to give up?”

“No,” He said, “I’m just going to have to... change tactics.”

“Tactics?”

“You know what I mean, obviously Lily isn’t some sort of game – she’s not at all Mary, but I’ve got to play it right or, well...” he sighed. “Obviously things aren’t great on planet-Lily right now – she doesn’t need a boyfriend, she needs a friend.”

“So...?” I prompted.

“So,” James said definitely, glancing up at the ceiling with a trace of a sullen smile on his features. “So when she needs a friend, I’ll be her friend, and then she’ll need a shoulder to cry on, and I’ll be there, and then she’ll need someone, and I’ll be there, and then Mary, then - she’ll need me, and you bet I’ll be waiting.”

“You’re actually perfect.” I concluded. “For Lily I mean. I think I’ll stay a one-man girl for the rest of my life,”

“Now that’s dedication,” James commented.

“No,” I said, “Dedication is chasing after Lily for, how many years? Honestly, James, I know Lily can be difficult but -”

“It’s been worth every second,” James said. “Don’t you worry about a thing, Mary; I’ll take care of both of them for you.” He said placing a hand on my shoulder. “Although I might not take as good care of Sirius as you do...” He said, raising an eyebrow.

I should have known something like that was coming.

“And Mary?” James said after a few seconds of silence. “You’re pretty perfect too, for Sirius. I mean, you know what Sirius is like, and... well... he’s a walking emotionally repressed mess most of the time. We’re guys,” He shrugged, “We don’t really talk about that type of thing, but me and Sirius might be a bit closer than most guys,” I resisted the urge to make a sexual innuendo. “So I know, full well the shit he deals with – and I know you know about most of it too, even if you found some of it out from slightly unorthodox methods...”

“Like you didn’t,” I added.

“But, you’ve been really good for him.” James continued with a smile – he was revealing nothing. “I reckon you just about saved him from being the type of guy who cries and writes poetry about how their mothers never loved them – and you deserve an award for that.”

“I don’t think,” I began. “That many people really get how fucked up he really is,” James nodded. “And I should tell you James, Lily is the same sort of way.”

“I know,” He said. “Sirius told me about her little, er... outburst.” I nodded. “It’s kind of strange isn’t it?” He began. “It’s like, I’m thanking you for looking after my best friend, and you’re asking me to look after your best friend.”

“And you better do it well.” I said.

“Just as well as you looked after Sirius,” James said, and there was only the tinniest hint of a sexual innuendo – I was proud of him. He’d matured by about a decade in the past week.

“Just don’t screw it up like I did,” I added. James raised his eyebrows. “I’ll give you some advice, when things have just got good – don’t die.”

“I think that’s the kind of the thing that can only happen to someone as unlucky as you,” James said. Then he reached out and wrapped his arms around me in a brotherly hug. I’d never been hugged by James Potter before, and I had just about enough time to note this and the fact that he had quite a nice smell for a boy (but obviously it wasn’t even comparable with Sirius’s scent, which I was genuinely in love with) and then he’d released me.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to sort either of them out if I take up too much more of your time, Sirius would kill me before I had that chance. Hey,” he said. “If he does murder me, we could have some more Mary/James bonding time in heaven!”

“That’s a deal,” I called, watching his retreating back and unlike with Sirius, I focused on the back of his head...rather than his arse.

*******

Karen was pretty, prettier than I remembered, and pregnant – much more pregnant than I remembered. She looked ready to pop, like new life was about to explode out of her, and the faraway expression in her eyes concerned me. Despite Dad’s promise... would he neglected Karen after my death?

Most probably, and Karen knew that, and Karen was pregnant.

“Karen,” I said, smiling up at her. I’d mellowed. I didn’t hate her anymore... I wondered when that had happened. But I’d grown up... we all had. “I wanted to say,” I began, thinking about the list where it was still spellotaped to the wall with large gaps that would always remain un-ticked. “That I’m really sorry for not exactly welcoming you into the family and -”

She held up her hand.

“Mary,” She said. “I’ve seen the list, and I took that as more than an adequate apology.” She paused for a second, and another half smile reached her features. “You’re a teenager and I was barging my way into your life uninvited, you were never going to like me,”

“Still,” I said, “I could have... respected you or something, after everything you did for me,”

“You could have done,” She admitted. “But what does it matter now?” Karen asked. “I know you’re sorry, and I’m honoured you think it was important enough to go on your list –but, really Mary, I’m a nothing in your life.”

“That’s not true,” I said. “You’ve made Dad Happy,” I said, “And that means much more to me than you’d realise.”

She smiled. “I read all your list - I hope you don’t mind and, well, number 6,” I cocked my head at her to show that I had no recollection of what number six was anymore. “Visit your mum’s grave,” she clarified. “Now, I know it’s obviously not the same thing – but I went down there myself and talked to her for you,” She said. “I know your father buys her daises, but I brought her roses.”

“Why Roses?”

“Because roses are expensive and beautiful, and every woman deserves them,” She said.

“Does he ever buy you flowers?” I asked tentatively, she looked up at me – straight at me – and shook her head.

“He doesn’t need to buy me flowers,” She said, “He’s not scared I’m going to die.”

The sentence resonated around the hospital wing, and I blinked my eyes shut. Poor Karen, poor poor Karen. Karen – who’d gone to the effort of visiting her husband’s late wife’s grave – and brought her roses – because her step-daughter couldn’t go herself.

“Your mother was beautiful,” Karen said.

“No she wasn’t, she was plain,” I said, my brows furrowing – I’d always remembered her as plain, boring...

“Your mother was never plain,” Karen said, “I never met her – and I can tell you that for sure. How could she be? She was a teenage mother,”

“What -?”

“She didn’t give Becky up, she might not have made the right decision but... she could have easily had an abortion. She had an extraordinary respect for life because, she always knew that there was a high probability of her developing the condition that killed her father. She was never plain, Mary, just like I’m sure you’ve never been plain.”

“But she wasn’t beautiful,” I said. “She was just...  average.”

“Average?” Karen questioned. “Is there anything wrong with avergeness?” Karen asked.

“That’s why she was forgotten.”

“Forgotten?” Karen repeated again. “Your mother’s never been forgotten – your Dad visits her grave at least weekly, usually more, and has a picture of her on his bedside table, on the mantel piece, hanging in the bedroom... she’s everywhere and she was never average. I’ve seen the pictures,” Karen said. “She had short brown her and sharp blue eyes, she was petite and your sometimes your father talks about her in her sleep. Maybe she had some average qualities, maybe that’s where you’re getting these ideas from – but she was never average, she was extraordinary, and you know what? You’re just like her.”

And that was that, this thing I’d always feared... explained away. There was nothing wrong with being average... You could have average qualities and be extraordinary... maybe no one was average... everyone was extraordinary – individuals, different, living, laughing loving.

“I used to think,” I confessed to Karen, realising for the first time I’d reached out to her hands for support. “That I was average and everyone was going to forget me.”

And I’d never confessed it to anyone before, that fear – the fear that I was so average, that I’d be forgotten, that in years time – no one be able to name me. That no one would care that I was going to die.

Karen looked at me for a long moment, and then she did something even more glorious than all of her other glorious acts – she laughed. It could have just been the pregnancy hormones, or she could have been drunk for all I knew (unlikely), but I knew that the sound of her laughing like that was one of the most beautiful sounds of the world. She kept it up for a couple of minutes, actually, and I had a feeling that this laughter wasn’t only about what I’d said. Karen was desperately filled with emotions, and now she’d laughed they were all blurting out, and tears were running down her face and her hands went to her stomach.

“I’ll tell you what Mary McDonald,” Karen said after she’d recovered. “Even before you dyed your hair purple, you were never average.” Then I reached out and wrapped my arms around her knowing that Johnny, Ria and the baby were seriously god damn lucky.

*******

I had a baby in my arms, and Ria reached up and smiled at me. She could talk now, but she didn’t there in my arms. She just reached a hand up, and I took her tiny fingers and felt the softness of her skin. “You won’t miss me, will you Ria,” I whispered. She cocked her head to one side and examined my blue eyes carefully. “You’re going to forget all about me,” I told her, whispering into her skin and inducing a little giggle. “You’ll just know that you used to have a big sister called Mary McDonald – and that a very long time ago, she was your favourite.”

“Mary,” She said in her new voice, that was so filled with innocence and newness that you couldn’t help but love her.

“That’s right,” I said, “I’m Mary, and you’re not going to miss me at all.” She lifted her hand up and waved it. “Bye bye,” I said waving back at her. It was so simple with babies – they understood.

“Why do you look so good like that?” Sirius asked, standing in the doorway and blinking at me. “I’ve... I’ve come for my talk,” He said, and his footsteps were loud on the hospital wing floor.

“Nate?” I said, and Nate came and plucked Ria from my arms, and I waved at her one last time, and looked to Sirius again, who’d taken that seat by my bedside which had been put to such great uses this past week.

So I looked at him.

“Sirius,” I muttered, and I found myself filling up with everything that had happened since September 1st and everything I’d thought about saying drained away from me, leaving me speechless. How was I supposed to articulate the gut wrenching feeling I felt whenever I thought about losing him? What could be said? How was I supposed to express what these months had meant to me?

All these cumulative moments had taken on a life of their own and become something different and something much more than either of us could have predicted – a living breathing thing that was stronger than I’d realised even just a few weeks ago...s o I looked into the familiar lines of his face and started into the grey depths of his eyes – he’d seen the best and the worst of me, all of me, and I’d been cruel and sadistic enough to let him slowly break his heart, over me.

I saw my slightly younger self heading for the train, purple hair falling around my faced. “I’m not a parrot,” I’d said and he’s retorted ‘Well, you look like one!’ and it was such an innocent exchange that it made my head spin, and then... then in that same conversation he told me that I was ‘sort of average’ which had kick-started the whole year with a bang... how much simpler things had been then, If I’d stayed ‘sort of average’ to him, then everything would be different now... and that was the worst thought of all.

Then my resolve disappeared and I morphed back into my teenage self who screamed that THIS WASN’T FAIR and threw tantrums, not this Mary who accepted death so calmly and said goodbye to everyone she loved so maturely. No, I was the angst filled emotional bitchy teenager who desperately wanted to break the conventions and make a statement – I DIDN’T want to die, I wanted to laugh and joke with this man – this wonderful glorious man who loved me, I wanted to flaunt him, prank his fan-club and prove to the world that I, Mary McDonald, was something special.

I wanted to experiment, party, live – break the rules and drunkenly yell ‘FUCK THE WORLD’ from the top of the astronomy tower.

Later I’d skip down that sodding aisle and claim my man for good; we’d have a cheap honeymoon so we could buy a fabulous flat, in London. We’d stay home from work and act like overgrown kids, then we’d have my own kids and raise them to be respectable boys and girls.

I could travel the world, too. Live dangerously. Fight the growing darkness that was steadily engulfing the wizarding world, and do whatever the damn hell I wanted.

There was so much to do, so many ways things could go, and it was only with Sirius here in front of me that I appreciated what death meant.

I took a deep breath and slipped my fingers through Sirius’s warm hands, clutching them with half the strength I had. My no crying rule had gone to hell, and a couple of salty tears rolled down my cheeks and left my skin feeling raw and exposed. I swallowed down my emotions and traced Sirius’s circles over his knuckles – the slightly rough texture covered with a couple of deep but tiny scratches told the story of his life, I wanted to see them wrinkled and clad with a wedding ring.

“I want you,” I said, “To be happy,” and I did. I wanted him laughing and mischievous, tipsy and stupid, dancing wildly with some girl with flushed cheeks and a beautiful laugh. Except I wanted to be that girl. I wanted to be under his arm as he sauntered down the street liked he owned the whole fucking place, like the world revolved around him – which it did. 

Sirius shook his head at me, staring down at his own hands, his thumb running over the glittering ruby on my middle finger. A tear plopped onto our hands although whose tear it was, I couldn’t say.”I mean it,” I said. My throat was dry. My heart was bleeding – my chest filling up with blood; I was going to drown in it. “I like to imagine you as the eternal bachelor – breaking hearts forever, but, if you want to get married that’s good too – I mean... don’t ever feel guilty” I said my tears welling and falling in a steady rhythm, as my heart swelled and exploded. “I’d rather you left me behind, than you be lonely.” I said.

I could only imagine how lonely the years would feel for me, stretching out across eternity. By the time Sirius died he’d have forgotten about me, and I’d be doomed to loneliness forever.

Sirius took a deep shuddering. “I won’t,” his voice was defiant. “Never.”

But I knew it wasn’t true, even if a very selfish part of me wanted to believe it, we were still teenagers, they’d be other women – even if they meant nothing – and that was how it was supposed to be, regardless of what I felt. I might not feel anything, I didn’t know. “I promise,” Sirius assured me, and the earnest sincerity of his words was so emotional it was painful to listen to.

“No, don’t promise,” I countered. I sniffed and scrunched up my eyes tightly. “Thank you so much Sirius,” I breathed through the tears that were coming thick and fast now. “Honestly,” I said, “this year has just been...”

How to sum it up? This ending was so finite and real and painful that I wanted to tear my heart out of my chest.

“It’s you that’s made my life a life.”

Sirius was shaking with suppressed sobs.

“The drama and, just, everything,” Sirius rasped in another breath painfully and it sounded like he was the one dying.  I reached out and took his face in my hands, it was wet with his tears and we were both snivelling and crying wrecks.

“You’ve been so good,” I breathed weakly. I pressed my forehead against his, holding his face tightly with my hands, and I looked at him; memorising every detail of his face and absorbing all of it – committing every blemish, every line and every emotion he had to memory, because this was it. The end.  I could feel it breaking, me fading, Sirius wasn’t mine – I’d just borrowed him and now we’d run out of resources, out of time, and I’d ran out of life and there was nothing left but to break, break, break. Because this was it – this was life, death and the final stopping point that loomed towards me like a never ending brick wall I couldn’t pass through.

And death had my legs, and was pulling me down, and Sirius hands were on my waist and he cried with our foreheads pressed together, my emotions dropped away and I was left with tiredness, and my heart was much too weak to break anymore, and Sirius’s lips tasted salty in that last proper kiss, and then I draw back to breath – with such a limited number of breaths left, and that was it. Another part of me died.

And there were seven days left of eternity.

 

A/N - Many of you have been telling me that you've all been crying and stuff, so sorry about wasting your make up in such a way... but it makes me feel special to know that the sad-factor is working, so please feel free to tell me ;) 

I've been thinking about doing a Lily-centred sequel. Half the time I think it's a really good idea, and start comming up with loads of plot points, and the other half i think the story is long enough, and I should stop. So, we'll see.

I managed to get this in before the queue closure though! Horray for that! And think of it as my (albiet slightly depressing) christmas present to you all. MERRY CHRISTMAS :D

So how was the chapter? Please Review? It'd make your long-suffering author happy indeed.  
 
 
 


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