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Gorgeous image by magpie, TDA! Thanks :)

A/N UPDATE: I first published this in 2008, and here we are 8 years later! I am going to go through and edit all of the chapters, and then FINALLY finish it up. I hope you enjoy! 5/12/16

I'm not the kind of girl who keeps secrets. Not really. Which is why it's weird that I have one now, a BIG one, that I've been forbidden to tell anyone. Even my best friend Jackson doesn't know yet.

"Max! Get your butt down here, or you'll be late for the Academy!" Ah, my brother's lovely voice, at six in the morning. Not exactly an ideal wake-up call. I groan, snuggling deeper under the covers, ignoring him as per usual. Sure enough, like he does every morning, he comes stomping up the steps and throws open my door, then the curtains, letting a stream of early-morning light waft into the room. I scowl; I am not a morning person, not even close.

"Can't I sleep another half-hour, at least?" I ask, already knowing the answer. He just gives me a look, the kind of look that scalds, and I sit up in bed, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. "You are so mean. Just because lovely Jessica pays attention to you now, you're all eager to go to school. It isn't normal, Ben. And you know she's only nice to you because of your looks." He just looks at me.

"So?" He shrugs, looking unconcerned. Stupid boys.

"I would care." I assure him, still scowling. He snorts.

"Well, it's not like it's ever happened to you, has it?" He says, laughing, then runs downstairs before I have a chance to beat the snot out of him. Since I'm up, I pull on my school uniform: a wrinkled white blouse, knee-length blue and silver plaid skirt, a navy tie, and matching navy knee socks. I don't bother tying the tie, or pulling up my socks the whole way; who cares any more? It's not like I have anyone to impress at the Washington Academy of Magic for Girls, or as we like to call it, G-WAM.

My brother, Benjamin, goes to our neighboring and rival school, the Washington Academy of Magic for Young Men, otherwise known as the PC (poof central). Nobody actually calls it that, except for the entire G-WAM student body. And some of the staff. It's even been said that PC's principal accidentally used the nickname once, but that could be just a rumor.

We're supposed to wear our hair up every day, in a blue ribbon, so I tie mine up as sloppily as possible. Also, we're not supposed to wear any make-up. Umm,hello, but this is the 20th century, is it not? I smear on some lip-gloss and eye shadow, and head off downstairs, wand tucked safely behind my ear. Ben is in the kitchen, admiring his reflection in a cereal spoon. I roll my eyes, and start humming 'You're so vain,' under my breath. I really do love that song.

"Finally ready, are you?" Ben snaps, obviously embarrassed that I caught him looking at himself in a spoon.

"What's for breakfast?" I ask, ignoring him. He points to the cereal cupboard.

"We have Cheerios, or there's one Poptart left."

"Thanks." I take the Poptart out of it's shiny, metallic wrapper, and pop it into the toaster oven, still humming to myself. Humming drives Ben crazy. I only have to wait a minute before he explodes.

"WILL YOU CUT THAT OUT?" He screams, then storms furiously out of the room, fists clenched at his sides.

"Was it something I said?" I ask aloud. Ahahaha, he is so fun to tease. The toaster oven dings loudly, and I gingerly take out the smoking pastry, careful not to burn myself. The pink icing drips down onto my fingers, and I lick it off. Ya gotta love an American breakfast.

Ben comes back in. This surprises me, since usually it takes him at least ten minutes to cool down. It's been only eight; something must be wrong.

"Did you take your medicine?" He asks, raising his eyebrows at me in that parent-like way he has of doing it. I scowl.

"No, not yet. What's the point, anyway? If I'm going to die, why drag it out, prolong the inevitable? Oh, don't give me that look, it's not like I want to die…" Ben's looking at me, his normally tan skin paled considerably, eyebrows furrowed.

"You're not going to die! I won't let you!" he states; it sounds childish, the way he says it. I can hear the despair in his voice.

"You know you can't promise that, Benny. I know it's not fair, for you to be left alone here when I'm gone, but I don't exactly feel like I'm getting the best end of the deal either." I'm trying to make a joke, but this just seems to distress him further. It's been awhile since we've had this conversation; we usually just carry on, bickering with each other, ignoring my Little Problem. The real dilemma is, my Little Problem isn't so Little any more.

Here's the deal, where my Big Secret comes in (eventually): my parents are both dead. That's not the secret; everyone knows it. They died from a very rare lung infection, both of them, and somehow I have it now. The doctors are as stumped as we are, as my parents were before they kicked the bucket. Ben's chances of getting it are fairly good, since the rest of our family has, but he's two years older than me and still healthy as ever, so hopefully he's safe.

The secret is how far it's progressed: very far, in a very short amount of time. Too many 'verys' for my liking. Most of the time I'm normal, but when I get really upset, or surprised, or even exercise for too long, my lungs basically stop working. Instead of expanding like they're supposed to, they sort of deflate, squeezing the air out of me, and I can't breathe. It pretty much sucks, actually. It's only happened four times to me, thanks to the medication I'm on, but I grew up listening to both my parents wheezing and gasping for breaths, faces constantly twisted in agony, so it feels like I've had it a lot worse than I actually have.

Ben is saving up money to send him and me to England, where a doctor says he has a surgery he can perform on me that could help me live longer. It's crazy expensive; luckily, our parents left us everything, so we're not that bad off. Plus, we can Apparate. Of course, Apparating that far is terribly dangerous (plus it kills my lungs), so we'll be flying via airplane.

"Well, just make sure to take it before we leave. I don't want any accidents." Ben acts all big and tough, but really he's just a softy. After finishing my Poptart I make sure to give him a big hug. He groans, then finally hugs me back, a bit. "I love you, Maxi-Pad, a lot. Don't leave me."

"Never." I whisper, smiling. "Although, if you call me Maxi-Pad one more time, I'd be more concerned for your safety than for mine, mister." And then I pull away, grab my backpack, my medicine bottles, and my wand from behind my ear, and Apparate to G-WAM's front gates. As always, Apparating hurts a bit; my chest squeezes in complaint of the stress, and I have to let out a few big coughs before it goes back to normal again. Well, as normal as it can get, under the circumstances.

"Hey, Max! Long time no see!" Jackson, my best friend in the whole wide world, comes up behind me, wrapping his hands around my waist in a hug. "What've you been up to?"

"In the twelve hours since I saw you last? Not much, sadly. You?"

"Ditto. You take your medicine yet?"

"Geez, what is it with you boys and your bossiness? No, I did not take my medicine yet if you must know." Like I said, Jack knows about my Little Problem, just not how far it's progressed by now. "I'll take it later."

"Uh-uh. Take it now, so you don't forget. Do you need some water for after?" he offers me his half-empty water bottle, and I snort.

"Please. Honestly, you'd think I was helpless." I pull out a small clear bottle filled with a light orange, fizzy liquid.

"I can never get over how much it looks like orange pop." Jack grins, teasing. I down the gross stuff in two swallows, trying not to taste it.

"Yeah, tastes like it too." I lie, rolling my eyes. Honestly, why the hell would anybody make a potion that tastes like radioactive waste? I take out the clear liquid next; this one is harder to drink; it's thick and very concentrated, like syrup.
"Ick, that is soo disgusting. Gimme that water." I snatch his water from him, guzzling it down with too much enthusiasm. It goes down the wrong way, and makes me cough. Dammit!

"Woah, slow down there. You okay?"

"Peachy. Thanks for asking." I say between coughs. It takes me another five minutes to calm down, and by then we're really close to being late for our classes. Jackson is a teacher at my school, odd as it sounds. He teaches P.E. He's only actually a couple years older than me, really, but he got the job because he's so badass on the soccer field. He was on PC's A-team for six out of the seven years he went there. That's one thing I really like about these schools: they offer muggle sports, as well as magical ones like Quidditch. I myself am not aloud to play any sports because of my lungs, even though I desperately want to. Before M.L.P came along, I played soccer (striker), volleyball (captain), and Quidditch (keeper). Now, I'm so inactive you could probably compare me to a floating log. Or my brother.

Oh, Benny has potential, all right. He could play any sport he wanted to, that's how athletic he is. Except, he has this ridiculous notion that my feelings would get hurt if he could play and I couldn't, so he quit.

"All better?" Jackson asks, concerned. I nod.

"Thanks. Shouldn't you be in class?"

"Damn!" and off he sprints, waving, into the gym area. To some our relationship seems weird, but the other teachers have learned to deal with it. After all, we've been best friends since I was in diapers. You can't just stop that kind of thing. Ben…well, his and Jack's relationship is a bit less happy-go-lucky. Good ol' Benjamin seems to think Jackson is "using me." Whatever. I think he's just jealous, since Jack's so popular.

"Hey, DeVough! Get your ass up here and into class, before you get detention!" Ah, my favoritist teacher, Mr. Claire.

"Hi, Mr. C. Good summer? How's the hubby?"

"Mind your own business! And for the love of all that is holy, please get inside, before I'm forced to mark you down."

Oh, and here's the bell. I am o-ficially tardy. Teehee. I'm such a rebel.

"Ten points off, for being tardy the first day."

"What? That brings me down to a frickin' M, you frickin'—I mean, you teacher, you…" he's glaring at me. Stupid fat old wind-bag.

So here's the grading rubric our school uses. At the beginning of the marking period (we have four) each student starts out with one hundred points. Now I've got frickin' ninety.

91-100: Outstanding (O)
81-90: Moderate (M)
71-80: Basic (B)
61-70: Below Basic (BB)
60-below: Say Goodbye to G-WAM Kid, Yer Outta Here (S)

I haven't even entered the blasted building yet, and I'm already a grade lower than I was two seconds ago. This sucks. On the bright side, at least I don't have to see Mr. Claire again this year—he only teaches the under-sixth years. Mr. Donolly teacher the sixth and seventh years; I hear he's a blast.

I already know my schedule by heart:

7:30-7:50 Homeroom (HR) Mr. Landis
8:00-8:45 Transfiguration Mrs. Maloney
8:55-9:40 History Mr. Donolly
9:50-10:35 Free Period
10:45-11:30 Gym Mr. Davis
11:40-12:25 Lunch
12:35-1:20 Potions Ms. Beasley
1:30-2:15 Charms Mr. Walsh
2:25-3:10 Art/Music Mrs. Hoover
3:15 Dismissal

From school I go straight home, take my medicine, and practice violin for an hour or so. The rest of the day is free-time.

I slide into Transfiguration five minutes late (I always skip HR, as a general rule) and take my seat at the front of the classroom.

"Before you go ballistic on me, I already got docked ten points by Mr. Claire, sooo…yeah, you really don't need to go to all of the trouble."

"I'm going to have to dock you two points, for skipping homeroom today, Maxine." Mrs. Maloney says, looking evil and cowish, like usual.

"What the flip! I already told you, I'm at a flippin' M! Have some compassion, woman!"

"Watch your tongue, Ms. Devough! Now, class, if you could kindly continue reading where you left off, on page 21…"

Blahhh, blahh….like I don't already know this stuff anyway. I'm the Queen of Transfig, hands down. Mrs. Maloney knows it, too.

Instead of reading the book we're assigned, I look out the window, watching the PE class do their thang. First up in the school year is always soccer, then basketball, then tennis and volleyball, and finally Quidditch. We have a Quidditch team that practices all year 'round, of course, but as a school we're required to take it in the spring, no matter what. Unless you're me and have an MLP, in which case, sucks for you.

Jack is leading drills; I watch as everyone sprints up and down the field, dribbling in and out of cones; I watch as Danny Lyons, the GORGEOUS and very talented Quidditch and soccer captain, flexes those golden, sweaty, sexy-looking muscles—

"—Which would be what, Ms. DeVough?"

"Sexy—I mean, um, what? Hold on..." Mallory Jacobs is trying to mouth the answer to me from across the room, but I can't quite read her lips. "What I meant to say is, to do it you've gotta…whoa, that is inappropriate, Mallory!" Everyone turns to look at her. She shrugs, grinning.

"I just said 'you've gotta really flick it hard.'" She flicks her wand in demonstration. "It's not my fault if she can't read lips."

Everyone starts laughing; the teacher scowls. "A point from each of you; Ms. Jacobs, keep your lips to yourself, and Ms. DeVough, please refrain from drooling over the soccer team and pay attention." At this every single eye in the room turns towards the windows, taking in the wonderful sight that is shirts-versus-skins. Nice goin', real smooth there Missus M. Wow, he is fine!

The rest of the class passes in much of the same manner. And then, when class is almost over, Danny Lyons, the Danny Lyons, looks over at me, and waves. Yes, waves. I grin, blowing him a kiss when he turns his back again. But—oh, shit, I think Jack saw me…now, knowing my luck he probably thinks I have a thing for him, which I totally don't! Frick on a stick, my timing sucks. Jack gives me a weird look, and then a slow grin spreads across his face.

And then, the bell rings, and he winks and turns away, to lead his class inside.

Crap. I think I'm in trouble.


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