It's very hard for me to sit down and write an accurate response to this chapter (and the chapter before it, really, because I read them as one without intentionally meaning to). It's extraordinarily difficult to focus on this, the culmination of this story, of all stories, without referring back to the other thirty chapters that have come before it. And so once again, I hope you can prepare yourself for a thoroughly poor but well-meaning review in which I tell you things you already know, point out things I've already pointed out, and get all emotional over things that no normal person would get all wobbly at. ♥
You have a gift for plots like nobody I've ever seen before, ever. And I don't want that sentence to be dulled just because I keep repeating it and making green-envy Skype faces at it. I don't even know how to tell you with any degree of accuracy how completely blown away by even just the idea of this story, much less how brilliantly you've executed it. You've seriously got every single genre encompassed in this story in some way, mystery and romance and humor, and it takes a seriously skilled writer to master (yes, master) even one of those sub-categories. And one of the best things that is that each of these is almost inextricable from the other, too. James and Lily are just as much a part of the Duel's mystery as they are an embodiment of the romance part of it; Regulus's humor is accompanied by a slight bit of angst in his scene with Sirius. You can write an entire chapter about Snape brooding, and turn right around and write a game of Quidbumps. Do you know how rare of a gift that is?! And don't even get me STARTED on how creative the Duel rounds are. The ship, capture the flag, Twisted Towers... They're so different, and yet they work so well together, and it's so fantastic. It's just so fantastic.
But not only can you write an incredibly complex plot that has made me laugh and cry and cringe in thirty-one chapters; it's the characters you've infused your plot with that make it what it is. And never, not once, have I seen an author who could so accurately portray J.K. Rowling's characters. You've got the perfect balance of canon-correctness measured in with your own interpretations, and it's given these characters life -- an ironic thing for an afterlife story, but nonetheless true, in spite of all of that. Tonks and Remus were two of the best, and it's for a reason I've pointed out where they're concerned before, but their relationship and attitudes are so real. You have made me consider that pairing in lights I've never seen it in before, and that's truly commendable. And I've not read a more canonically fantastic Cedric anywhere (and trust me, I've looked!). Your Snape is just to die for, with all his complexities and emotions; your Fred is fantastically funny, at precisely the times I'd expect him to be; your Peter is appropriately pathetic, and still there is something redeeming about him. I am sold on your characters, and they do feel like yours.
Look at all this rambling I'm doing. Holy cow, you reduce me to so many puddles. And I've still got more to go!
Your imagery is probably one of my very, very favorite things about your writing; realism aside, it is my very favorite thing about fan fiction. And one of the best things is that in this particular story, you're not working inside Hogwarts. No one can come into the book knowing what the setting is like, even if only in their own head, and you were tasked with the creating of an entire world, and you nailed it. Never, not once, did I have any trouble seeing exactly what you were describing, and with such gorgeous words, too. You don't write any setting halfway: You inject it into us, your readers, imbibe us with it, and make us believe it exists. If I had only a limited knowledge of Harry Potter, and was told that Cliodna's Clock really was a place (though, as you've shown us, certainly not the place) where witches and wizards go after death, and showed me examples -- I'd believe it. That is how absolutely real Cliodna's Clock is to me.
This is a story that's transcended fan fiction. It's not just any other story anymore; it's not even just any other Toujours Padfoot story, which (in my only slightly biased opinion) set the bar for quality high at its onset. It's become something bigger, something more dynamic, and I am so, so glad that I got to have some part, however minute, in watching it grow. You've brought magic back into a site of stories that have sorely, sorely needed it. Because this isn't just another Harry Potter-inspired story, you know? You've created something so... new, and fresh, and vivid. I'm running out of words. Yes, at its core, it's still a fan fiction novel, but it is so, so much more than that at the same time.
You said that I'm one of the most invaluable people in your life, and your proverbial rock (and I might have teared up a little bit at that, but it's cool), but you just need to know that the feelings are reciprocated. ♥ You are a huge inspiration to me, and you read even more of my writing, and are my biggest supporter, and so thank you so much for that.
This is a fantastic story. And 'fantastic' doesn't even come close to covering the scope of it, Sarah. It really, really doesn't. I am so proud of this story because I know it came from a genuine author, from a genuine place. And you should be proud of it, too, because look at it. Look at what you've done!! Thank you for sharing this with us; the fan fiction community needed this in a way it's never needed anything else. They're sappy, those words, but they're also true. You've accomplished something great here.
I love you, and am so, so proud of you -- you're going to so many great places, and I feel really, really honored to know you. :) I absolutely cannot wait to see where your writing takes you next!
Author's Response: I DON'T KNOW HOW TO RESPOND TO THIS.
I am so, so lucky to have you for support. I know we've said this many times, but I genuinely feel sorry for the other people on this site that don't have the support we unconditionally give each other. You've made me a better writer; you create self-fulfilling prophecies. You tell me that my plots are good and in turn, I want to dredge up a plot that will knock your socks off. I remember (and you might, too) discussing the dueling with you before I wrote any of the rounds. They were going to be pretty much like average duels - incorporating the elements, like one with fire, one with water, one in the air, etc. The one in the air got me thinking of Quidditch (and later, Quidbumps), and the 'earth' one spawned Capture the Flag and the trees and wilderness. All of this because I could unleash a half-baked story on you in skype and make you listen to me talk about it, to define ideas. Your input made this story what it is.
If you hadn't been involved with this story, giving me ideas with your reviews and off-the-cuff comments, I can't even imagine how dull Run would be. There would have been MUCH less James (I only got interested in him after reading him in Sneth, to be honest). There would have been a lot less Severus, who I liked to include just for you. Cedric would have been demoted back to his original position as the boy who showed Fred and Colin around, back when this was still pub!fic. He wouldn't have evolved from that. And there are so many other things, other facets, and I can't even imagine all the individual ways you were involved in the planning and plotting of this because you were involved all the way through, unconsciously or not.
So I just want to thank you. Because if not for you, James wouldn't have been in the Devil's Duel, and the Devil's Duel would have been boring, and there would have been less Cedric and therefore less bromance with Colin/Fred/Regulus, and Rowena wouldn't have sat on that brick wall with Severus just because in my head I can't stop picturing Katie McGrath for her, and Beth by extension. So he wouldn't have gotten that much-deserved beginning after a long, painful life of being underestimated, misjudged, unloved, you name it. Thank you for being so nice and telling other people on the forums about this story and always letting me talk about plotty things when I needed to and for faithfully reviewing all the way through.
I'm sorry this isn't a paragraph-by-paragraph response to the stuff you said, addressing that, but I needed to say it somewhere and review responses are a good place for dumping my appreciation onto you. ♥ I wouldn't have worked half as hard to make this story readable if I didn't have you cheering me on; in fact, it wouldn't have been written at all. I distinctly remember wanting to write pub!fic because of your love for Cedric. So there you have it.
LOOK AT THE INFLUENCE YOU'VE GOT. ♥ I love you and I'm going to shut up now, but thank you endlessly and always for being such a supportive, wonderful friend. ♥