They stopped in a town that night, a tiny little hamlet nestled off a main road frequented by Muggles and wizards alike. No one seemed to notice them, though they were odd enough, Salazar in clothes heading toward the ragged side and Helga still wrapped in her finest yellow silk robes. She had grabbed a broomstick on the way out of the castle for a quick flight; she hadn't expected that to hit her as inspiration, but Salazar had shown no emotion in the way of anger. Rather, he seemed pleased, even by the one look they got as she dragged the broom with her into a small, dim-lit inn. He had insisted they stop, the one word he had spoken since they had left Hogwarts.

He pulled a seat from a rickety wooden table made of roughly-cut logs and offered it to her. She sat down and immediately felt like the thing would go up in smoke. Her heart was racing so fast she thought she would choke on her own blood. But she grasped the edge of the table, breathing deeply, as Salazar sat down across from her. The dining room wasn't near full, only a few local men and travelers that barely cast them a glance. She paid them little more courtesy, though there was interest about this. Where else would one spy a Muggle farmer talking to a full-blooded goblin about things as trivial as the weather and dragons? "Peaceful," she muttered.

Salazar nodded stiffly. He was pale, she noticed, almost to the point of illness. She really hadn't noticed that before. She hadn't noticed much of anything, just that look in his eye and the sudden desire to follow him anywhere, anywhere at all as long as it wasn't in that damned castle.

But she couldn't just abandon the school.

"Few villages like this remain," Salazar continued. His gaze had left her and traveled to the farmer and the goblin. "This is a prized rarity, and I doubt these people even realize it. They are walking and breathing through what is already legend."

"Did Muggles and our kind ever get along?" Helga asked. She stared down at the table top, imagining the twisting grains into a shattered mirror of different objects. She felt dizzy, as if she had just fell from the sky.

He shrugged. "I don't really know. It just happened. Magic just began to fade."

"One of the reasons for opening up the school."

"Yes. And the witch burnings. One Muggle might not mind, but people... put people in mobs and they'll be afraid of anything. No wonder some of us wanted to retaliate."

"Surely everything can't be that bad that others have to die."

"People will do anything to fight what they are afraid of."

Afraid. Yes, he was right. The same thing he was doing. She pulled her eyes from the table and stared at him until he could possibly have no choice but to look back at her. For a moment she wasn't sure of what she wanted to say--he looked so much older than she remembered. "Isn't that what you're doing?"

He stared back at her, face expressionless. A pair of obvious travelers laughed over some joke in their corner. "What else am I supposed to do, Helga?"

"Are you supposed to do anything?"

For the first time that day he smiled, and she saw the glimmer of the mischievous brat he used to be. "Philosophizing with me, are you now?"

"I've never done so before." The smile was contagious. "All I am saying is that you are willing to kill an innocent infant over something you're afraid of."

"Helga, you don't even know what you're talking about. You're innocent. You're perfect. You've never done anything wrong until tonight."

Wrong. She liked the way that sounded. Like a gong being struck with ten thousand echoes. Her smile grew. "You think it was wrong of me to runaway with you?"

"You make it sound like we're eloping."

"Maybe we are. If I loved you like I should love someone, why wouldn't I elope with you?"

He went so far as to laugh. "Helga, tell me, why did you do it?"

The question she had been asking herself all day that had failed to give up any answer. She sighed, breath coming out from every inch of her body. "I don't know, Salazar. I have no idea why I came with you."

"Surely you must have some idea."

She shook her head. "I really don't know. We were all there, you were leaving, and suddenly something inside me screamed that I should just leave. And you were leaving, so what was wrong with leaving with you? It was an opportunity I knew I couldn't miss. Have you ever felt like that before? Felt that you were so bored and so trapped that all you wanted to do was run screaming off a cliff and fly all the way down, not caring if you crashed or not, just because you had never done so before. Freedom. Only once have I ever felt as free as I did when I left with you. Perhaps it will prove foolish of me, and maybe someday I'll wind up running back to Hogwarts. I don't know why I did it, but I did and I still don't regret it. Maybe in a few hours. But not now."

"I've never known you to be so poetic before."

She met his eyes again, trying to think of what to say next. The words were just tumbling out, they didn't need any plans. That day her mind had left her and her spirit was flying thoughtlessly. And, somehow, she knew he felt the same way. She recognized that look in his eye. "Why did you let me come with you?"

He shrugged. "You wanted to. And you're my friend."

Friend. What a word to hear. She smiled. "As you are mine, Salazar. You are my friend, and there is nothing left at Hogwarts for me."

"Nothing? You have students. You're home is there. You have friends. Rowena, Godric..."

She shook her head, cutting him off. "No. Not anymore."

He tilted his head, expression now studious. "They're no longer your friends."

"One doesn't leave friends that easily. At least, I don't. But I can't stay there when they are with each other. Not right now."

"But you were there with them."

"And now I realize that I don't want to be. They're in love, Sal. Love. The one thing I hoped would never happen happened, and they love each other. They have a daughter. And I just realized today that I can't watch that anymore. What about you? You love Rowena."

He nodded. "I still do. I will always love her."

"Then you know how I feel."

For a long time he said nothing. Helga watched him, not with patience as she didn't know what she was waiting for. She was merely watching. And then he spoke. "Helga, I know exactly how you feel. And not just about Rowe and Ricky. Everything else you said, I understand completely."

The look in his eyes. "What did I say?"

"If I find Tanith, if I ever do, I really don't know if I could kill her."

She didn't expect the relief that came. She hadn't realized she had been worried about such a thing. But it came, as if every light in that damn tavern melted and flowed right into her. Strange the things that could reveal a murdering girl like herself to sympathy. "But you said you had to, that you had no other choice."

"I'll always have a choice."

"I know. Salazar, you're not a murderer. If you were, maybe you'd be pleased, and maybe you wouldn't."

He smiled at her, something rather knowing. "You sound like you are well acquainted with such things."

So the subject had finally come up. Well, why not? "That is because I murdered my father?" Now what would come? The shock? The accusation? The horror that someone so sweet could do something so terrible? She found herself relishing the anticipation. This is what she was living for.

And the shock was there, some. A widening of his eyes and a curl at his lips. "Helga? You?"

She nodded. Oh, no, she was actually smiling. "I had never told anyone that before?"

"And you had a reason to?"

"Of course I had a reason."

He leaned forward, watching her as if she were the most fascinating person he had ever seen. It was rather a nice feeling. "Helga. The angel. A killer."

She nodded again, defiant. She wanted to grab the broomstick again and fly off into the sky. She felt she could do that without the broom.

"Did you enjoy it?"

She leaned back, gaze locked with his. "Would you hate me if I said I did?"

He hesitated, than shook his head. "Secrets, Helga. It's incredible. The secrets people hold."

"And now I have shared my secret with you."

He took her hand and squeezed it. Now this was looking like a lovers' tryst. "And I thank-you for that. Maybe we are kindred spirits."

"When you say 'kindred' do you mean you would really kill your child?"

Salazar let go of her hand and leaned back into his chair. A young couple entered the room, chattering noisily to one another. The room was filling with the late crowd and would soon no longer be a place for secrets. "I don't know. But I don't think I would."

"But you were so adamant at the school today."

"Emotions. People feel things. People get angry. You can almost understand how everyone feels. The Fighters. Others in the Order. The Muggles. You can almost sympathize. Empathize. Perhaps it would be simply be easier if we just kept Muggles and our kind apart. I was so hurt and angry when I found out what Tanith had done. I felt betrayed. And then I felt it was my fault. After all I did, leaving Rowena, just because of the words of a damn prophecy. And now I just feel weak. Foolish. What am I supposed to do?"

She shook her head. She didn't know, either. "I guess we just do what we can."

"Mm." He drummed his fingers on the table, one finger followed by the other. "Maybe I'm just hunting Tanith for the thrill of it."

"That's something I can understand."

"I've done nothing good for this school. I just wish I could, someday."

Helga leaned over the table and planted a kiss on his cheek. There was stubble there, he needed a shave. He was a good person. "Just keep on planning that. You'll get there. You'll do something great, I just know it."

"You can't possibly know such a thing," Salazar said.

"Who says I can't hope for it? So, now that we are here, what is our next step, if you really don't intend on searching out and killing Tanith?"

"I don't think I ever thought that far ahead. I was mad." He grimaced. "And now I have drug you out this far with no plans whatsoever. Are you hungry? Will you kill me?"

She appreciated the joke. "I have no reason to kill you. I don' t mind. I didn't have any plans, either."

"So you won't return to Hogwarts?"

She shrugged. It didn't sound like a bad idea, but then again, right now she wouldn't say no to anything. Only one glimmer of pain radiated from thought of the school. "Ricky."

"So you have a broken heart. Welcome to my world. You're stronger than that. You're Helga Hufflepuff. Someday, you'll find someone and you'll love him and marry him."

Now that was a happy thought, somehow well suited to this moment. "Maybe. I just happen to fall in love with all the wrong men. I'm an unfortunate woman."

He smiled, the warmest, truest, of the night. "I'm sure you'll meet him."

She smiled back. "I hope so."

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

The world was unreal. Godric walked through the lessons as a zombie, immune to all thought and word that came from anywhere but Rowena or his own mind. Something had happened to him, the moment Helga and Salazar had ran from view. He wasn't sure what it was, but it hurt like hell and gnawed at his soul. Rowena seemed to feel the same way. He passed her on occasion, and felt vividly everything that struck at her.

The glances they exchanged said the same unspoken words. And it had only been a single day. He wasn't sure whom he really missed the most; was he supposed to miss best the woman he had once loved or his best friend, his brother? He finally decided that it was both of them he missed, or that perhaps what hurt was what they had done to him. He still saw Salazar's face in his mind, his pleas for help. Godric even felt angry when he thought of that; what right did Salazar have to demand anything that required someone's death? No one had that right, no matter what had been done. There had been too much death already, and he for one was sick of it. He also saw Helga, long blonde hair flying behind her as he ran. What surprised him was that he didn't feel what he thought he should be feeling.

But the truth was stark, hard, and evident right in front of them. Two of the school's founders were gone. All that was left was Rowena and himself.

He ended a lesson, hardly knowing what he taught even as he taught it, and marched from the room, leaving the students to wonder just what they were supposed to do. Dismissed. They knew the meaning. The school had few laws that were no different from the way many of these young wizards and witches had been raised. He almost ran down the hall. But no. He could not be afraid. This is what everyone wanted. One of the last teachers at the school to become afraid.

"Godric."

Godric obeyed. At least it wasn't a renegade student. "Hello, Jonas." He turned around to face the old man.

Jonas seemed older than ever and at the same time younger. "I heard about what happened today, Godric. Salazar Slytherin had returned and Helga left with him."

Hogwarts gossip, how it spread! Godric nodded slowly. "It's as if the school is collapsing in on itself."

Jonas laughed and took a few steps closer. "You don't really believe that, do you?"

"I'm not supposed to believe it, because that is exactly what everyone would love. If I became afraid just because two of the school's founders left."

"That really does not answer my question, you know, boy."

He knew that very well. He chuckled softly. They were near a staircase, steps already twisting with an anticipated turn they obviously wished to make. Would they get on with it! "And then I shall add that the sentiment I just stated is one that I whole-heartedly agree with."

Jonas laughed as well. "Then I must say that I am glad to hear it. I know you all my flatter yourselves otherwise, but the fact remains that this school is already off the ground and even if death strikes all four of you, it won't close the school. It's too late for that."

One cheerful thought. Yet the shadows did indeed seem to lighten. The school was set up. He remembered first looking at it, Latiya Weasley on his shoulders. "That's not what I'm afraid of right now."

"Oh?"

"Uncle Jonas, I hate being afraid. It's not something I enjoy being. My father, I thought he was brave, from the stories I heard. And he a Muggle--he had no magic to protect him. If I am supposed to be brave--"

"Of course you are brave." Jonas hobbled over to the wall and leaned against it for extra support. "You're a wonderful leader. The others have always looked up to you."

"I refused to help Salazar. He asked for my help, and I didn't give it to him."

"You were afraid to do what he asked?"

Godric didn't even know anymore. He had just not wanted to help. He shook his head angrily and paced the floor before his uncle. "Salazar was afraid of prophecies. He was demanding my help to end one. I refused."

"Why?"

What answer was there to give? Everything? "It didn't feel right. He wanted to kill someone."

Jonas's gnarled fingers wiggled over the curve in his walking staff. "Are you telling me, boy, that you feel guilty for refusing to kill someone?"

"No. I'm telling you that I feel guilty for refusing to help my best friend."

Jonas sighed and looked to the floor. Godric wondered what was so fascinating about stone. He tossed his arms into the air, muscles suddenly aching. "You see? You agree that it was wrong."

"It was your choice," Jonas finally said. "It was your choice, and it is my opinion that you did right."

"I recently learned he was my brother. Does that not change things?"

"Your loyalty is most commendable."

Commendable. What a word. Why was it so hard to do things that were right? Godric gave a hollow laugh. "There are just too many things to be loyal to. Ethics, people, everything. After awhile they begin to contradict."

"The pains of life," Jonas replied quickly. His hands slid down the walking stick. "But you have done well, with your choices."

"You do realize, Uncle, that we helped fate just by building this school."

"How are we helped fate? We are simply doing what we need to do. The future is far too complex to try to prevent things we have no part in. We just do what is right."

That was an awful lot to worry about. Godric stopped and stared up the staircase that was now gliding to who knew where. What a wild place this castle was. "I could have changed things earlier just by killing Salazar." There. Something shocking to say.

But Jonas just laughed. "Now come and tell me honestly, would you really have done that?"

Godric thought of Salazar and shook his head. "No," he said. "I wouldn't have."

"Then it doesn't matter what you could have done."

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Godric didn't fall asleep that night. He stayed up, wandering the halls like a regular ghost and thinking. He thought about many things, Helga, Rowena, Salazar... everyone. He thought about the school, that musty old building that they all hoped would last for centuries. He had no doubt in his mind that it would. There was a rush of defiance in that thought, that no matter what anyone tried they couldn't do a thing. And would it matter? There were other schools of magic, now, so it wouldn't matter too much if Hogwarts was destroyed. Every rock, every painting, every little spell cast by a prankster student would tumble and break before his very eyes, and no one could predict if that would stop or cause anything. Things burnt down had a way of moving on, he realized.

He still missed Helga and Salazar.

There was a large window overlooking the nearby forest. The place was rather unnerving, the forest, but Godric liked to look at it, anyway. He paused at the window. It was clear outside.

He suddenly wanted to just leave. Get Rowena and Mary and leave the school to its own devices.

But the feeling soon passed, and something moved in the trees.

Godric stared hard. It was a figure, a human, running so incredibly fast that the trees seemed to move with it until the figure was nothing more than a slip of cloth gliding through the branches.

His body tensed.

The figure moved out of the trees, a bare shadow on the lawn, hidden from true view by the glittering stars. For the smallest moment it paused, then shrunk. As Godric watched, the form of a crow flew straight for the window.

The sword, he thought. His father's sword. He needed that sword.

Metal, warm and cold at the same time, filled his hand and he looked down, already knowing what was there. A little spell, without incantation, something Rowena had taught him. The sword was there, and the crow was perching on the sill.

He rose the sword. Stars and torch light caught the metal until it shown. It would be so easy to bring it down on top of the crow, but he waited, expecting what he did not know.

The crow stared back at him with unblinking eyes, then changed. The feathers slid like black ink into the skin until there was only a young woman kneeling on the sill. Her hair was brown, not the crow-black he was expecting, and braided until the braids could be twisted around her head. Her eyes, though, were crow-dark. She wore neither dress nor robes, but a man's pants and tunic--moldy grey. In her hand was a wand.

Godric lowered his sword hand. "Who are you?"

"My name does not matter," she hissed. She knelt like a cat ready to spring, and those dark eyes bore into him. "Where is he? Where is Salazar Slytherin?"

It was almost humorous. Once Salazar would have thought it hilarious to be the center of so much attention. "I cannot tell you where he is."

"If you were wise, you would tell me. I have been sent to kill him, you are nothing. If you don't tell me where he is I shall destroy this school!"

Godric smiled at her. "Don't lie, you have no such power."

The girl snarled. Of course she wouldn't like being mocked. "Don't underestimate me. There are few brave enough to come to this monstrosity. I have heard visions of the future. Thousands will be killed by one wizard."

He fought the urge to laugh. None of this talk worried him in the least. "Then that shall be dealt with as it comes."

"Have you no heart?"

"You profess to kill now. Are you any worse?"

With an animalistic growl she leaped from the sill, wand outstretched and gleaming. Godric felt the mark of burns on his bare arms. "Tell me where he is! Sacrifices must be made now."

She didn't know there was already to be a baby. Well, she didn't need to know that.

She rose up straight, tears in her angry eyes, wand hand shaking. She was powerful, Godric sensed. She couldn't destroy the school, but she could do other things. "Tell me."

"I won't."

"I'll kill you! Perhaps that will change some things. You don't think this has been a worry over lifetimes?"

Jonas was right about the future. Godric slowly brought up the sword. The girl began to chant something under her breath. "I will fight you," he said.

"With a sword against my magic?" She rose her wand.

It was funny. It was terribly funny. The girl was fighting things she couldn't change! And she'd kill to do so. What if the prophecies were wrong? With an actual laugh, he let the sword clatter to the floor.

"Be that way." The girl turned and ran down the hall.

Outside the stars seemed to dim. The girl was in the school. With a cry Godric picked up the sword and sped after her. What had he been thinking? What hadn't he been thinking? This was a school, children who trusted him, his family... She wouldn't be able to sense where the nursery was, would she?

It wasn't fair. What was he supposed to think? What was he supposed to do? Not care about some things and care about the others? He had been a fool to not stop her. Had he expected to let her kill him and then leave? He bit his lip until the blood flowed, and he kept running.

She was unbearably fast.

The nursery door was there. Rowena and Mary were inside. She tossed her head back to send one defiant smile, and pushed against the door, wand stuck carefully between two fingers.

He wasn't fast enough. How could he not be fast enough.

"Someone you care about? They sleep!" she called back. "I know spells! Avada--"

The sword looked like a bird, great and silver and lightning fast. It bit into the girl's neck, and bathed itself in the succeeding red fountain. She stood where she was, hand still on the door, for several terribly long seconds before sliding neatly to the floor, where the blood continued to bubble like rapids from her neck.

Godric had never killed anyone before. He felt his own blood gather in his neck, almost demanding to spill itself as well. He sucked in air and then more air. The sword was still clutched tightly in his hands.

"Ricky!" Rowena appeared at the door, sleep still thick in her eyes, barely dissipating as she looked down at the body. She gasped. "Ricky!"

Godric looked up at Rowena.

The girl would have killed Rowena.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

It was almost three o'clock, and the nursery window was wide open, letting in the warm smell of night and the twinkling stars that caught the mist on the lake almost afire. Rowena could smell it, thick as perfume and stew. But she wasn't going to go look out.

She still wanted to. It still called to her.

After all, only a few hours before there had been a body right on the very doorstep of this room.

Ricky had protected her and Mary.

She looked over him, asleep on a bed just next to Mary's cradle. He smiled as he slept, no mind given to his words of earlier. He had been upset about killing the girl. Very upset. She had never seen him in such a state before. In a way she rather envied him. That would have been exciting, to kill someone. But Godric was not a killer and neither was she. Could she ever be? And Godric was still not a killer. He had done what he needed to do.

She had her books with her, and parchment plenty. It was a project she had thought of about a year before, albeit one that had been loosely on her thoughts far longer than that. The history would be necessary of how Hogwarts had come to be. Rather boring, save for a few choice details, but wasn't that the nature of so much history? She would much rather study spells. One could be a mother and study as well. One could also well be a mother and write history as well. It would be applauded by posterity.

She gave the window a single glance, but she knew very well Salazar would not be out there waiting for her. He never had been.

She still loved him in her way, she supposed. Nothing would change that. But the true passion had burned itself out long ago. She blew a kiss at the sleeping form of Godric. She felt like a child doing so. It was a good feeling.

She just wished both of them would come back. New things could be made. Not everything had to change.

She almost felt angry, as she dipped her quill into ink and jotted down another splotch of words. Almost. It wouldn't do to feel anger anymore about anything in the past. She had her fun, and she was ready to be the best teacher to this school she could possibly be. After all, she had been kidnapped, and not many could brag over that sort of thing. That was excitement, that was danger, a small part of everything else that had happened. It was like living a story, and perhaps it wouldn't be too longer before another mad assassin would find his way to the castle.

The quill nearly scribbled itself right from her hand, and before long she looked down. It was worth a smile. All the stories coming right down onto parchment. She hadn't even noticed. She had heard the beliefs of those who said that all souls repeated their times on earth. Life after life. She had never accept the concept, but it was an intriguing idea. How many things could one soul experience before doldrums set in? And what if that soul read a history that he, without knowing, had it lived? Would it really be the same person? She rather wished she had someone there now to banter the idea with her. Someone that wasn't a baby or asleep.

She sighed and laughed to herself. Maybe she did want one more opportunity to kiss on the lakeside with Salazar. Maybe that was all this talk amounted to.

Concentrate on this histories, she told herself. What in the world had persuaded her to work on these things. Just because she had seen a little blood?

She set her quill down and stared hard at everything she had just written. It was hardly a history. It was instead everything she had felt and seen. Well, wasn't that history as well? There were facts as well as heart.

But what would it matter? Everything would be changed. That was the truth of history; soon it would make itself up into a fantasy and details would be lost. No one would know every reason for everything, and so everyone would make things up. Fantastic ideologies, heroes and villains.

Rather bitter thought.

And with that, she stood up with her batch of scrolls, crossed the room, and tossed it all into the crackling fire.

It was thrilling to watch it all burn.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

A knock sounded at the door, but Salazar had not been dreaming anything. His eyes, still desperate for sleep, slowly opened, only to see the dim light streaming through the blankets. He was still under the covers, damn it.

The knock came again.

He carefully sat up. He felt odd, tired. Resigned was the word. Was that what he felt? The past few weeks had sped like fire over a field, and he was sick of it all. He just wished it would all end.

A third knock.

The inn room was small, with little room for anything but a practical bed and a table with a washing pitcher. He hadn't mind--it reminded him of his hut back in the woods. It had provided a good night's rest, if nothing else. He hadn't slept in so long, and it was almost cruel to see the morning light streaming in through the window.

Who would be at the door? Helga had slept in the next room, and he half-suspected she would barge her way in if she needed to talk to him. He pushed himself from the bed and unlocked the door.

"Hello, Salazar."

He tried to slam the door again, but Tanith caught the doorknob and pushed back with surprising strength. She did not try to enter the room, but stood where she was, as if afraid.

He had vowed to kill her. This was his opportunity. It had come. Unless he were still dreaming. But he could feel the heat from the window, the wooden floor under his bare feet, the ragged robes he had slept in.

He could kill her now.

"Tanith," someone else muttered.

Salazar cursed under his breath. There was Helga, dressed as if she had been awake for some hours, standing a few feet behind Tanith.

Helga could kill her. She had killed already.

But she had no reason to kill Tanith. This was his. Had Helga meant this as his great thing to do?

Tanith pulled a wand from the pocket of her pale green robe. Her stomach already protruded slightly.

His child.

"I heard you were looking for me to kill me," she said softly.

Where had he put his wand?

She lifted her wand, her face like stone except for the blaze in her eyes, a blaze of hate. "Avada Kedavra," she said. And then she disappeared with a loud crack.

Helga screamed.

Time seemed to freeze as the green flame rushed toward him. He knew what it would do. He had seen what it would do, all those years ago, the first time he had killed anyone. He could have killed Tanith and the baby the same way.

He wanted to laugh. Tanith had mentioned lifetimes once. Had this all happened before?

He saw the look on Helga's face, shining from the hall shadows.

Maybe he could still do something great. Someday.

Helga had wanted that from him.

The spell struck him.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

The girl gave one final scream and let her head fall back against the pillow. Every swear word she had ever been taught and taught to shun had spun from her mouth in a flurry of anger she would later be mocked for. But even so she could see the beaming midwife and hear the screams of a new little life. The scream changed into a weak laugh.

"Nine hours of labor, darling. You were wonderful.

She didn't need to be reminded. Her husband kissed her, though the baby's screaming was growing louder every second. It was a great sound.

"Let me see him, James. Let me see him."

The midwife wrapped the screaming baby in a clean white cloth. "He's a small one, Lily, but he's feisty," she said.

Lily didn't mind. She happily and tiredly accepted the screaming thing. James bent over her, more concerned with the baby than her. She didn't mind.

"He's so ugly!" James said happily.

"He was just born," said the midwife. "They all look like that.

He wasn't ugly. Lily kissed the screaming baby's forehead.

"Okay, he's not ugly." James rubbed the baby's cheek with his finger. "He'll become cute eventually and he'll do great things."

"Of course he will." Lily accepted another kiss from her husband as the baby continued to scream with renewed energy.

My right hand holds matches

My left holds my past.

I hope the wind catches

And burns it down fast.

I'm going to step into the fire

With my failures and my shame

And wave goodbye to yesterday

As I dance among the flames.

So don't try to save me now

Let the walls of my world all burn down.

Just stand back and wait till the smoke finally passes

And I will rise from the ashes.

For all that I'm losing

Much more will I gain

The hard part is choosing

To change what needs change.

My step will be much lighter

With these demons off my chest

I'm born a better spirit

And lay the old to rest.

So don't try to save me now

Let the walls of my world all burn down.

Just stand back and wait till the smoke finally passes

And I will rise from the ashes.

And I'll walk away stronger

I will be flying

Higher and truer than I've flown before.

My right hand holds matches

My left holds my past

I hope the wind catches

And burns it down fast.

--Martina McBride, "From the Ashes"

The End.