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Chapter 31 : Of Rebels and Romantics
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Rain had returned to Hogwarts; permanently it seemed as walls of water cascaded down the windowpanes, blurring the view of the mountain range that hid the castle from the world. It seemed ludicrous to leave the cosy confines of the school for anything other than classes, yet I could still make out half a dozen hazy smudges soaring above the Quidditch pitch. It was impossible to recognize any of their features, of course, but I still had quite a good guess who they were.
“Hmm, what?” I snapped my head away from the window so quickly that I irritated a muscle in my neck, which instantly began to throb with pain.
“The team on the pitch,” Katie said, a deep frown appearing on her forehead as she watched me massage my fresh injury. “Are you okay?”
“Sure.” I smiled, only just suppressing a yawn. “I’m just tired.” The pile of parchment crumpled a little as I pushed it off my lap before curling up in the plush wingback chair, trying to find a comfortable position for my neck.
Katie still looked wary but she didn’t say anything, which I was thankful for; while it hadn’t been said, I could feel it in the air, hanging above us like a dark cloud that has been threatening to release a torrent of rain. I knew that she wanted to talk about James Potter and she knew that I didn’t.
The news that he was taking that pretty Hufflepuff girl I had seen him with at the Three Broomsticks last weekend to the Valentine’s Dance had travelled through the castle like a highly contagious virus, but I couldn’t care less. I had put it – him – behind me; like a bad dream that haunted you even after you had woken up.
Whatever might or might not have been between us, I had moved on.
“You said you’d be in the history section. I’ve been looking all over for you.” Tarquin looked mildly stressed as he appeared behind one of the towering shelves, his forehead sweaty as though he had just run a marathon.
“Oh good, you’re here.” Katie beamed so brightly that an outsider might have thought she and Tarquin had been separated for days. “Tell her, Tarquin.”
“Tell me what?” I shifted in my chair, feeling slightly uneasy about my friends’ behaviour; something was fishy about Katie’s sudden change of mood, but instead of answering my question, Tarquin began to fumble with the cuffs of his shirt.
“Well – um – actually, Katie, can we-”
“You’re coming with us tonight!” Katie practically shouted at me and threw her arms up as though she had revealed the grand prize at a quiz show, seemingly unaware that she had just cut her boyfriend off mid-sentence. “Tarquin bought your ticket!”
“Um, no I – I didn’t,” he said, scratching the back of his head as he tried to avoid Katie’s disbelieving gaze.
“What? Why the hell not?”
“Because I don’t have 50 Galleons.”
There was a moment of silence in which the full meaning of Tarquin’s statement sank in before both Katie and I finally burst out, “What?”
“50 Galleons?” I repeated, only just remembering that I was still in the library and had to lower my voice. “But who…” My voice trailed off as a frantic search began in my head in which I raked through my brain for any sort of explanation until it dawned on me. “Oh no. No, no, no, no. I bet it was Lucas.”
I was sure I had figured it out – there really was no other plausible theory – but, to my great surprise, Tarquin shook his head. “It wasn’t Lucas.”
“How do you know?” Katie asked before I had the chance; she had half risen from her chair, hovering in an awkward angle that appeared not only uncomfortable but also dangerously precarious.
“Because he asked me if I knew who had bought Seth’s ticket.”
For a second I mulled over this new piece of information; it could have been a clever cover-up, of course – Lucas asking one of my friends if they knew who had gotten my ticket and thus throwing us off his trail – yet it seemed unlikely that anyone would bother to construct such a plan around a school dance. “Someone must have bought the wrong ticket then,” I finally concluded. “This is obviously a mistake.”
I looked at Tarquin expectantly, hoping to see some sort of affirmation in his face, but he simply shook his head. “I don’t think it is, Seth.”
“OH. MY. GOD.” Katie pressed both of her hands to her chest as she slowly sank back into her chair, the expression on her face resembling the one she got whenever she was reading Ambrosia Tinkletabber. “This is so romantic.”
“No! No, it’s not.” I could feel panic prickle in the back of my head and, without meaning to, pushed myself off my seat, sending a couple of books and pages to the floor. Considering recent events and the fact that someone in the castle definitely seemed to have it out for me, this newest oddity in a series of strange events didn’t bode well. Spending such a completely disproportionate amount of money on a date to a lame, romance-themed school party was absolutely ridiculous – unless, of course, someone wanted to make absolutely sure I would be present at the ball, with or without an official date. “This is a trap.”
“Okay, now you’re being paranoid.” Katie held out her hands, trying to stop my thought process like it was a speeding train. “Someone just really wants to go to the dance with you.”
“Oh really? Who?” I crossed my arms in front of my chest, my eyebrows raised at my best friend who simply stared back at me, her mouth half-open as though she was hoping something would come to her eventually.
“This is great,” I whispered as I began to pick up my books and belongings from the floor, throwing them into my bag. “Somebody bought me. Like it’s 1485.”
“Seth…” Katie had gotten up from her chair as well, watching me as I haphazardly crammed random pens and papers into my already full bag. From the corner of my eye I could see her exchange a look with Tarquin and I cringed inwardly at the sympathy it carried.
“It’s alright,” I said quickly, hoisting my heavy bag over my shoulder. “I’m fine. Really. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to Potions Club.”
“Seth,” Katie tried again but before she could say anything I gave her and Tarquin a quick smile and left the compartment.
As the heavy library door closed behind me and I found myself running along a chilly and barely-lit corridor, it suddenly hit me; besides a guy who was willing to feign interest just to get a bloody illegal potion, there really was no one. After five and a half years at Hogwarts I had no one to go to a stupid school dance with and, although I had never cared about Valentine’s Day or school parties before, it made me feel strangely alone.
“It needs to be stirred exactly at the right pace. Not too fast, not too slow – there, that’s it.” Professor Slughorn tapped his wand against the large, wooden metronome on his table, which instantly stopped changing its tempo and settled on a steady, mellow pace that echoed from the high-vaulted ceiling.
I closed my eyes for a moment, partly because I was starting to feel tired, partly because I wanted to focus on the consistent tick-tock of the metronome that was supposed to guide my spoon as I stirred the Erlkraut potion, and suddenly that new Hey Hey Hippogriff song that had been haunting the common room all week popped into my head, facilitating the rhythmic movement of my hand.
“Nice,” someone suddenly said right next to me and I opened my eyes to find Helen MacFarley peering into my cauldron, “how did you get it to liquefy that fast?”
“Oh, um.” I pushed a stray strand of hair out of my face with the back of my hand, noticing that my skin had gotten sticky from the fumes that came from my cauldron. “I just followed the metronome, that’s all.”
Helen nodded as she leaned against the table, a grin appearing on her face. “It sounded as though you were humming When She Walks.”
“It’s annoyingly catchy,” I admitted and she laughed, her voice sounding over the sluggish bubbling of potions and the clanking of spoons against copper.
“So do you know who you’re going to the dance with tomorrow?”
“Um, no.” I bit my bottom lip as I watched the colour of my potion slowly fade from purple to a soft periwinkle blue, hoping that my answer had sounded casual enough to avoid any further questions. “You?”
“Yeah.” Helen wrinkled her small nose as she bent over her own cauldron to examine the texture of her Erlkraut. “Some fifth-year-boy from Slytherin got my ticket. This lottery system is just so wrong.”
I nodded, not too keen on deepening the discussion as I had tried my best to supress any thought of the Valentine’s Dance and the fact that someone had spent 50 Galleons on my ticket.
“Can I – can I ask you something?” She cleared her throat, abandoning her potion once more as she leaned against the table, a strange look on her face. “I was – I was wondering… you and James Potter – I mean, are you – like – close?”
The change of topic came so unexpectedly that I lost grip of my spoon, causing it to clatter noisily against the kettle as it plunged into my potion. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to conceal the small pang that I had felt somewhere in my stomach at the mention of James’s name.
“I’m not talking about all these stupid rumours –” Helen said quickly, apparently taking my clumsy reaction for a defensive strategy. “I know you didn’t poison anyone – it’s just – last time in the library you looked so – so familiar.”
“Oh. Um, no. I mean, we’re not. Familiar.” I could feel the heat crawl up my neck and face as I tried to feign absolute indifference. “Or anything, really,” I added lamely before swishing my wand over my cauldron to retrieve the drowned spoon. It slowly rose from the thick substance, dripping with gooey blue slime.
“Oh. Okay.” Helen watched me, unfortunately not showing any interest in resuming work on her own potion. “It’s just-” She laughed, her cheeks flushing as she shook her head, “I kind of fancy him and I thought if you knew him you could – you know – talk me up a bit.”
I hesitated for a second, searching my brain for ways to get out of this conversation; if there was one topic I wanted to avoid even more than the Valentine’s Dance, it was James Potter and the many women that fell for him. Yet, I couldn’t help feeling a small spark of curiosity. “Aren’t you tutoring him?”
“Occasionally, yes. But I barely get a word out when I’m around him. I mean, he’s just-” She sighed as though words simply weren’t enough to describe the miracle that was James Sirius Potter.
“Ladies, how are your potions coming along?” Professor Slughorn had ambled up to our table, his hands folded behind his back as he peered into my kettle. “This looks promising, Miss Woodley. Maybe a little too much white dittany?”
“My spoon fell in,” I explained and held it up to proof that the slightly off colour of my potion was due more to my clumsiness than lack in potion skills. Next to me, Helen slowly moved away to tend to her own potion, undoubtedly trying to make it as presentable as possible before the potions master would reach her cauldron.
“Oh dear, well not to worry.” Slughorn winked at me. “After all, Eldritch Brockenhirst wouldn’t have discovered the cure for Mersuring Disease if he hadn’t dropped his spectacles in his kettle.” He smiled at me before he moved on and I pushed up the sleeves of my jumper, determined to prove myself worthy of Slughorn’s trust. After all, he was one of the few teachers who didn’t give me wary looks whenever I turned around, wondering whether I really was the mastermind behind a student-run underground potions ring.
“I meant to ask you, Miss MacFarley. How are your tutoring lessons progressing?” Slughorn’s booming voice carried over the bubbling and hissing that filled the room and – despite myself – I looked up, sneaking a covert look to my right.
Helen was standing behind her cauldron, her brown hair bright and shiny despite the humidity that clung to the walls of the dungeon, and for a second I wondered how James might see her; her full but well-proportioned figure and her bright green eyes.
“Quite well, Sir. James is really good at potions.”
I rolled my eyes at the obvious lie before turning back to my kettle and adding way too much powdered bicorn horn, causing my potion to erupt in a micro-explosion, showering me in bright blue slime.
I bent over the washbasin, my hipbone grinding uncomfortably against the cold ceramic as I inspected the faint blue spot that stood out against my light skin right underneath my collarbone. Everything else had faded entirely in the shower; the blue hue in my face and my hair, the blotches on my neck, even the particularly bright stain on my left ear – yet the small, almost circular mark refused to vanish, no matter how vigorously I scrubbed at it.
“Seth!” There was a sharp knock on the bathroom door and I moved back from the mirror, examining the greater picture. For the fraction of a second it occurred to me that long hair would have done a nice job concealing the blemish but – pinching a chunk of blond ends that barely even graced my shoulders – I quickly discarded the thought again.
“You look fantastic,” Katie said as she pushed open the bathroom door, her silvery, layered skirt spilling into the room as though it was made of liquid metal. “I told you it would suit you.”
“I can’t breathe,” I wheezed as I tugged at the gauzy lace thing she had thrust into my arms the moment I had returned from the library. The entire dress was clinging to my body like a second skin, clearly tailored to fit a pre-teen, both in length and size.
“But it looks great.”
“I’m going to faint.”
“You’re going to be fine.” Katie moved her fingers expertly through my wavy hair before tucking one half behind my right ear.
I let myself fall against the sink like a stiff board, the unyielding fabric not even allowing for the slightest bent. “Why did I agree to this again?”
“Because you want to find out who your mystery date is and have the most romantic night of your life.”
“No.” I shook my head, unhooking the strand of hair she had just pinned behind my ear. “I’m fairly certain that’s not it.”
“Then because you love me.” Katie smirked as she pushed open the door. “Now let’s go. The boys are waiting downstairs.”
I made sure she would see me grimace before following her out of the small en-suite bathroom and into the warmly lit dormitory. The room appeared to be even cosier than usual and I groaned inwardly at the prospect of having to leave it.
A flash of emerald suddenly caught my eye and I looked up, my mouth dropping slightly at the sight of Bernice, clothed in a sparkly form-fitting dress that moulded her harsh, rectangular shape into soft curves. Her strawberry blond hair – usually matted and tangled from Quidditch practice – was pinned up in elaborate braids that formed a crown around her head, flattering her sober features.
“Bernice, you look gorgeous!” Katie exclaimed. “Hot date?”
“I’m going with Jester Holston,” Bernice said, her deep voice bending just enough to suggest coyness as she clutched her tiny purse to her body. “He’s a beater for Hufflepuff.”
“Well, Hufflepuff men are the best.” Katie said as she casually swiped the entire clutter of lipsticks and concealer off her nightstand and into her bulging clutch. “Maybe we should find you one too, Seth.”
“Yeah,” I mumbled as I glanced towards the door that had just swung open, revealing a white-faced Ursula. She didn’t look up as she entered, her head bowed towards the book in her hands, but the pretence was weak and I could feel my heart sink.
“Are you going to the dance too, Ursula?” I asked, trying so hard to make my voice sound casual and friendly that it rang false in my ears.
She looked up like a deer that found herself in the headlights of a car, her complexion paling even more as her eyes lingered on me. She hadn’t spoken a word to me since she had been released from the hospital wing last night, much less even looked at me and, while she had never been quite outgoing or social, I knew that her strange behaviour was motivated by something else entirely.
“Don’t take it personally,” Bernice said in a soft voice after Ursula had practically fled into the bathroom, slamming the door close behind her. “She can’t remember what happened and people talk.”
“Yeah, I know.” I tried to feign a smile, but Ursula’s behaviour bothered me more than I wanted to let on. We had been rooming together for years and – although it was bad enough to have half the school believe that I was an unscrupulous criminal mastermind – the fact that someone who had lived with me for so long thought me capable of recklessly poisoning fellow students was even worse.
“I keep telling her that she is being stupid – that you would never do anything like that.” Bernice shook her head, her Scottish accent growing thicker as her voice became lower. “I know you were in the dorm when it happened. That’s what I told McGonagall too – told her that you never did anything you shouldn’t, no illegal potions or anything.”
“That’s really nice of you, Bernice.” I gave her a smile, hoping that it conveyed the gratitude I felt for her in this moment; burly, no-nonsense Bernice, who had had her own share of Hogwarts cruelty, believed me. “You look fantastic, by the way.”
“That prissy little b-”
“Well it’s true.” She rolled her eyes, her heels stabbing the hardwood floor as we walked along the railing towards the stairs. “She knows full well that you didn’t poison her. Mixed in her drink – rubbish.”
I tried to breathe through the rigid confines of the dress as I noticed a familiar weight settling on my chest once more, obstructing the air that tried to get to my lungs. It seemed stupid now to have ever hoped that Ursula would clear me of all suspicion when she woke up from her drug-induced blackout. With rumours still travelling through the castle it was, after all, only too easy to succumb to the maelstrom of peer pressure.
“I say she’s lying to cover up her own drug escapade.” Katie raised her eyebrows at me. “Wouldn’t look too good in her records, don’t you think?”
“Do you really think that?”
“I’m just saying that it’s convenient to have a rumoured potions lord as your roommate.”
“Maybe.” I leaned against the banister and glanced at the bustling common room underneath me, trying to spot Sam and Hector in the sea of colourful dresses. “But it’s Ursula we’re talking about.”
Katie shrugged as a group of overly excited fifth year girls in bright, slinky outfits pushed past us, their voices unifying in the chorus of When She Walks. The way they swayed on their stiletto heels suggested that they had already had a couple of Gilly shots in their room.
“Do you remember the note?” I said quietly when the girls had reached the stairs and were safely out of earshot again. “The one that fell out of my book?”
“Yes, wh-” Katie’s eyes widened as her mouth dropped slowly. “You think it was a trap?”
“Well, it seems fishy, doesn’t it?” I let my fingers trail along the gleaming wood of the banister as another group of girls walked by. I hadn’t wanted to tell Katie about my suspicions – mostly because they seemed slightly paranoid and I didn’t want to worry her – but it was hard to keep something like that from my best friend. “A mysterious note telling me to come to the Entrance Hall at 11 o’clock. I mean, why the Entrance Hall of all places? You’re basically bound to be seen by someone there.”
“Didn’t McGonagall say that Ursula fell around 11?” Katie had leaned in, her voice barely louder than a whisper.
I nodded, feeling a cold shiver run down my spine. “Whoever they are, they are using other people to get to me.”
“That’s why you are going tonight,” she hissed. “You think someone is setting you up.”
“I don’t know.” I felt the cloth of the dress press against my ribcage as I tried to take a deep breath. “But I have to find out. This has to stop.”
“Seth.” Katie gripped my arm and her eyebrows furrowed as she gave me a long look. “You have to promise me that you’ll be careful.”
I smiled, hoping that it was convincing. “Don’t worry, okay? It’s going to be fine.”
It was not as though I hadn’t expected it. Unlike Katie or Sam, who had continued to crane their necks as we had made our way to the Great Hall, I hadn’t been surprised that nobody had been waiting for me in Entrance Hall, brandishing a bouquet of flowers and declaring to be my secret Valentine. However, I couldn’t completely ignore the sinking feeling in my stomach as my eyes travelled over the clusters of brightly dressed couples, talking and laughing as they dived in and out of the dancing crowd. Some of them might have been slightly mismatched, but they looked happy nonetheless while I was, once again, the girl standing by the wall, pretending to be cool with leaning against a windowsill as a mixture of noise and music pulsed around me like a gigantic beating heart.
“Where the hell is your date, Lizzibeth?”
I looked up, unable to not smile at Freddie Weasley as he plunked down next to me, a broad grin spreading across his lightly bronzed face. There was something so earnest and easy-going about him that made it hard not to like him. “I have no idea.”
“He must be quite the stupid git,” he said with a crooked smile, “leaving a girl like you alone with all these horny boys.” He made a sweeping gesture into the room like a real estate agent showing off the grand dining room.
“As you can see, I can hardly handle the crowds of admirers.”
Freddie laughed and shook his head. “James is right, you’re really funny.”
There was something about hearing James’s name so casually thrown into the conversation that made my dress feel even tighter than before. Especially since I had tried not to think about him after I had spotted him in the crowd earlier, the pretty Hufflepuff girl dangling from his arm with a brilliant smile on her face.
“He can be an idiot.”
“What?” I looked up at Freddie, my heart pressing against my caged chest as it picked up speed.
“James,” he said, sounding much more serious than before. “He can be a bit thick. Or, a lot.”
I frowned, not sure what to make of this sudden change in topic; James and I hadn’t talked since the winter carnival and with all the shouting and angry accusations, it had somehow felt final. And I needed it to be final.
“It’s fine,” I said, because there was nothing else I could think of, and I gave Freddie a casual smile. His eyes narrowed as he looked at me and for a moment it seemed as though he wanted to say something, but his brows furrowed and he pressed his lips together, swallowing his words just as a group of girls emerged from the crowd, heading straight towards us.
“Freddie, you liar!” One of them shouted at us as she grabbed hold of his arm, her long, blond curls flying out behind her. “You promised you’d dance with us!”
“Elena, I was just going to look for you,” he replied before winking at me, the grin back in place as though it had never been gone. “If you’ll excuse me, Lizzibeth.”
“Sure.” I smiled, somewhat relieved that I did not have to continue this conversation. “See you around.”
“You will!” He called out as he let the girls drag him onto the dance floor where they immediately clustered around him, pulling him further into the writhing mass until they vanished in the crowd.
I inhaled slowly, aware that I was pushing the dress to its limits, and settled into my comfortable nook again as I let my gaze wander across the room towards where I had seen James last; he was still there, talking to his date, who looked like a film star in her shimmery golden dress that hugged her body perfectly, showing it off in all the right places. It was somewhat fitting that she looked like a Greek goddess while I had spent most of the night at this wall, squeezed into my best friend’s old Bat Mitzvah dress that threatened to burst with every deep breath I took; clearly, I wasn’t even playing in the same league.
Katie smiled as she surfaced from the dancing crowd, her slightly fuzzy curls bouncing with every step she took as she walked towards me with Tarquin following in her wake.
“Come dance with us!” she shouted, even though she had already reached me, her cheeks glowing in a bright pink. While she looked elated, Tarquin just looked exhausted.
“Nah, I’m fine.” I shrugged, hugging my arms around my torso; it was getting chilly next to the window and my legs began to feel slightly numb from balancing on Katie’s high heels all night; that, or the dress was starting to cut off my blood circulation.
“I’m sorry I made you go,” Katie said but I shook my head and smiled.
“You didn’t. I went voluntarily.”
She nodded and let her gaze wander across the room as though she was looking for someone in particular. “So… still no sign?”
“Nope. No suspicious activities whatsoever.” I shrugged, not sure if I felt relieved or disappointed about the lack of dodgy behaviour around me. It seemed strange that someone would go through all this trouble and expense to get me to the Valentine’s Dance just to ignore me all night. “Although I saw Lucas lurking around me before so I’ll just take off before I get accused of poisoning him with Amortentia.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” A slow song started playing and the lights dimmed, dipping the Great Hall into nothing but warm candle light. “That’s my cue.” I pointed my finger at the crowd that had quickly arranged itself into intertwined swaying pairs.
“Okay,” Katie sighed and I knew that she was itching to drag Tarquin back onto the dancefloor. “But are you really -”
“Yes, Kat. For the hundredth time. I’m fine.” And it actually felt as though I had said it a hundred times already; so much that it sounded more like a mantra than the truth. “I’m alright.”
“Don’t you want to-” Katie started, but knowing what she was going to say I shook my head and gave her a hug before she could protest.
“Fine,” she said, giving me the smallest of eye-rolls. “I will let you go, but you have to promise me that-” She stopped abruptly, her eyes widening in shock as she stared at something behind my back. “Oh no. No, no, no, no.”
“What?” I could feel the familiar prickle of panic and immediately spun around, my heart sinking fast as I saw the brightly lit dancefloor; illuminated by soft pink spotlights, Sam and Hector were dancing arm in arm to the slow beat that oozed from the invisible boxes, their movements becoming tense and rigid as the floor around them emptied, leaving them exposed to a staring and whispering crowd.
They had been dancing together all night, but in fast-paced, loose formations that apparently hadn’t attracted any special attention; now, however, they had become the main attraction in the Hogwarts teenage zoo.
“You’d expect more tolerance from a bunch of people that would have been burned at the stake in the Middle Ages.” Tarquin growled behind me and I looked at Katie, who looked back at me with a fierce expression on her face.
“Shall we?” I asked, holding out my hand and she took it without hesitation.
I could hear a few people giggle as we joined Sam and Hector on the dancefloor but the sound quickly dissolved in the slow beats of the song that still blasted through the room on full volume. I caught Sam’s eye over Katie’s head and he gave me a miniscule smile; there wasn’t much we could do to actually help them but at least they weren’t the sole focus of the gawking crowd anymore.
“And there I thought Hogwarts was open minded.” Katie shook her head as her gaze wandered across the room. A formidable ring of spectators had gathered around the dancefloor by now, looking almost as though they were expecting a show, and I clenched my fingers that were resting on Katie’s waist.
It was then that I suddenly saw him, standing in the middle of the crowd, looking straight at me. As usual, it was hard to read the expression on James’s face and I strained to hear his voice as he turned to Freddie to say something, but his words didn’t carry, drowning in the music.
I frowned as I watched Freddie’s face light up, apparently amused at his best friend’s comment; of course, James must have found this - me - hilarious, embarrassing even, and I felt a wave of angry heat crawling up my spine until, suddenly, he held out his hand and Freddie took it, shouting at the top of his lungs, “I thought you’d never ask, J.Po.!”.
And the entire room seemed to hold its breath as James Potter and Freddie Weasley took to the dancefloor together.
The impact was instantaneous; first there was a wave of excited chatter and wolf-whistling but then, as though prompted by a chain reaction, other same-sex couples, both friends and lovers, suddenly began to detach themselves from the crowd of onlookers, flooding the dancefloor so that, within seconds, the entire room seemed to be moving.
My heart was beating in my ears as I found James in the twirling and swaying sea of people that suddenly felt as though they were far away. He grinned at me over Freddie’s head, who was performing exuberant dance moves, and before I realised it, I was smiling back at him.
A/N: To all of my lovely readers, thank you for your patience. It has been a stressful two months and writer’s block is a thing :). I hope you enjoyed this chapter and I’d love to hear what you think about this development :)
Thank you for sticking with Seth and for nominating this story for the Dobby Awards, I can’t even tell you how much this means to me! All you amazing people who take the time to read and review are my inspiration and the reason this story even exists.
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