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Chapter 24 : Appy Ever After
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. 24 .
"Are you okay?"
Scorpius peers around my head. I'd been quiet as we waited for girls to pack into the hedged courtyard below. It's finally time for Dom and Rose to move past their squabbles and be mature young women and, like any true coming-of-age, they're doing it with pomp and no less than a militia's worth of attendees.
A few glances from the crowd spot us watching from the first-floor Charms classroom, but we may as well be under an invisibility cloak—credit to Dom and Rose for captivating an audience, I suppose, but the newshound in me knows Blondie and I have been collecting dust on the scandal front.
I press closer to the open window. My unfinished tell-all crumples under my arms. "I'm never okay," I say.
Brows dipping, Scorpius does not retract his head. If he's seen Pickett at all in the last few days, he's probably the only one who knows about our fight. Dom still thinks Pickett's avoiding her at meal times, when she notices his absence at all.
A hush falls over the courtyard as Dom and Rose lift two flowers crowns from their cushions and bow. Arms interwoven, they place them on each other's head. Dom set out to make this whole thing as preposterous as possible, as if people wouldn't drink it up just the same. If they shaved themselves bald, by next week, Hogwarts would look like a monastery.
Beside me, Scorpius takes a deep breath. "Sooo… about your falling out with Henry…"
"Oh, I'll tell him I'm sorry and he'll forgive me. It's stupid how much an apology can do." I step back into the shadows of the classroom. A hidden string quartet in the bushes started playing and I heard weeping; it's too much even for me. "It's a performance—I mean besides this flower-crown-blood-oath bullshit. Like… morning greetings, promises to keep in touch. It doesn't matter if you're sorry; it's the polite thing to say and the polite thing to nod your head to. I just have to do it, so don't worry your pretty little head."
I swallow thickly. I am sorry, but I can't apologize for being who I am. I can't promise Pickett I won't hurt him the same way again.
"Oh. Okay, then." Scorpius takes another deep breath. "It's just—I saw him that day, and I don't think I've ever seen him that—that upset, I guess."
"You've never seen him angry with Dom." Flapping a hand at the ceremony, I change the topic. "Speaking of Dom, don't you feel used? How are you not angry? She and Rose clearly pushed the fake love triangle for their own gain, no matter what they told you."
He shrugs. "If it's getting them back on good terms, it's worth it."
Below, Dom and Rose prepare to embrace. They sell this as much as everything else, pulling each other in so they are chin to shoulder. The courtyard has remained silent—out of respect or some spell, I can't tell. I wouldn't be surprised by either.
People like us are why we can't have nice people like Blondie. "If they end up really forgiving each other, it's a happy accident. You can't let that justify—"
"It's funny," he blurts, "how much they talk about each other."
I stare at him.
"If they heard themselves—if they heard each other—really heard each other—they'd see how close they could be." He chuckles, wringing his hands. "The other day, Rose told me to tell Dom to stop buttoning her shirts so low because their Grandmum was on a conservative streak and could probably spot cleavage a hundred miles away."
Dom told me about her grandmum while swapping her blouse for a crop top. She didn't mention Rose.
"And you've probably seen how Dom covers for Rose."
"She hates doing that," I counter.
"She still does it. You know how they are."
No, I think, you know how they are.
Dom and Rose must be genuinely close to him or the love triangle charade would have fallen fast. I imagined him as merely the rope in their tug of war, but he nervously divulges these details between the two cousins like it is his secret.
As if all this time, he was the rope trying to pull them back together.
"You're their middleman," I say.
He shrugs again.
"After all you've been through, I'm surprised you're not more cynical about love than me."
Scorpius cracks a smile finally. A sad one but it's there.
"Good god, Blondie, I don't only spit fire. You can relax." I slap his shoulder. He stumbles. Poor top-heavy thing.
The ceremony draws to a close without a single punch or sausage roll thrown. Dom and Rose's apologies might be an act, but it's an act they'll have to maintain and we can only hope with time they'll fool themselves into liking each other in earnest.
"Well, that wasn't exciting at all, thank Circe." Turning from the window, I fold up the draft of my tell-all and slip it into my bag. "See you in the newsroom then."
Looking back, Scorpius is all in shadow except for a bright halo of hair and I almost miss the wretched expression that flashes across his face.
"I… I don't want you to take this the wrong way. It's old news, but I can't in good conscience keep this from you. I…"
He gulps his next words. If he regrets speaking, he has resigned to finishing whatever he means to reveal, shutting his eyes and throwing his head back so he might not have to look at me while he does it. The dread of it strikes me dizzy and I think to brace myself too late.
"I know how to brew love potion antidote because I brewed it once just in case, a long time ago. I brewed the love potion, too."
My lips part in question. He'd been in love.
"It was just—I was just gonna use a drop—encouragement, you know?"
"Like rounding up what was already there."
"Just a drop in his meal—"
The name knocks the wind out of him.
The way he stuck by Albus but stayed two feet behind, his speech at Puddifoots—how did I miss it? And—
"The rumors," I say. "The ones we started—"
"No—no—nothing happened!" Scorpius waves his hands, shakes his head, fervent to defend his best friend's honor. "I didn't give him the love potion. I couldn't. I still feel guilty thinking about it."
As if I were staring at him with anything but pity. "You loved him."
"I'm over it. It's never gonna be me, not in that way. I'm just happy if he's happy." He's babbling. "And he is, with you."
"You loved him."
"I'm over it."
But he still loves him, in a broken-hearted way. He came as close to brewing the potion. He might not wait, but if Albus ever felt the same, he wouldn't hesitate if only to undo the hurt since then.
"I'm sorry," I say.
Scorpius unbuttons his collar, red-faced but calming down. "For what?"
I can't think of a way to answer him with anything but another baffled, you love him—truly and madly, would-do-anything love him, while I'm dangling Albus' heart like a cat toy. Scorpius just wants Albus to be happy for god's sake, as if a boy's smile could balance the world out.
Maybe it does. Maybe it's supposed to be that way.
I wouldn't know.
Albus' fingers drift through my hair. Held above us is his Marauder's Map, stippled with footprints disclosing the movements of every person in the castle. This is how he found me all those times—how he can find anyone. It's a weapon in my hands, and he placed it in them anyway.
He brought me to his room just to show it to me, made it sound like a surprise but he can't hide desperation; his banter had gone unchallenged and I've been conceding to sleep earlier each night.
"Are you okay?" he asks.
I flip to the next section of the castle. "Why does everyone ask me that?"
"I'm never okay."
His mouth is tight, but he doesn't say anything yet. I watch Filch's footprints tail a crowd of Hufflepuff boys through the fifth floor. They run past Appy, surrounded by the feet of her new following. Dom and Harriet's labels hover by the entrance hall. Pickett is nowhere to be seen; Speak Easy, I suppose, avoiding me even now.
Albus runs his thumb over two small bruises on my knees. "Tell me."
I fold the map closed. "I'm just tired."
He doesn't press, not at the risk of losing me. I push my textbooks off my pillow, curl up with my back to him, and shut my eyes.
I wait for the sigh, for his arm to slip around me anyway, but it doesn't come. He doesn't leave either. There is only the vacuum of his breath waiting like a siege, and I shut my eyes tighter to resist looking.
Distant as a dream, he murmurs, "You have to trust me."
A barbed laugh surges up my throat. I want to trust him.
This is the tragedy he fails to see: the girl who lies far away next to him isn't afraid of love but disappointed by it. No one would believe me—I hardly believed myself when I gave him the chance—
I want to be in love.
And I wasn't like that before him.
I can leave him right now faster than I'd done to Pickett. I don't need him; I don't need anyone. I’m more than enough, all by myself.
I heard the promises of love in stories of people gone mad—thousands of years of poetry and anecdotes that seem blessed by fate—and even I hoped, in the way I’d wish upon a lottery, that maybe they were true.
I believe in love as much as I believe in the scarcity of it. I believe amply in tolerance and habit and codependency and fondness. Fools bet their lives—and other lives—looking for love stories that tear kingdoms apart, when there might only be a dozen in all of history worth waging war over.
Ours isn’t one of them.
But for a moment in the chaos of a tea shop, when he awoke from love potion, called my name and silenced the world, I believed in that love—never mind that I shoved the cure that woke him down his throat.
It was just a moment, washed away in the rain minutes later, but the hope that lingered could ruin a person.
What am I doing now, if not punishing him for that?
My eyes snap open.
The room is dark except for a grid of moonlight blanketing the bed curtains. Albus shifts in the sheets beside me. He stayed, or he fell asleep too, waiting.
Rubbing my cheek of sticky drool, I turn around. On the other side of my pillow, teeth glittering and gothic doll dress torn to shreds, Appy grins.
I scream. She pinches my mouth, sealing it with a single finger.
"Shh. You'll wake him."
I don't stop screaming. Her fingers mash into my mouth. Albus is nowhere in sight. There is only ice-blue eyes and strawberry breath and curls—back to blonde—bouncing against my face as she straddles me.
"As I was saying, hi. You can stop hollering. Silence-charmed curtains, remember? For the sex?"
Struggling to stay conscious as her other hand grips around my throat, I claw at the bed sheet. This has to be a dream—
"Of course you're dreaming, silly. But it doesn't make your worst nightmare any less terrifying, does it?" Appy presses harder upon my throat—painless but suffocating just the same.
I don't believe her but I'm still breathing—or rather, I don't seem to need to breathe at all. If her knees weren't pinning down my arms, I'd slap myself awake. I'm more unsettled by how competent Dream Appy is.
"Don't worry, I'm only here to tell you that self-pity doesn't suit you. That whole little speech in your head—'I want to be in love'?" She rolls her eyes. "You don't love Albus or want to. I know love, and you just love being loved. Albus is a scapegoat. It was always me."
"You're fucking crazy," I gasp as she releases my mouth.
Her finger traces my bottom lip, tapping it thoughtfully. "Am I? I'm your thoughts, Clemence. I'm only as crazy as you are. Tell me, when you saw Albus and I together on Valentine's Day, what made you jealous? His arm around another girl's shoulder or the fact that that shoulder was mine?"
She pulls the memory out of the haze of that day: her blissfully ignorant blush, her utter joy as her quirky perseverance pays off. My stomach drops all over again when Albus turns around and looks straight through me.
"That was my favorite part, too: him dropping you like people dropped this week's issue of Witchy Business." She claps her hands together. "Ooh, double burn."
"I won in the end," I hiss.
Twisting my hips, I try to topple her over but Appy throws me back down. She rises like a shade and seems to melt into the liquid black behind her, bed canopy and curtains enveloping her like a dementor's shroud.
"So you won—what'd you win? Are you happy? Do you feel powerful? Is your life everything you dreamed of or am I it?" She dives in close, the tip of her nose brushing mine, and her cherry-pink smirk slices through my mind. "Tell me it's him you want, Clemence. Tell me you love him, and I'll go away."
She knows the answer already; she's only an image of Appy usurping my own thoughts.
"Tell me that if it had been anyone else who stole Albus away, you'd have fought for him like you had."
Anyone else but Appy and I'd have holed myself up in the newsroom, tossed cheap Valentine's candies at a picture of Potter until Pickett and Dom come drag me out to Hogsmeade, and we'd have raised hell there until the prefects came looking. And that would have been the last I thought of him.
But Appy isn't like other girls.
On Valentine's Day, when Albus could choose a winner between us, he chose to humiliate me. I'd have done anything to get him back, even love him for a jealous moment so I might fight for him because what motive is as potent or as easily excused as love? A war fought for love is stupid but romantic and honorable. The stuff of epics.
A war fought for territory, for the right to say he's mine—but more importantly, he isn't Appy's—is just petty.
"Tell me, Clemence."
The Appy of my dreams sinks onto me, her dress rags fluttering between my legs. When she parts her lips and inside is nothing but a howling darkness, I thrash to free myself, but everywhere I tangle with some part of her—ribbons, hair, fingers—and I open my throat to shout, I wouldn't have fought for him at all, but she is already near enough to steal my breath if not my soul. I can only gasp as her mouth closes over mine.
I scream, and this time, I hear him.
"Clemence, what's wrong? Are you—?"
The kiss breaks and our heads knock together. Terror drives my fists forward. Her hands become his, stopping mine.
The room is dark but not as dark as before. As the dream shears in half, Appy blinks down at me as mournful as I last left her.
With one last shove, I push Appy—Albus—off of me and press against the headboard like a caged beast.
"I'm fine!" I gasp, still kicking.
The bed is storm-swept. A bewildered Albus kneels at the center of a pile of blankets, wincing from one of my landed hits. He snaps with a fury to match the scene, "What's wrong with you? I'm just trying to help!"
My response chokes in my throat: What's wrong with me? This is who I fucking am. I was fine until you.
But that's a lie, isn't it?
I was never happy. I wasn't sad but that isn't the same.
I was ruthless, cruel little me, lover of my worst qualities. I hated everything, trusted in nothing, and in the absence of real purpose, it had been enough fulfilling this myth of myself. I wasn't happy but I was triumphant and that was almost the same.
As my vision steadies on the boy who loves me, whose anger is faltering in the face of my silence, I've never felt so alone. Just like I always wanted.
Albus reaches for my hand. "Clem—hey, I shouldn't have—"
"I can't do this anymore."
He's not as surprised by those words as he could be, but I only look at his face for a second—I don't even mean to—before grabbing my belongings from the side table and stumbling out of his bed and room.
He finds me.
He always does.
The castle blurs past as I leap down the flights of stairs that'll take me down to the newsroom. Faces gawk at every sharp turn and though there aren't many students out so close to curfew, even I'm beginning to wish for anonymity.
As my second foot lands on the ground floor, Albus catches my wrist. "Clemence, wait."
I spin around and meet his eyes, dimly green in the candlelight. His magical map's taken some romance out of our fated confrontations—if there was ever any romance in suspected stalking—although he doesn't seem to have it with him now.
"Oh please, I was never happy."
"It's because I don't love you." I smile bitterly. "After all this time, I still resent you."
I may as well have slapped him. It's easy to hurt him when I expect him to hurt me but not so much when he would do anything for me. What good is caring, if it's only ever in these small heartaches?
"You haven't given me a chance. You're just running."
I pry his hand from my wrist. "What's so bad about that? You Gryffindors and your bravery shows. You think everyone gets a speech to rouse the crowd and get everyone back together? You think is the best thing you can do is endure? Well, the other name for that is torture." Shaking my head, I search his face of hairline cracks and chuckle at the one I decide to strike at. "Did you know about Scorpius?"
Albus flinches. Blondie wears his heart like a suit; there's no way in hell Albus didn't know.
"I wasn't sure." He lifts his eyes so much like Scorpius had.
"You led him on."
"It's not a secret that I don't like blokes."
"He didn't know. Not one hundred percent. And if you hurt him then, he wouldn't still be carrying that hurt now. Do you see what I mean, Potter?"
"That doesn't always work out for the better."
"Whatever lets you sleep."
A distant audience has begun to gather, and I turn and leave down the hall before we can get uglier. We'll make a wonderful headline tomorrow regardless, but I think I'd take their fabricated reasons for our break up over the truth.
I duck through the newsroom's tapestry door and take my wand from my jacket pocket to seal the entrance from intruders, when I hear her.
Appy—back to blonde—is sitting pretty in pink on Ol' Bessie.
I slap myself. She's still there, frowning now.
Somehow I trust this version of her less than the one I woke up from. "What are you doing here?" The grip on my wand tightens. The newsroom looks the same as I left it, down to the dust; hardly anyone comes in now.
She stands. "I wanted to talk after last time. She told me you'd be here."
"She—?" Images flash: the lipstick messages left on the mirrors. The photos of me and Pickett on the wall. It didn't matter who she was. There are so many feet pattering around me waiting to attack that another name would be a blip.
"Get out." Licking my lips, I pace around Appy, wand extended. "Get out of my head, get out of my life."
"Put the wand down," I hear Albus say behind me. "You're hysterical—"
"Don't—don't you dare—" I aim my wand at him, and whatever he's staring at must be a real marvel as his words turn to stutters. "Get out! Both of you, get out."
Appy has her hands up as she scurries over to his side. "Clemence, please," she says before quickly muttering to Albus, "I told you she's crazy." She considers grabbing his arm but shrinks from the withering stare Albus sends her.
"Oh, just take him." I sling a shock jinx at her feet just to see her jump. "It's true: I don't love him. I hated you. Which, by the way, is what your dear Albus exploited to get me to overthrow Q.G.A."
Her jaw drops. "You—you plotted—"
Albus' glare at her redoubles. "Please leave us."
"Take him with you, I insist." Magic crackles as I swing my wand in an arc—light tricks, but terrifying in a deranged hand—and Appy latches to him. "Believe me, Potter, I'd have left you to suffer your idiotic love potion if I hated her any less. I didn't want you, or love, or anything quite so precious, all right? I certainly didn't want the war you drove me into."
I lower my wand and sweep the hair from my eyes, as if it improves upon the mess who left Gryffindor tower, and I laugh. "But I wanted to win. And I don't even get that anymore." I spread my arms wide, spinning from the rickety tables to the printing presses, all that I have left. "I'm miserable. Is everyone happy now? I'm the villain. I lose. All is right with the world."
Albus just about pushes Appy through the tapestry and the last thing I hear is an indignant, "I didn't like you that much anyway."
He crosses the room, steps barely sounding against the stone, and I stop my spinning inches from his face.
"I was using you," I say, "for the fame."
"Are you trying to hurt me to make me go away?"
"If it works."
His fingers graze my cheek and we hover tense and breathless in our familiar dance, but the spell's been long broken. It was the mystery that drew me to him, but he's bared himself as a coward with a pretty face, a pretty name, and pretty trinkets. If he's more than that, I don't really care anymore.
I step back. "Come on, Potter. You're just sad now."
Albus stares at me unblinkingly and I wonder if I might never convince him. What I say doesn't matter if he doesn't think I'm being honest with myself. If he's right, I don't really care about that either.
He knows I'll hold out longer than he will, so he bites his lip and nods. "I'll go."
With no adornment, he walks away and… doesn't look back. The tapestry closes behind him and I let out a long breath.
Now I'm alone.
Dizzy, I pull the newsroom's single swivel chair out of a corner and slump in. I slip my wand back in my pocket.
The minutes stretch quietly toward an hour. Albus doesn't come back. Appy doesn't come back. No one else knows I'm here except, apparently, some shill who tipped off Appy.
I shut my eyes and laugh.
I've nowhere to go. Not my dorm, not Albus' dorm, and even the newsroom seems unwelcome from its neglect. Can it sense me drifting from it, too? After shaping the ground I stood on for years, I don't even belong in the empire I've built.
Lump in my throat, I twirl around on the swivel chair, fiddling with the quill sticking out from my bag.
There is one person.
I pull the quill out, along with a notepad.
Tearing a page, I scribble: I'm outside. Bring booze.
The common room is nearly deserted; it's later than I thought.
A single candle lights the gloomy alcove outside the seventh years boys' dorm. Crouching, I lay the folded note on the ground and tap it with my wand, whispering a spell that sends it under the doorjamb.
I cross my arms and wait.
I drum my feet.
If the spell sent it to the wrong person—
The door creaks open.
Pickett leans out, dressed in his sleep clothes and bottle in hand. He stares at me for a long moment and scoffs something under his breath.
The knot in my throat aches. Guilt aside, I missed him.
"I broke up with Albus," I say. "I need a drink."
I polish the smile I've worn all day to a shine. "You love boozing."
"I'm also," he says and drags his next words like a dull blade, "a disposable fool."
My smile twitches. "Pickett, come on. You know I didn't mean you."
"Yeah, sure." He gives me the bottle and goes back inside the dorm.
"Where are you—"
"Take the booze. Enjoy it by yourself."
The door slams in my face.
In my shock, I stare dumbly at the bottle—a regular, if a bit sticky, Odgen's Firewhiskey— nearly dropping it as it starts to slide from my hands. I'd put the bottle on the floor if I could move.
I was certain—so certain—he'd forgive me, but the tempest I've summoned over the course of the evening dies without so much as a last word.
My face flushes hot. I stand so still that I'm trembling. I'm afraid to breathe, let alone speak. People aren't inclined to admit when they fuck up but what do I do when I suspect everything I've done up to this point is a fuck up?
"It's me, isn't it?" I say, lip shaking. "The crazy one—it's me."
I wipe my stinging eyes with my sleeve. I've never cried and here I am, teary for the second time in less than a week. What's wrong with me, right? I was ready to wear my estrangement like a badge—ruthless, cruel, lonely me. I hardly know who I am anymore.
If I am anyone at all. The only people who know anything true about me leave me.
I cough up whatever sound is being heaved from my stomach—a laugh or a sob, I hardly know. "You'd think I care if I'm crying but I'm just sad about myself, not you or Albus—Albus loves me, and… and I could never see him again, and it wouldn't faze me. I know it should but it doesn't. God, when Scorpius told me about—I can't even fathom that."
The door creaks open again and I laugh a little more, because I'm right. He is a fool.
"What is it that you all feel that never feels real for me? I just want things for myself—Appy's right, I just like being liked. I shouldn't but it doesn't change the fact that I do. I just want you to stop being mad at me right now, and it's working, isn't it?" Tears streak. I watch his gaze unmoving from mine, his expression that is not so different from before, and wait for the door to slam again. "And I see everyone else being as bad as me; they just don't know it. But I know every horrible thing I do and why. Isn't that punishment enough? Or does that just make me more fucked up? Just say it—I'm fucked up. Say it, because I honestly don't know anymore."
I gulp my breaths, trembling like a rabbit under a glare, a sound away from darting. Pickett lets go of the door knob finally, and it's criminal how easily I fold into him.
I bury my sobs into his undershirt and he cradles me under his chin, inside the crook of his arm. Once, I held him like this, under the flash of a storm as his heart broke. It meant nothing then.
Voice strangled, I can't even hear myself, but he can and close to my ear, he murmurs, "I know."
I cry and stop and cry again into the nape of his neck, every space I've kept empty inside filling with a sweet, sharp weeping. Ugly thoughts spill out in half-formed sentences: the fallout tomorrow, intolerable Appy, losing Dom, losing him, losing interest in everything I've worked for. When I think my lungs have given out, they find some way to squeeze another breath. All the while, Pickett holds me tightly, whispering small things to me to calm me down.
It takes until I exhaust myself completely. I drag in deep breaths, hiccuping. Pickett pushes the hair from my face and I lean into his hand.
"Can I stay?"
He smiles slightly. "'course."
Rubbing my eyes, some sense comes back to me. "They awake?"
"Ah—" Pickett drops his arms to his sides and looks over his shoulder into his room. "Belby is. Might already be eavesdropping—I'll threaten his chocolate card collection if he gets chatty. We could go to the lake, yeah?"
"Lemme get a jacket."
He heads into his room and I hear something strongly uttered about "making your prized holographic Albus Dumbledore confetti over the astronomy tower." He comes back zipped up in his green army parka and holding an extra Odgen's, and we smile at each other. He swings an arm around my shoulders as if nothing's changed at all and for tonight, I'm grateful.
We sneak out of the common room, Pickett leading. The stench of a botched spell lingers in the hallway. I watch for nearby patrols; on nights when my eyes aren't puffy, I'd talk my way out of discipline. As we head toward the dungeon stairs, the smell gets stronger. My eyes burn.
Fairy tales aren't forgiving to those who defy their endings. There's fine print, careful choice of virgins and monsters—entire fates, after all, are signed and sealed with a true love's kiss. If Belle wasn't keen on the Beast anymore and wanted to see other people, she'd be reneging on her soulmate, her destiny, and some powerful transformation magic.
The corridor of Potions classrooms glows brightly. We rush toward it, coughing, and the heat scorches the tears from my cheeks. I didn't have enough heart for my prince and too much heart to play villain, and so someone decided I ought to lose it all.
The newsroom is in flames.
As Pickett covers his face with his shirt and pulls out his wand, ready to douse the fire, I am frozen in place, more stunned at the thought of someone setting the room on fire than the loss of it. The hollowness digs into my chest; I didn't think that coldness could come from the heart but it's as if it's shouting at me—as if it always has been but I refused to listen. I grab Pickett's arm.
Witchy Business is a refuge I've clung to. Easy ambition. The last laugh belongs to Potter: I am better than it.
"Let it burn," I say.
A/N I feel like my author notes are a countdown, but HERE IT IS—the last chapter before the epilogue!(!!!) Everything spirals downward and turns on its head as promised, but it's not all sad. Was it always going to come to this point? The newsroom definitely went in flames in every version of the ending. Clemence and Albus being together was 50/50. He lost the coin toss.
Thank you to everyone who has gotten me here and beared through my months of spamming and bothering to get this chapter written over the many months. I hope that regardless of what you were hoping for in this chapter, you find that it's satisfying after the wait and leave a review if you're so inclined, whether it's shouty, happy, ragey or bemused. The epilogue, set a few weeks later, is the last chapter to come.
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