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Schrodinger's Cat by TidalDragon
Chapter 1: Anhedonia
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“Have you heard of Schrodinger’s Cat?”
She scribbles…something…with her quill again and waits.
I look up at the ceiling and frown. The leather of her chaise lounge is cold against the exposed skin of my neck and I wonder if she’s even aware of the sensation given the long hair that flows freely from her head. Resigned to her silence, I press on. She’s waited this long. I suppose she deserves the truth after all this time. And besides, she’s keeping me from an investigation.
“I read about it in a book Hermione got me…” I trail off, my eyes darting over to see her reaction.
Nothing. Given the fact that she looks to be at least twenty years younger than me, I thought she’d experience some alarm or surprise at my calling the Minister for Magic by her first name, but she proved once again to be well-trained.
“Anyway,” I continue, “it was this thought experiment a muggle scientist came up with. It was supposed to deal with something called quantum mechanics–“
She interrupts me with a heavy sigh.
I smirk for a moment, wondering how long she’s been holding it in.
“Auror Potter, you understand that the reason you keep being ordered back to see me – by Minister Granger-Weasley I might add – is because I’m required to assess your mental fitness for duty, don’t you?”
“That requires your cooperation. And I can promise you that unlike my predecessors, I’m not simply going to rubber stamp your paperwork.”
I lift my neck slightly and scratch at my chin.
“I heard you,” I say, cleaning one of the lenses of my glasses on my robe.
She cocks her head to the side, shooting me a withering stare. At that angle, the morning light shining in through the spacious double windows in her office, her hair seems to glow like smoldering embers.
I close my eyes briefly. Taking a deep breath, I re-open them. A cloud must be blocking the sun again.
“Like I was saying, it was this experiment with the idea that something could be two things at once. As long as another thing remained unknown.”
She looks perturbed.
“It was interesting.”
She looks intrigued.
“What was interesting about it?” she prompts me.
“The timing, I guess. I never really read much before. Aside from the things I had to for work.”
“Before your divorce, you mean.”
My eyes meet hers. I jerk my head slightly in affirmation.
“What did you do instead?”
I toss my hands in the air. “The same things everyone does. Work. Kids. Date nights.”
“What made you unhappy about that?”
“I was never actively unhappy with Ginny.”
She scribbles again before adjusting her glasses. “Perhaps I should’ve been more precise. What made you unhappy about the situation – your life before your divorce?”
“This is why these assessments are a waste of time,” I grumbled. “You people don’t listen.”
Her eyes widen in surprise then flare to irritation for an instant before her professionalism reclaims them. “I am listening to you, Auror Potter. I have been for the last–“ she glances at her watch “–two hours and thirty-eight minutes.”
I shake my head. “You’re a poor interrogator.”
“This isn’t an interrogation.”
“Yes it is. It’s a pretense. Because the family – the Minister included – wants things to be the way they were.” I shake my head again, looking down. “Well, they can’t be.”
She puffs her chest up before writing furiously.
“What are you writing?”
“My medical conclusions.”
“Based on the fact that we disagree about the purpose of this…farce?” I ask, gesturing about the room.
Her eyes narrow. “Based on your body language, emotional reactions, turns of phrase…I’m a scientist, Auror Potter.”
“Tone, emphasis, word choice?”
“Yes,” she nods, “those are things I note as well.”
“Then let me repeat myself. I was never actively unhappy with Ginny. Or with my life.”
“So you weren’t unhappy. What were you?” She pauses. “Or perhaps are is the more appropriate word?”
“It’s like I was explaining earlier–“
“With the experiment. See, you say you listen, but you haven’t been paying attention at all.”
Again she straightens. “I apologize. I will admit that I can get ahead of myself occasionally. Please. Explain.”
“I’d only be guessing, really. Like you said, you’re the scientist.”
“Can you give me an example then?”
I was relaxing in a chair behind our cottage watching the sunset. When we’d finally made the decision to buy it, Ginny had been enthralled with the quiet, rural setting and the simplicity of the small house set on a small hill surrounded by the slopes and rises of the wooded highlands. I’d decided to indulge her when she’d turned to walk back inside where I was waiting. It had been sunset then too and it was impossible not to marvel at how the fading orange light set her hair ablaze, especially when coupled with the broad, hopeful smile and spattering of freckles she wore so well.
Today she was in front of me again, cleaning up the detritus from our outdoor dinner. Hannah was helping, plucking glasses from the garden table on the patio Ron and I had built one weekend after she bribed us with butterbeers. I’d offered of course, but it being my birthday, everyone had insisted I not do anything. As they scurried inside to join Ron and Neville and the kids, Ginny winked at me. I lifted the corner of my mouth to indicate amusement.
Hermione emerged, wiping her hands on a linen napkin. “I’m meant to keep you out here while they get things ready.”
I stayed silent, motionless, staring into the distance.
“What’s wrong with you, Harry? You’re not yourself. Is it–“
“It’s not work,” I interrupted.
She came around to stand in front of me, hands on her hips and wearing a heavy frown. It reminded me of Hogwarts. Before…everything.
“Ginny’s worried about you,” she said.
“Merlin, Harry!” she hissed. “She asked me if there were any new witches in your office…”
I glared back.
“She doesn’t really believe that,” Hermione tutted, “but honestly, Harry…it makes her wonder if you love her anymore.”
I sighed loudly.
She sat down next to me and stared out at the landscape before us. The sun hung low in the sky, its light finally fading as it dipped below the horizon.
“Do you?” she asked.
“Do I what?”
“Still love her. Ginny.”
I can see the healer watching me carefully. Behind her eyes, the wheels are carefully turning. Does she remain silent? Does she encourage me to carry on or ask another of her reflective questions? Any would do for me at this point if it meant the end of her staring.
She opts for the middle route. “What came of that?”
I looked away, scanning the knickknacks on the shelves behind her desk. “I swore that I loved her more than ever. Said I was tired.”
“And on the inside?”
“For the first time, it felt like a lie.”
Ginny ran freely through the warm surf. “Come on!” she called out, smiling and waving me toward her. With the wind in her hair and sun at her back, she blazed against the blue background of the ocean. Stopping, she wiggled her toes until they sunk into the sand and waited, the slow waves rolling in lapping at her legs and dragging away the sand in which she stood.
I strode toward her, yearning for the ability to match her enthusiasm. Mustering a grin, I reached her and slid my hand into her open one like I had thousands of times before. Locking eyes with me, she squeezed tightly.
“I missed this, Harry. It’s been so long.”
“Twenty five years…”
She kissed me hard before pulling away and smiling. “Remember the last time we stood here? I got bitten by a crab…”
She socked me. “You know what I meant.”
Silently, we strode on until we neared the ruins of an old pier. Gingerly, she stepped over the fallen bodies of rotten boards, climbing onto one of the taller posts that had remained straight despite the constant onslaught of tides and storms on the shore.
“I can’t believe this is gone. Do you remember what it was like when we were here?”
I looked sidelong at her. “Of course I do. The wheel, the midway…”
“Hard to believe it’s completely gone. Something so big. It was a special place. Not too much like a lot of those muggle places Hermione tried to take us.”
I stared out at the clouds in the distance.
Suddenly she sprung forward, like she had so many times when we were still not much more than kids. By instinct I grabbed her, feeling her warmth press against me.
She nestled in closer, wrapping her legs tighter around my waist and laying her head on my shoulder.
“You know,” she said quietly, “you’re still the only one I’d ever let save me.”
“Did you know then?” the healer prodded.
I shook my head. “No.”
She arched an eyebrow.
“I was sure when she said that…that I could still save us.”
“You were divorced six months later…”
“You have to understand. Since the war, there wasn’t anyone I hadn’t been able to save.”
Cold air swept into the room when Ginny entered, attempting to wrangle several bags of groceries as she struggled to close the door despite the chill wind outside. Several minutes later, I shivered and looking back around the corner, found the door was wide open – chocked that way in fact – by one of the old pots Molly had given us when she’d finally resigned from cooking several years back. I stood and quickly shut it, rounding into the kitchen to find Ginny sitting stoically at the kitchen table with a steaming mug.
“Did you forget the door?”
“No,” she said simply before taking a sip.
Despite her efforts to conceal it from me, it was too easy to tell that she was freezing. Her small nose was as red as an angry blister and her hands were still trembling slightly against the cup.
“Then what are you doing?” I asked.
“I don’t know, Harry,” she said, sniffing loudly and wiping her nose. “Whatever I please. How’s that for you?” She threw her hands up theatrically as she stood.
“Merlin,” I groaned. “What’s gotten into you? Trouble at the market?”
“No,” she snapped, “there was no sodding trouble at the market. I’ve had enough. I’ve tried to just pretend like nothing’s wrong, but I can’t do it anymore.”
I looked to the side, pressing a thumb into my lips.
“See!” she accused. “You know what I’m talking about. I know you feel it, I see you do. It’s like you’re sick or something.” She spun I away to hide her face. “I can’t stand you like this,” she muttered. “I can’t.”
“What do you want me to do?” I asked.
“Do? Do?! I want you to talk to me. To explain this…this shit I’ve been dealing with for the past year and a half.”
I sank into a chair. “I don’t know,” I admitted.
“You don’t know.”
“I don’t know,” I repeated. “It’s something that’s just – it crept into my mind. I tried to push it out every time it rose up, but after a while it just seemed to bounce around my head.”
“That’s like…it’s what they used to diagnose our friends...and Bill with…that muggle thing. If you’d just open up we could get you help.”
“It’s not like that,” I sighed.
“What do you mean? It sounds exactly like–“
“It only happens with you.”
She jerked her head as if she’d just been stunned.
“It doesn’t make sense. I know it doesn’t, but no matter what we do. We’ve tried normal, new, even vacations, trips down memory lane–“
“So these things that have felt like phases…” she rubbed her head “…you’ve…planned them.”
“To save us.”
“I’ve saved so many things.”
“What do you have to save us from?”
“I don’t know!” I shouted, standing. “I don’t know! From this thing. This feeling that’s everywhere around us.”
“I don’t feel it,” she said firmly. “You’re wrong. I know you don’t want to be because you always have to be the one to fix things. To be strong. But you just need help. This isn’t any different than Bill. He was diagnosed later too–“
“It’s not that,” I said sharply.
“Then what the hell is it, Harry?” she asked. “What is it?”
“It doesn’t feel the same anymore.”
She stiffened. Closing her eyes she breathed deeply. Though her face was firm, I could see her fear when she opened them again.
“What are you saying?”
“I love you, Harry.”
“Don't you love me?”
For the first time in a long time my eyes shifted to her parchment. It was less a piece now and more a roll. I hadn’t noticed somehow, but I could tell that the feverish pace at which she scribbled now must have been going on for quite a while. She stopped suddenly, her eyes meeting mine for an instant, before she broke contact and shook her head.
I sit up for the first time and lean forward, clasping my hands together in front of my face.
“Everyone tells me it isn’t real,” I said.
“Hermione thinks I’m sick too…obviously,” I appended, deliberately locking eyes with the healer across from me. “Ron says I’m an arse. That somehow it’s me being selfish. Gawain says it happens over time. Kids. Work. Your forget yourself and slowly you start despising the life you’ve built. That you transfer it to the person you built it with.”
“It wasn’t like that for me though. It happened in an instant. I was watching the sunset and…Hermione asked me.”
“And it was like the whole thing came tumbling down in front of me. Before my eyes. Just like that.”
“You know what I hate the most about the experiment?” I asked her.
“That it says you can never go back.”
A/N: First of all, many thanks to Lisa/ad astra for this phenomenal challenge. It was every inch as vexing as I expected it to be and the result is this…this. What I really wanted to sink the ship here was something that was not so grandiose, but a more mundane death. The titular analogy is Harry’s way of justifying it – explaining the inexplicable – though the reality is supposed to have been more a hybrid of the proposed reasons that are given by others at the end.
For those scientists out there, I definitely understand the titular analogy isn’t absolutely perfect, but the idea is that Harry’s love for Ginny when he is asked by Hermione was both alive and dead (as I think is quite possible when you’ve been in a relationship for a long time). The question however renders it dead, much like a single event at that relationship tipping point can send things either positive or negative. Harry, because he’s Harry and the analogy here is a more conceptual death than literal like the experiment, fights against it, but can’t escape reality and the second question ultimately underscores the point.
Well, in the end, perhaps this Author’s Note makes even less sense than the story. I hope not. But tell me what you think in a review if you will. I honestly need to know if this came off at all.