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M.A.R.Y.S.U.E. Must Die? [+podfic]

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If it had not been for the passion they shared, Maggie Lewis and Madeleine Yaxley would probably not have been friends. Maggie was only a lowly third year. Madeleine regarded the girl and her giggly Ravenclaw friends as little more than children, while she saw herself, at 16, as a sophisticated young woman. She never gave Maggie a second thought until one day towards the end of the school year.

It was a warm and sunny afternoon in early April. The school had emptied for the Easter holiday, but a few students, including Madeleine, had opted to stay at Hogwarts over the break. Madeleine's mother was off touring Morocco with her latest paramour, and Madeleine could not see the sense in packing up all her things just to go home and spend the holiday by herself. So it happened that on that fateful afternoon, she was lounging by the lake, her cloak spread out on the grass beneath her, turning the pages of a book.

So engrossed was she in her reading that she might not have noticed the other girl if her shadow had not fallen across the page.

Madeleine looked up, annoyed. "What do you want?"

The auburn-haired girl did not take the hint, but instead flopped down on the grass beside her. "Is that the new Freya Lovelace?" she asked.

A blush stained Madeleine's cheeks, and she quickly turned the book face down. "No."

"It is, isn't it?" Maggie seemed utterly delighted by her discovery. "May I see it? I haven't read it yet."

Reluctantly, Madeleine handed the book over. The cover showed a woman in a pink shirt and blue denim trousers swooning in the embrace of a shirtless, muscular man wearing a tool belt, as they sprawled across the bonnet of an automobile. Madeleine's blush deepened.

Maggie chattered away happily. "None of my friends read these," she said. "I can't believe you do! I mean, they're about Muggles, and you're --" Maggie broke off suddenly, and it was her turn to blush.

"They're just stories," Madeleine said tartly. "It's not as if they're real Muggles."

Maggie raised her eyebrows. "I bet your parents don't feel that way."

Madeleine sighed, resigning herself to conversation. "I'm not allowed to read them at home. What about your parents?"

Maggie rolled her eyes. "My mum read one. Electric Nights, I think. She said it was silly but probably harmless."

"They're not silly," retorted Madeleine. "She's a really good writer. She's a pure-blood, but she knows all about Muggles."

Maggie nodded. "I heard that she spent a year living as a Muggle, for research. Do you think it's true?"(1)

Madeleine shrugged. "I don't know. It sounds horrible. Have you read her first series? The 'Sphinx's Riddle' books? There's not a single Muggle in them, and they're brilliant.(2) Those were the first ones I read. I wish she'd get back to writing proper characters again."

"There's nothing wrong with Muggles," Maggie frowned. "They're just people who can't do magic. It's not their fault."

"They're annoying." Madeleine wrinkled her nose. "They're everywhere, and we have to keep our magic secret from them. It’s not fair. Why do you care about them?"

Maggie lowered her eyes. "My grandfather was Muggleborn. He was a good man and a good wizard. I'm not ashamed of him."

"Sorry if I offended you,” said Madeleine, though she didn't sound it.(3)

"If you hate Muggles, why are you reading this?" Maggie asked, flipping pages to avoid meeting the other girl's eyes for a few moments.

Madeleine made a face. "I really like her writing. It's hard to find anyone else who writes half as well."(4)

"Not to mention her love scenes are always really steamy," Maggie teased with a sly grin.

Madeleine tilted her head in acknowledgement. "There's that. But they're not very realistic. Sex is a lot -- stickier than it is in her books."

Maggie's head snapped up and her eyes went round. "Louisa said you'd -- but I wasn't sure if it was true."

Madeleine shrugged. "Once or twice," she said, as if she considered sex no big deal.

"Who was it with?" Maggie asked in a hushed voice.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" Madeleine almost smiled. She enjoyed the younger girl's awe. "I bet you've thought about it at least. I heard about the love potion fiasco, when you almost poisoned Lupin."

Maggie blushed. "I just really like him. He doesn't even know I'm alive, though," she sighed, turning back to the book in her hands. "Sometimes I wish I was more like the girls in these. They always get the tasty blokes."

"I know one thing you could try," said Madeleine.

Maggie looked puzzled. "What's that?"

"Write your own. Then you could get whatever boy you wanted. And do whatever you wanted with him," she added wickedly.

Maggie stared thoughtfully at the book's shiny cover. "Maybe. But I'd hardly know what to write. I mean, for -- you know -- love scenes and the rest."

"Oh, that's no trouble," Madeleine assured her. "I can tell you anything you want to know."

Maggie still looked sceptical. "You really think you could do a better love scene than Freya Lovelace?"

"Why not?" said Madeleine airily. "I know I could out-write you any day."

And so a kind of friendship began, in spite of their differences. Over the next fortnight, the girls shared ideas, stories, and not a few giggles. Warm days found them down by the lake, reading aloud to one another from the previous night's efforts, and occasionally rolling on the grass in helpless mirth. All the "what ifs" of their favourite books, which each had long pondered privately, became pages and pages of feverish scrawl upon parchment which well-meaning parents had intended for classroom notes and essays. Under the loving and imaginative guidance of Maggie and Madeleine, relatively minor characters took on lives of their own, and the leading men and women made choices that would have caused even Freya Lovelace to blush. They also wrote new characters, with their own features and mannerisms, to interact with the characters on the page, and made the bold young heroes fall in love with them.(5)

The other students returned, lessons resumed, and Madeleine might have chosen to pretend that the Ravenclaw girl was beneath her notice once more, but Maggie would not let her. She pestered Madeleine with questions and slipped notes to her containing new plot ideas, until the Slytherin girl gave in. Madeleine was brimming with ideas of her own, and there was no one else with whom she could share them. None of her Housemates would ever have understood.

When summer came, the girls exchanged addresses before parting at King's Cross Station. They exhausted their owls, sending pages of notes and stories back and forth almost daily, and Maggie spent half of the month of August with Madeleine and her mother while her own parents were away on holiday.

Maggie was convinced that their friendship would last forever, and Madeleine was beginning to learn that there might be more to life than blood purity, Slytherin pride, and boys. Little did they know that something was headed towards Hogwarts which would sunder their newfound bond forever.


FOOTNOTES:

1. Research is important to any good story. Inaccuracies in the text can take a reader right out of the story, and spoil the mood. When writing Harry Potter fanfic, it's a good idea to keep the Harry Potter Lexicon and Wiki open in your browser, to check details concerning timeline, spells, and character background.

2. Madeleine would prefer her stories to have no Muggles in them because she is prejudiced against Muggles. This is not just snobbish; it is bigoted. As you're writing your stories, think about representation. If most or all of your characters are white, straight, male, financially secure, cisgender, able bodied, and/or neurotypical, you can be doing a great disservice to your readers, few of whom possess all -- or very many -- of those traits. People like to see themselves when they read stories, especially people who are not used to seeing people like them represented in stories. Being unable to find characters who look like oneself or share important aspects of one's life can make one feel invisible and unimportant.

3. If any of your characters act racist, sexist, homophobic, or exhibit any other kind of prejudice, make sure other characters call them out on it. If you don't, at best your readers will think you condone such behaviour. At worst, they'll think it's an acceptable way to act. Conversely, if a member of an oppressed group calls you out for something in your story, be an adult about it. Listen to their criticism, try to understand why they are hurt, and apologise. You don't know everything there is to know about the experiences of different races, genders, sexualities, etc. A proper apology should include: saying you are sorry for hurting the person, explaining that you understand (or are trying to) why they are hurt, offering to change the hurtful thing in your story, and promising to try never to repeat the mistake. Getting defensive will not take away the person's hurt, and will make you look petty and unwilling to examine your own prejudices. Everyone has unconscious prejudices. Having them does not make you a bad person. It's a willingness to examine them and change one's thinking that makes a good person. Learn and grow. Even so, a hurt person might not accept your apology. They don't have to, and you can't make them. Don't get angry; just accept it and try to do better next time.

4. Writing style is as important as plot if you want to keep people reading. The better you get at character development and the basics of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, the more positive feedback you are likely to get. The best way to become a good writer is to stick to it! Use your computer's spellcheck, and find yourself a good beta reader if you can. There are lots of people in the Harry Potter fandom willing to look over other people's stories. Choose someone whose work you enjoy, and whose writing style is clean and free of typos. Don't expect your first stories to be perfect, and don't be afraid to post them if they're not. Be open to constructive criticism from your readers, and willing to fix errors.

5. Authorial avatars, or self-insert characters (characters meant to resemble the author of the story) are a common feature of fanfic. There is nothing wrong with them, and they can be a lot of fun, but they can also mark your story as the work of a less experienced writer. If you are writing primarily for yourself and your friends, go wild. Rock that MarySue! But if you're hoping to gain a wide readership, it can be a good idea to reign in those impulses a little. Maggie Lewis is my self-insert character. Sort of.