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Someone To Run To (32/32 - Part One)


Chapter Thirty-Two, In Which I Learn the Meaning of Love


 

I knew it was a dream because he was there, though I did not see him at first. It was a party – a birthday, I think, because there was a cake with candles on it. The candles sparkled with green and purple flames while the family called out, "Happy Fifteenth," to a young girl with Severus's nose, my eyes, and pin-straight blonde hair. Maybe it was because of all the people around her, smiling and looking happy, but I felt drawn to the child as she leaned down, pulling her hair back and to one side, and blew out the candles.

"Elle est votre arrière-petite-fille la plus vieille, Alexandria Henriette Acton," the panther spoke, head butting under my hand as I stood there so I'd no choice but to stroke her. She is your oldest great-granddaughter.

I'd already gathered that from the mass of people gathered on the large, open green. In the short distance, I could make out a comfortable-sized house of Elizabethan style. It was the only home near, yet there were easily a hundred people, if not more, gathered. There were faces I recognized – Tonks and Remus, Bill and Fleur, Ari, Sirius, Severus, and so on – but they were, like me, lined with age and more then a little grey. There were others two, faces that, if I looked at hard enough, I could see as Claudia and Henri-Auguste, their visages almost as wizened as my own. Quick mental calculations told me that, if I had great-grandchildren turning fifteen, then I was more or less a hundred. Sirius, Severus, Remus, and Ari more or less a hundred twenty. But I was there too, seventeen and standing, some small distance off, next to Niynhi the panther. It was a confusing thing to contemplate, even in a dream. "Is that so?" My hands wanted to rise - one to my face, stroking the youthful skin there, and the other towards Alexandria Acton, as if to do the same. Great-grandchildren like her and, presumably, at least one of the many children gathered 'round her, meant grandchildren, which in turn meant that my children had had children…

"Sim. Você tem seis crianças por este ponto. Trinta e um netos. Uns número bisnetos bons." Her head gestured towards the dream-me, where I was laughing next to Severus, who looked a little put-out, but not terribly so. He was as white haired as I remembered Dumbledore as being, though he kept it much shorter then the headmaster ever had. Yes. You have six children by this point. Thirty-one grandchildren. A good number of great-grandchildren. I goggled a little even as I suppressed a slight smile – Severus, I noticed, was still wearing black. "Tra i due di lei, lei ha creato una dinastia minore." Between the two of you, you have created a minor dynasty.

Before I could look closer and find my promised unborn children, now grey, or pick out which of the adults there gathered might be one of my – Merlin! – thirty-one grandchildren, now grown and with children of their own from the faces that resembled mine, at the people who proved that I lived, that my family lived, and that Voldemort would, in the end, die, the Niynhi began to draw me away from the lawn and towards the dark and foreboding forest I had not realized ringed this place. "Este futuro se hace más cierto;" she said as she led me quickly through the thickly forested edge and into the clearing I knew so well. Though it had been late afternoon at the party for Alexandria Acton, it was deep of night here. The stars were out and there was a chill in the air. I looked up; the only constellation I could make out was Orion, the hero, arrayed with his belt of stars, "es casi posible que usted tenga éxito en su esfuerzo. Pero..." She did a quick circuit of the vale's edge, leaving me staring upwards at the centre. This future is becoming more certain; it is almost possible you will succeed in your endeavour. But...

I looked towards the feline, no longer surprised to see words or genuine emotion pouring from such an unusual face, at this last. "But?" I echoed. I did not like the sound of it at all. I wanted this future – or, at the very least, one like it. Its opposite was likely to mean my failure.

"Sed… acta diurnal Aenigmae evertisti. Anulus Perevellorum everterit, ac diadema Rowenae atque torquis Salazari erint. Et evertisti poculum Helgae…" I nodded slowly. But… you have destroyed Riddle's diary. The Perevell ring is destroyed, as are Rowena's diadem and Salazar's locket. And you have destroyed Helga's cup… It was true, over the last month-and-a-half three things had happened: first, Claudia-Éléonore turned a year old; next, Tonks gave birth during Easter brunch to my godson, Theodore Remus Lupin, whose hair was already learning to osculate through Tonks's favourite shades of turquoise; and, third, my 'taunting' of Death Eaters at the Siege of St. Mungo's had led to nearly all attacks being ended – except those made on Diagon Ally, which grew more extreme and more frequent in number. Had things been as they were even a year before, I would have called it a scare tactic – terrorists caused the most terror in public places, and there was no Wizarding place so public as Diagon and the other Allies. But this was not a year ago, and my 'taunting' did appear to have succeeded. Feelers had been sent out to the cave and the Gaunt house, or, at least, their general locale: a distinct presence that was not there before and remained now, only watching, doing nothing.

Two nights ago, Severus, Fleur, Bill, and I had raided Gringotts. It was hard, getting the Goblins to let us into the vaults we wanted and, in the end, they only agreed to let us enter the private vaults of the Death Eaters I'd killed myself – because, they said, it was my due for killing them. Bill explained to me later as something along the lines of, "You keep what you kill," when it came to magical powers and wealth (weapons and jewellery returned to the family of the dead, or at least, I think that's what he said; it might have been magic and weapons; I'm not entirely sure). Still, we were lucky. Very lucky. Three hours canvassing Malfoy Sr.'s vault. Two hours in Trixie's – and then, miraculously, that which we were looking for appeared! I was half-tempted to shout to the heavens when my hands were upon the Cup, feeling how cold and how Dark this thing which had once been Hufflepuff's most beloved item, "…then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God…" but, no matter how phenomenal it may have seemed even to I, a witch who could do things with magic that I would not explain with physics, I couldn't help but think that a miracle should have cost fewer lives and left less terror in its wake. We'd been through every other plausible place in the Allies – a miracle would have suited us better then, during the month-and-a-half we spent ruling those places out.

I don't say anything of these things to Niynhi. For all I know, she is an angel come to help me. Or a demon. Or a manifestation of a deluded mind. Or something else. I don't know what. But, whatever it may be keeping me alive – God or gods or luck or random chance – I'm not going to risk pissing anybody or anything off.

Back to the point though, two nights ago we had found it, though Fleur and Bill had no idea what it was we found. Last night we had destroyed it, Severus banishing the greasy black cloud that had poured fourth from its bowl as I sliced the thing clean in two with Gryffindor's Sword. He felt the Darkness and its bitter bite, but swore there was no strange chorus singing baroque classics. All of the Horcruces were destroyed but one, the one that I did not know the identity of… but I was working on that!

The panther continued on, not knowing or caring of my mental digression, "Attamen duas horcruxum restant." I smiled and nodded, prepared to tell her my case, before realizing what it was she'd said: But two Horcruces remain.

"Two!" I sputtered, spinning on Niynhi as if she herself had created another for me to destroy.

"Yes," came a voice from the side, a voice I had heard only in dreams. I quickly turned my head, already knowing the sight as it materialized out of the darkness – a young version of my father, though not much younger then he'd been when he'd died, with my mother's eyes – and, for a moment, forgot all about Horcruces:

He was dressed in school robes and there as a patina of sweat upon him. It could only have been seconds I looked upon him, but it seemed like I held him for hours under my scrutiny in that dark and starlit hollow and, as I did, a picture quickly adumbrated of a young boy who'd experienced the selfsame horrors as I had, who'd seen a Dark Lord rise and cold bodies fall; who'd been dragged into the mess of Horcruces and Hollows and away from the job of filling caretakers' offices with tapioca that a schoolchild should have. It was the look in his eyes, I think, that was so exactly the same as mine, which broke through enough to allow me to believe – though what it was I was believing, I did not immediately know.

Niynhi gave a soft exhalation, which misted silver and grey in the pale light. There, for both of us – Harry and I – to see was a scene we both knew: Dumbledore, tapping one of his silver instruments gently with his wand from Christmas… two, three years ago. From the instrument in the memory that the fog held, several tiny puffs of deep green smoke appeared, writhing and coiling in midair until a snake had formed. Its jaws opened wide, revealing the Darkness beyond its maw, and spat out a second snake, identical to itself, coiling and undulating in the fog-silver air. Above this, slightly out of focus, the headmaster muttered words that made no more sense now then they did then, "Naturally, naturally. But in essence divided?" The fog of her breath faded, and we stood, looking at the panther, me, with a sense of growing confusion; him, with a sense sad inevitability. She then spoke again, "Harry James Potter, however unknowingly, made a deal with Fate: the life of Sirius Orion Black, however begotten. Fate honoured his choice. That deal is why Alexandrie-Margaux Éléonore Henriette Potter exists."

I felt the ground sidle up and embrace every inch of me as the shock rolled in waves over me, my mind trying to make sense of what I'd been told, whatever it meant. Being told that the only reason you exists is because of something or other you don't understand, I would believe, is never pleasant. My mind honestly quite refused to believe it and, without luck, tried to wake me up from this nightmare.

Glumly (his glum tone, with the not-minor consideration that he was male and I was not, was exactly the same as mine), I heard him sit next to me. "They explained it to me, once. I've had a lot of time to think over it while I've been here… wherever here is, why-ever I'm still around. The Sirius of my reality died in the Department of Mysteries, where he only was because I was there, and where I only was because I thought he was there and no one in the Order knew. I did tell Snape," (I remembered too the vitriol with which I'd once said his name, and this was it), "but didn't think he believed me."

The panther took over, nuzzling my side with her head before curling up next to me. "Sirius Orion Black would not have died if you had believed Severus Eteocles Snape believed you. There was no reason for you to believe this as you were; there was too much mutual dislike. For you to believe him, you must not dislike Severus Eteocles Snape as much as you did, and for that to happen, he must not dislike you similarly. He disliked you for your resemblance to your father. It was merely changed that you should look more like your mother instead… so you could like each other more… so you could believe in him… so Sirius Orion Black would live. So it was, so it is, and so it shall be."

A part of my mind was screaming at this impossibility, but another, which recorded all the impossibilities of my life, was halfway to believing. "I… Why can't you just leave me alone?" I decided abruptly to play along. "I don't care if you're me or I'm you or this is something else entirely. You gave up your life, or your chance at mine, or whatever. It's mine. I've not done all I've done and killed and sacrificed and watched people die just so someone else can live my life." I paused, took in a shaking breath, and continued. "I don't know who you really are, but, in my world, Sirius is alive. Severus is happy and things are under control. Hell, I'm happy. I'm married and have children, for Merlin's sake! So just tell me why you brought me here, why you seem to think that there are two more Horcruces left when I've destroyed six of the seven."

Niynhi gave a slight growl, then spoke, as if reiterating a point to Harry, not speaking to me at all: "Destino ha hablado. No cambiamos Tiempo ligeramente. Todos se quedarán como es ahora. Harry James no son más. El mundo es para Alexandrie-Margaux Éléonore Henriette ahora." He sighed. Fate has spoken. We do not change Time lightly. All will stay as it is now. Harry James is no more. The world is for Alexandrie-Margaux Éléonore Henriette now. I too gave a sigh of relief. I knew instinctively that if either had expected me to give up my life, whatever the reason, so someone else could live it, I'd have done everything in my power to keep it from happening. Even if dreams like these rarely ended well… I still wanted to wake up now – especially now – and wake Severus beside me and ask that he hold me or, when I felt stronger, go to the chest that was still locked in my bathroom vanity and pull out the Resurrection Stone and ask Dumbledore, my svengali still, however dead, to explain why my dreams didn't even make sense to me.

"Lei ha diviso le ricordi di Harry James. Alcuni che noi non potevamo fermarci. Altri che lei ha avuto bisogno di riuscire." I looked at her curiously, drawing myself onto my elbow. You have shared Harry James's memories. Some we could not stop. Others you have needed to succeed.

"Mas este aqui precisou de nossa explicação primeiro. Nós precisamos que você acreditasse." But this one needed our explanation first. We needed you to believe.

"I don't want to – just let me go," I begged, looking towards the forest edge and knowing that, if I ran, worse would happen to me then words. "Just let me wake up. If you aren't going to take away my life, just let me wake up."

"Dites-elle." Tell her. "Dites-elle maintenant." Tell her now.

And so he did.

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The windows were dark in the office I'd come to know so well. The sky was clouded sporadically, signalling the coming of spring storms. The faint hooting of owls and chirp of insects could be heard, and, seeming not quite at ease with himself as always, Fawkes could be seen perched in the corner, pretending not to watch studiously. I wondered what had become of Fawkes since Dumbledore's death. Had he found another wizard, Light, to be his companion? Was he disconsolate with his death? Maybe he'd even chosen (if it was possible) to die a final death so as to be with him in whatever afterlife phoenixes believed in… Paracelsus thought he was in Ebeneu, Austria, though why he wouldn't say, and had even attempted to get post owls to take him there, though, needless to say, he'd failed.

Both Severus – not my Severus, but the one who looked older then he should and far more ragged then even that. His Severus, who wasn't his at all – and the firebird sat stalk still. Somewhat compulsively, Dumbledore paced his office while speaking. The fire cast strange shadows on his face as he walked, illuminating him (too) entirely one moment and casting him in deep shadow the next; with each extreme, I could see the man who'd loved Gellert Grindlewald, believing wholeheartedly in anything for the greater good, and the man who'd been forced to capture him. It was the same man who had seen Riddle as a child and the adult he'd become, unable to stop what should not have seemed to inevitable. I could say something about him being the man who'd watched me grow as well, and quote Freud liberally as I say, "No one who, like me, conjures up the most evil of those half-tamed demons that inhabit the human breast, and seeks to wrestle with them, can expect to come through the struggle unscathed," but felt that would be melodramatic. There was already too much melodrama here. I wished to promptly wake up so I could forget this dream… but others, like this one, had been real, and even in dreams I knew that.

The Headmaster spoke. "Harry must not know until the last moment, not until it is necessary, otherwise how could he have the strength to do what must be done?"

"But what must he do?" the man who, in another reality, was my husband asked, a tad bit of impatience creeping in. The same kind of annoyance that had cropped up when Dumbledore started referencing A House at Pooh Corner during our wedding. The memory made me smile and tighten my arms around my chest. She had said the dream was possible, and I might live to see Alexandria Acton's fifteenth birthday – that there might be an Alexandria Acton.

In his tergiversant way, "That is between Harry and me. Now listen closely, Severus. There will be a time – after my death – do not argue, do not interrupt! There will come a time when Lord Voldemort will seem to fear for the life of his snake."

Astonished, "For Nagini?"

"Precisely. If there comes a time when lord Voldemort stops sending that snake forth to do his bidding, but keeps it safe beside him under magical protection, then, I think, it will be safe to tell Harry."

"The snake is the seventh Horcrux?" I asked, but there was no one who could hear me. So I wrapped my arms tighter still and tried to call forth my earlier dream. Six children. Thirty-one grandchildren. A number of great-grandchildren. I had to live. I had to live so I could have four more children (though, I strenuously state, not until the new millennium, or, at the very least, Claudia and Henri-Auguste could talk and feed themselves) and they, in time, could average five point two children each for me to pamper shamelessly and if each of those had two children each… a minor dynasty.

"Tell him what?"

As I was contemplating names for my promised four children, he took a deep breath. I tried very hard not to hear. Julia, I decided for a daughter. Alexandre for my next son. "Tell him that on the night Lord Voldemort tried to kill him, when Lily cast her own life between them as a shield, the Killing Curse rebounded upon Lord Voldemort," (I knew this already; it was the story of my life; let me wake up), "and a fragment of Voldemort's soul was blasted apart from the whole," (breathing became difficult and my pulse loud in my ears), "and latched itself onto the only living soul in that collapsing building." (I was indeed gasping now. If there were, in fact, two Horcruces and this was, in fact, true and not a demented imagining brought about by any range of things I could pay someone to think up for me, then, then…) "Part of Lord Voldemort lives inside of Harry," (and, according to the panther who was, theoretically, my spirit guide or guardian angel or whatever else people believe exist I was, theoretically, not just Harry Potter through some mistake on behalf of a stupid computer, but was, somehow, someway, in another reality the Harry of which they spoke. A he), "and it is that which gives him the power of speech with the snakes," (but Claudia could speak to snakes to, and so, either she'd learned this talent or the sliver of which Dumbledore spoke had travelled from my body into hers and then I must-!), "and a connection with Lord Voldemort's mind that he has never understood." (I understand it alright, old man. A part of Riddle? Inside of me? Just as there was inside of Nagini? Inside the Cup and the Locket and the Diadem and the Ring and the Diary? So, to destroy him, I must-), "And while that fragment of soul, unmissed by Voldemort, remains attached to and protected by Harry, Lord Voldemort cannot die."

I felt cold. Numb. Distant. If this wasn't a dream, I'd say I was having a distinct out of body experience. Everything was coming to me from a long tunnel, their voices strangely soft and echoing; their features fuzzy and indiscernible. A equals B equals C. It was clear, and yet…

"So the boy…" (how could his voice be so calm? Even in this reality he hated me, how could it be so calm?) "the boy must die?"

"And Voldemort himself must do it, Severus. That is essential"

Almost too faint to hear as I felt myself being pulled farther and farther away, my head spinning, "I thought… all these years… that we were protecting him for her. For Lily."

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I wad dead awake in seconds, no sleep or shadows clouding my mind. I was curled on my left side, my right partially sprawled across Severus's bare chest. I wore only a light robe, which was now carelessly hanging open, Auguste curled against my breast, protectively shielded from the outside world. Dimly, in the part of my mind that recognized such human, every day things, I remembered waking to feed him… I must have fallen asleep, as had he. I remembered too Claudia had woken at the noise and insisted on being allowed in our bed, and, yes, there she was, in her blue pyjamas, curled into Severus's other side. One of his arms was wrapped around her; the other was functioning as both my pillow and backrest. The blanket was thrown off us and tangled in our legs. A familiar weight near my ankle was humming heart-rendingly, the other two heads singing softly, "When the dark wood fell before me and all the pathsss were overgrown, when the priestsss of pride say there isss no other way, I tilled the sorrowsss of stone."

"I did not believe because I could not see, though you came to me in the night, when the dawn seemed forever lost. You showed me your love in the light of the starsss."

"Cast your eyesss on the ocean."

"Cast your soul to the sea."

"When the dark night seemsss endlessss, please remember me."

They were all so very warm. But, despite my heart beating fast, fluttering against my chest and pounding in my head, I felt oddly cold. My thoughts, too, were still, stalled on a single inevitability I recognized but could not ready myself for.

I must die.

I must die.

I must die.

Rationally, I acknowledged that I would die. One day. Preferably in my bed, in my sleep, when my hair had gone white and I'd great-grandchildren like Alexandria Acton to carry on to future generations whatever it meant to be me.

But the larger part of me understood at last that I was not supposed to survive. I had cheated death too many times over my short life and now I was supposed to submit myself willingly to Death's debt collection? Was that why Dumbledore had never put up much of a resistance against Severus and me? why he'd agreed to be the pseudo-grandfather of my daughter – simply to let me squeeze as much of living into my short years as I could?

Even now, his betrayal was almost nothing; the anger I'd felt towards him in the beginning for leaving me had vanished as if, at last, every feeling but love and sorrow had disappeared in me for the dead. The Resurrection Stone still sat, blemished up unbroken, in the cabinet below my bathroom sink but never again, even if I lived the rest of the lifetime that should have been promised to me, would I use it. I knew that now. …I'm sick of death. I want life!

No, I'd simply been to childishly foolish to see it, ridiculously blind not to see it before. I had always assumed that, when I saw Dumbledore as a grandfather, he saw me as a grandchild in turn and, like all decent grandparents, wanted me to live. But no. My life had never been in my hands, not when I "vanquished" Voldemort as a child, not when I married Severus, not now – no, it had always been determined by how long it took me to find and destroy all Voldemort's Horcruces. Or, should I say, all his other Horcruces. And I had never questioned it, stupid child that I was! Why should I have felt honoured, privileged and, yes, burdened that he'd chosen only me to share the secret to Voldemort's immortality that he'd found? Since it was so important, he should have had armies on it, not one half-grown witch like me – or, at the very least, told wiser, stronger wizards; ones with fewer Dark leanings or people who'd like to kill me. But no! He'd kept it neat and orderly, risking only the minimum number of lives necessary and even then only those the one doomed already to die, whose death would be a calamity to no one but my family, a blow against Voldemort.

I was a Horcrux. The inadvertent Horcrux.

That could be the title of my biography, when they write it – it is not vanity, just truth. Except no one but Severus would know of Horcruces then… and he must never tell a soul, or risk that another Dark Lord of this calliper will arise. They could call it Shadows of the World or Mirror Cracked from Side to Side or something like – but perhaps that was too morose a take on it.

Morose! I'd dreamed a dream I'd no reason, however much I might like to, to disbelieve. A fragment was broken off the soul when one murdered. Fragments that murderers kept secreted away to keel themselves alive were Horcruces. A fragment had broken off Voldemort's soul the Halloween night he killed my parents. The fragment had attached itself to me. Ergo, I was a Horcrux. The logic was sound.

My throat was dry. Severus's heart pounded out a steady rhythm as I pressed myself more tightly to him. Paracelsus was still humming at the foot of the bed: "Then the mountain rose before me by the deep well of desire, from the fountain of forgivenessss, by the ice and the fire."

"Cast your eyesss on the ocean."

"Cast your soul to the sea."

"When the dark night seemsss endlessss, please remember me."

And still my mind was frozen with the same moribund thoughts. I must destroy Nagini. And then I must, like a good little girl, find Voldemort and let him kill me. An AK for the start of my life, an AK to end it. Symmetrical. Neat. Tidy.

And then someone else could kill the bastard. But Claudia and Auguste would still be motherless. Severus, my darling Severus, would still be a widower. Alone. With no one there who could see past the block that he put up and that would only solidify with my death. My friends and family would still have to go on without me. And Voldemort would be dead, so they could.

My lungs were seizing up, my stomach clenching; my heart racing. Nothing made sense. I knew I could fight it, but knew equally well that I wouldn't. Voldemort would come soon. And he would kill me. My body would decay. It would pass through pallor mortis into algor mortis and all the other mortes until I was no more then my component atoms. And these would feed and be taken up by the grass that would grow above my grave – soft, untamed ghost's breath – long before Claudia or Auguste was old enough for school. And by the time they were old enough to understand why I had had to leave them, this would have happened dozens of times over, the grass dying and feeding more grass and creating more seeds that create new grass that feed whatever it is that makes grass until… My grave will be my grave, and I will be buried there, but I will not remain there. I will live on in the grass and the grass-eaters and all the atoms of my being, which once belonged to other beings, and in the memory of those who loved me, who are so many I still don't quite grasp how it happened.

But I'm still scared. Oh, God, so deaf and dumb and blind! Teach me to be resigned to be an atom! I don't know whether to tell Severus, or Sirius, or anyone. I don't know if I can stand all the seconds and minutes and hours until this inevitable end. I'd been prepared to die if necessary – prepared to loose myself to the Darkness and, inevitably, be killed. But not for this. Not for the knowledge that the only success, the only way to win is for me to die first, without seeing the job won. I like to think I could have handled that kind of death. But no. Neither would live. Neither would survive.

I wanted to live! I wanted with all my heart and mind and body and soul and magic and everything else that could be pledged to live – and not just as the grass of graves! I wanted to be that hundred-year-old woman Niynhi had shown me in a dream. I wanted four more children I could give French and Roman-sounding names, even if not at right this instant or not even soon. I wanted them to have five point two children a piece who'll give them grandchildren of their own, the oldest of which would be named Alexandria Henriette Acton. I wanted to go on teaching, maybe one day become a lawyer like Ari, and become famous for something other then this gruesome war or, preferably, not become famous at all.

But that wasn't a choice, was it? It didn't matter if I was me or Harry or whatnot, Fate said we had to die. No matter how much I wanted to rebel.

Paracelsus was still singing softly his tune, "Though we share this humble path, alone, how fragile isss the heart! Oh to give these clay feet wingsss to fly to touch the face of the starsss!"

"Breathe life into this feeble heart. Lift this mortal veil of fear. Take these crumbled hopesss, etched with tearsss; we'll rise above these earthly caresss."

"Cast your eyesss on the ocean."

"Cast your soul to the sea."

"When the dark night seemsss endlessss, please remember me."

"Please remember me."

Who would care for Paracelsus after I was gone? He was still a baby, only two-and-a-half years old. Claudia was certainly too young for it. Would he go off, as Fawkes apparently had, to Ebeneu, Austria? What would happen to him?

It was Friday. May Day, if I remembered correctly. I knew I should try to sleep. I'd have class in a few hours. But I couldn't waste what little time might remain to me dreaming of other worlds and maddening places: I was too in love with what I had here to risk forgetting them that way.

Chapter Thirty-Two - Part Two