Kayla, this is completely amazing. I came over here to review this after listening to Emma's podfic of it (which she did a stellar job on, by the way!)
In such a simple format and relatively few words you have told an enormous story. In fact, I love the format you've chosen to use for this, with the repetition of the question as he keeps staring at it and re-reading it, and the progression of his thoughts as he does it. You don't even have to say he keeps staring at it and re-reading it, you just show it by the repetition, which I think it just a brilliant execution.
I love his voice here, I can hear it so clearly and get such a strong sense of who he is, through his thoughts. The anger and bitterness and dark, mirthless humor, and below it all amazing strength.
I also really love how you made James a crier, it's a nice spin on his personality, and especially how overcome he was in his anger and sadness at knowing what had happened to Sirius.
And the way the fic ends just makes me so, so sad, because I can just see him sitting there staring at the question, unable and/or unwilling to answer it, just sitting there paralyzed. Such a strong image, and all from one question and his inner monologue. Amazing job.
This was dark just as you warned, it just surprised me all the same. My heart was thudding slowly in my chest as Sirius brocessed through the question and the weight of that question. The Cruciatus Curse is a nasty beast and I don't think the exam creators would think that the question could spark a trigger for a student. The idea of a student suffering this type of curse which is unforgiveable seems beyond imagining and yet it would not surprise me if Sirius did experience the curse.
You did a very nice job with this piece. I like how things were flippant at first before there was avoidance before Sirius started grappling with the truth slowly but surly. That is very really to how someone would deal with something like this and was very well down by you. Then the final breakdown was pretty strong. I think the most powerful part of this peace is at the end that the final answer of the question is nothing but a blank. That blank is poiniant and speaks volumes for the silence that it is.
Wonderful job with this quick peace it leaves me in a very thoughtful and reflecting moment.
- A magical menagerie review
Hi there! I'm stopping by forthe Magical Managerie!
...Ouch. That doesn't even begin to cover it, really.
First, I'd like to applaud you for using such a unique method to tell this story. It's unconventional, sure, but that's what made it so fascinating. I've never seen anything quite like this before, and I give you major props for taking a risk.
And said risk definitely paid off. Despite being relatively short, this story packed in so much raw emotion and was immensely powerful. With such few words, you truly made me feel Sirius's pain, both mental and physical, that I swear I forgot to breathe at one point. Seriously. I'm writing this review several minutes after reading the story because it took me that long to process it all. You, my friend, have a particular talent for cutting straight to the soul.
I think what made this story feel so real was how each time Sirius "responded" to the question, he reflected upon or recalled a different moment. That's typical with people who've experienced trauma; it tends to come back in fragments, and often out of order. What I really enjoyed, though, was how Sirius, every once in a while, remembered the good things, such as Mr. Potter bringing him medicine and Mrs. Potter sitting with him at night. I think that's very in-character for Sirius; despite all he's suffered through, he still finds the light.
I also found this to be a very poignant cautionary tale about how those who haven't experienced trauma or harship tend to forget that literally anyone around them may have. It's particularly common in the realm of education; even today, questions on exams, in workbooks, etc. are often worded in ways that can be triggering to people who have experienced certain things. The people who write them don't mean to hurt or offend anyone, but they just weren't thinking through the lens of someone who's experienced some difficult things. In the case of this story, I highly doubt the person writing the exam could have even fathomed one of the students taking it as experiencing such a horrific thing. So, in that regard, I found this story to be an important lesson of being careful orwhat you say around/what you ask of certain people, because you never know what someone has or is going through.
This was a gripping and moving story. Well done.
I'm here to drop off a review for the Magical Menagerie review event on the forums as well as for Gryffindor's Red vs Gold Battle for January 2019.
KAYLA WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY HEART?! EVEN WORSE, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY POOR BABY SIRIUS?! HOW DARE YOU?!
I've been hesitating on reading this because I know how you like to torture Sirius so much and I've been in a place where I couldn't really take a super dark story. I'm glad I waited because this was intense. So intense.
I love that you went with an unusual format for how you told the story. I thought it really added to the whole feeling of the story. It kind of helped cement just how horrific the whole event was.
I also thought you did a good job of showing how PTSD and flashbacks can be triggered by the smallest little things. A smell, a touch, a sound, a question. It can all cause all of those horrible memories to come rushing back.
The ending was so perfect and absolutely killed my heart. I like how you left it unanswered. The simplicity of that sort of spoke mountains about what Sirius was going through.
And also, I love your headcanon of the Potters so much. They are the sweetest.
I'm still mad at you for this, but well done. This is definitely going into my FROGs nominee list.
So Kayla, I yelled at you WHILE you were writing this, but I haven't actually left you a review, so I am here for the menagerie!!
The structure of this piece is so gooood. The way the question repeats, as if Sirius keeps reading it and then answering and then erasing the answer (in his head, given he is writing this exam in ink, presumably) is so evocative. It becomes like a pulse, like Sirius's heartbeat in his ears as he stares at this question that is simultaneously the easiest thing in the world to answer and also impossible.
You manage to tell us SO MUCH in SO FEW WORDS, it's honestly astounding. Obviously that relies a lot on our prior knowledge, but I feel like even if we hadn't met Sirius before, the 'don't worry I can answer in great detail' already has your stomach plummeting. I love that he clearly didn't expect his friends to react that way to his offer for them to skip the reading -- he's on the defensive here, calling them swots. Like he's downplayed it in his head, normalised it, even as he recognises it's not normal because he's furious that it happened to him.
I have a firm headcanon that James of all the Marauders is the one who is most likely to be comfortable crying and showing emotion and giving easy physical affection because he's been… allowed, I guess? Like, Remus can't because he's a werewolf and therefore evil and he shouldn't be allowed to touch anyone and don't even look at him oh god, and Sirius is a Black, and I imagine Peter is too self-conscious? So I love that you've made James a crier here.
Also the bit where Sirius wonders where he's staying this coming year is HEARTBREAKING because he isn't even assuming he can stay with the Potters again! Even though I am S U R E they offered it before he went off to school for this year! Because they know he is homeless now!!!!! BY EEEEEE.
Also James covering for him by claiming he used a hysteria hex is so good, what a legend, what an excellent friend. As you very well know Kayla, this whole fic broke my heart and I am SO glad you wrote it, you should write more often because everything you touch turns to gold. <3333
Hello! I'm here for the Magical Menagerie Reviewing Event! O/ (And because I haven't swung by your AP in a hot second.)
So, this was both brilliant an extremely hard-hitting. What Sirius had to endure while he was living at home with his parents must've been awful, and it's certainly shown through his answers to number this question on the quiz. I think you hit some really major points about his friends, too, while exploring this. Like, they understand that he must've gone through some things, but seem to skirt around the horrors of it -- and James's straightforward avoidance was hard to watch. It's like they're unsure of what to do and, to tell the truth, they are just kids so that's probably a good portion of the issue.
Of course, his anger over Sirius being hurt is something that hurts him, too. So crying about it makes a lot of sense, especially angry crying. Sirius's nightmares sound a lot like PTSD too, which wouldn't be unheard of after actually being tortured. It's almost uncomfortable to read, thinking about what's been done to him and his bitter tone about it -- almost like if he doesn't try to play it off with some sort of bitterly unpleasant humor that it's going to devour him -- he's only 16 and he's been Crucio'd repeatedly.
And then, of course, there's even further proof of PTSD as the sheer memory of it can send him into a full-blown panic attack. And the exam itself is clearly triggering for him. There's always something so pinpoint about your Sirius when you write him, and it's always devastating (in a great way, of course, your characterization is amazing).
Hi Kayla! Here for RvG and the Magical Menagerie :)
Ughhhh. I know that you said that you'd returned to your roots by writing some sad Sirius Black, but this - this isn't just sad, Kayla, it's heartbreaking. I think this really captures your writing, though - it seems like a simple premise on the surface but when you delve deeper into it, there's so much happening and so much thought and detail that's been put into this story, and it's really impressive. I know you've been struggling with writing lately but honestly, when you produce something like this, you make it look effortless.
The question seems so innocuous, at first - something so simple that of course would come up in an exam, because it's on the syllabus and they've all had to learn about Unforgivable Curses by now. But what I think you showed here is the way that PTSD can affect someone at any moment, and that something so seemingly simple can be a trigger for some of the worst trauma. I felt so sorry for Sirius, sitting in the exam and trying to come up with an answer to a question that holds so much pain and so many memories for him, until in the end he just leaves that question blank because he's experienced it, and he knows that the effects are indescribable.
I think another element that's really interesting is the fact that this question is assuming what the immediate effects of the curse are, while the consequences go far, far beyond the initial pain that someone feels. Alice and Frank Longbottom are an extreme example of that, but Sirius gives us someone who's lived through it and is still "passing" as someone who's living a normal life, yet who is still suffering from the effects.
You covered so much in this story, as well - the pain, the torment of the memories, the fact that his mother used the curse on him, not once but time and time again, the fact that James is the brother that he turned to in that time, how lost he's feeling about what will happen next... you just managed to pack so much detail into a really short story and it's so impressive.
The repetition of the question was the most powerful thing about this piece, I think. It's the question that's staring at Sirius as he looks at his paper, and it appears again every time he tries to come up with an answer that actually explains what the question is asking. But at the same time, it's the repetition of the trigger for him, the insistence of the memories intruding into his mind when he wants to be able to push them away and forget. It's the repetition of the curses that his mother attacked him with, saying the words again and again while her son was in torturous pain... There's so much to that simple repetition of the question and it's really powerful and effective.
This was a really poignant, powerful piece, heartbreaking but wonderful for it, and I'm really impressed with it.
okay so i kind of teared up a bit at this story, especially at the part where james goes away to the bathroom to cry because one of his friends already suffered so much, even though he is still so young. i think you've shown sirius' character and personality really well through this would-be answers to a single question - he first doesn't want to say (write) anything, but then, slowly, we see first the reactions of his friends, then mr and mrs potter and then, he painstakingly lets us see what happened to him and how awfully hurtful it was. the fact that he had to live in that house with people who tortured him is incredibly sad and when i think about how later he has to come back and live there like in a prison, i get so angry. it's worse when you realise you can actually imagine his mother using the cruciatus curse on him and what we know about her is only through a few sentences and a crazy portrait. you did a great job in exploring sirius character and the background of his flight to the potters.
I'm stopping by for Magical Menagerie and RvG - Team Red.
Well this is just heartbreaking in every way possible. The fact that I could actually imagine this happening to him, makes it even sadder - I mean how could anyone do this to a child?
It's such an unusual premise for a story, using the same question over and over again and I really liked what you did with it. I really thought it was going to be different questions, so making it all the same was really creative. It isn't at all what I imagined clicking onto it. I thought I was going to get lots of setting and descriptions and was rather nervous, to be honest. I'm so glad I did read it though.
I can't even tell you how gutted I felt reading this whole thing. Sirius goes through so many emotions in his answers; angry, indifference, hurt.
James cries a lot - I mean, the bloke cries at the end of Muggle romance films - but I don't think I'd ever seen him like that before, the way he was that night. Angry crying is not a good look for him. He tried not to let me see but I caught him at it. - This really got me. How did you even write this?!
I want to give him a great big hug now. Great job.
Hey Kayla! Here for RvG (go Gold!) and for the Magical Menagerie!!!
I can see why people said to bring the tissues! My heart is racing from this fic because I can relate so well to how Sirius is feeling. The exam question is innocent enough. After all, it was a topic of study in Defense Against the Dark Arts. But sometimes at school, curricular content can trigger someone's PTSD. Sometimes, people's unassuming comments or questions can lead you down a rabbit hole. You capture this so incredibly well.
I also love how you include James's reactions, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Potter's. They are a beacon of light for Sirius. Even his attempt at humor is well captured as a coping mechanism... but it still falls flat for him. Despite his efforts, what shines through is the love the Potter's have for him and vice versa. I think that is what is saving him right now.
It's heavy, heavy content, and I think you do it justice with the repeated question and the non-answers. The piece is quite poetic with the various answers, and how it begins and ends with blank space. What a well written piece!
I thought it was so good, I loved the form of storytelling that you used. It was so effective and it was just powerful.
I think this piece was so powerful because it really shows the ending effects that the curse leaves on a person that it had effected every people around him. His pain is so deep yet he plays it off so well in the beginning. The dark humour tries to hide everything that he has been through.
His pain just seeps out with any different answer that he gives. His story is so heartbreaking, I can't imagine that pain he has felt but you really made all those feelings and emotions come alive. It was harrowing but vivid. I love that even in this piece which is so angsty, you still have created such a wonderful and deep friendship between Sirius and James.
I keep looking at each line trying to decide which line is most effective but I don't think I can decide because each of them offers an amazing insight into his pain. I think the last line says it all. it's too hurtful. the memories are too strong.
you are a master at sirius black's pain. this is the best.
- Abbi xo
For: Magical Menagerie
So like, this was such a brilliant way to write a fic and so creative because even though there’s no descriptor of the scene, you can just clearly imagine everything that Sirius is experiencing while looking at this question on his exam, and it’s HEARTBREAKING. Often I feel like we get a lot of Sirius joking around about his experience living with his parents, and not as much an exploration of the reality of just how traumatising it probably was.
Like, this line was just the first killer - “I told my friends that they could skip the reading as well and that I’d tell them whatever they needed to know, but they all just looked at me funny and James excused himself and went to the bathroom for way too long and they all did the reading anyway.” - because I can so imagine Sirius throwing it out like that and trying to be casual about something that’s clearly hurt him so much, and JAMES CRYING is just. OUCH. He just keeps alternating between trying to make light of it and admitting just how awful it is, which is both so in character and somehow more painful to read because you KNOW he’s putting up a front and failing.
And then Sirius being like “They didn’t have to let me stay with them.” and “I don’t know where I’m going to go this summer.” makes me want to just give him the world’s biggest hug because he’s been conditioned to think he doesn’t deserve kindness and doesn’t deserve a place to call home, which is such an unfair and tragic mindset that he’s been given.
And then the fact that there’s no answer to the last iteration of the question - there’s so many potential reasons that it’s blank and NONE OF THEM DON’T HURT ME.
Alright. Well. This was so creative and well-written, even if it broke me in the process.
-Written for the Magical Menagerie event and January RvG
KAYLA WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?
Look over there, in the corner. Do you see those little shreds? That is my heart.
I am destroyed.
Oh, I'm here for the magical menagerie. I almost forgot to say becase, as I may have mentioned, MY HEART HAS BEEN DESTROYED.
Alright. Okay. Moving on. *dries face*
Your head canons for Sirius are definitely the best head canons for Sirius. Please know this. They're not the most happy. But they are brilliant all the same.
Another thing that is brilliant is the structure of this piece. Absolutely amazing! When I first started reading, I was expecting each question to be different, and it actually took me a minute to realize the number wasn't changing. He's just stuck here at this question on the test, and who can blame him?
James crying was a gut punch. Hugs for him.
And so, so many hugs for Sirius. The line that really broke me was "I’m still not really sure where I’m going to go this summer." It situates us in this experience as something happening Right Now, something inescapable and ongoing. And god, teenagers are so not ready to have to figure this stuff out alone. They need their parents, and when they don't have them it just breaks my heart.
I don't want to make this about me but I'm going to because I'm a high school teacher and this makes me want to wrap a protective arm around every single one of my students and never let go. Systems - and people, but especially systems - are so thoughtless. They don't consider individuals. They don't consider trauma. No student should have to experience what Sirius experiences due to a test question. And yet I'm sure many students do encounter things in their schoolwork that are triggering, and which the adults have not given a second thought to. I'm sure I've been one of those oblivious adults, and that's what really kills me.
This fic is truly inspired. No surprise, since everything you write is extremely well done, but this is particularly creative and if you can't tell, I LOVE IT.
Now, I must go sweep up the shards of my heart... better pull out the superglue ;)