Chapter 10 : Life, the Universe, and Nothing (Which is Incidentally Part of Everything)
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YO. WASSUP FOOLS? I AIN’T BEEN DOING MUCH BUT CHILLAXING. SO. AS I WAS SAYIN’. LET’S GET ON WITH THE CHAPTER.
“Oh my God!” squealed Ron. “OhmyGodohmygodohmyGod!”
…THE HELL’S UP WITH YOU?
“No! Don’t look at me! I’m not even here!” Ron scurried about the paragraphs like a man possessed. “Oh no oh no oh no!”
WHAT IS IT?
NOTHING MY – HEY! WAIT A SECOND. YOU DIDN’T GET THE 40 REVIEWS, DID YOU?
“Yes I did!” Ron protested as he hid behind the word ‘reviews.’
NO YOU DIDN’T! WHY YOU LITTLE…! I OUGHTA WRITE YOU INTO A DARK HOLE OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT. YEAH! I’M GOING TO DO THAT!
“Please don’t, O Powerful Author! I promise I’ll get the reviews! I just need more time! Please!”
WELL, ALL RIGHT, BUT ONLY BECAUSE YOU CALLED ME ‘O POWERFUL AUTHOR.’ BUT I’M WARNING YOU, WEASLEY, ONE MORE SLIP-UP AND IT’S LIGHTS OUT FOR YOU, BUDDY.
“Thank you, sir!” Ron groveled. “Thank you so much! You are truly the most amazing author in the universe! Everyone should skip ahead to the end of the chapter and leave you a review right now! The fact that I’m saying that isn’t blatant self-promotion or anything!”
AMEN TO THAT, WEASLEY. (INSERT BORING DISCLAIMER STUFF HERE.)
A strange feeling came over Harry. It was almost like he was being tickled, but less ticklish and more spiritual and freaky. At first he just enjoyed the feeling, but then he began to wonder: aren’t I dead? Shouldn’t I be feeling nothing at all? Am I in the afterlife? Oh Jesus I hope they don’t factor in all those times I stole Neville’s Remembrall for fun when they’re deciding whether I go to hell or not. It was just innocent mischief!
Harry, being well-versed in romantic literature (read: comic books), knew that he needed to just lay there for a good time and up the word count before he woke up. There were other sensations he knew that he was supposed to feel – waves at his feet, birds chirping, etc etc – but the narrator was too lazy to write about them and Harry wasn’t complaining. That clichéd crap bored him senseless.
After a while he judged that enough was enough and opened his eyes. At first he saw only white. Then he saw complete black. Then white. Then black. Then white then black then white then black... Harry’s eyes started to hurt. It reminded him of a disco ball, or a rave (numerous other memories flooded his mind at this point, although they were murky and morally dubious). It was almost as if –
“Will you stop turning off the lights?” he complained in his loudest voice. “It’s annoying me.”
The lights stayed on from that point. Grumbling to himself, Harry rocked forward and got up. He soon noticed that he was naked. For a moment he wished for clothes, and they duly appeared, but he then changed his mind and decided that he liked being nude. It was less constraining. And it reminded him again of the more “exciting” raves.
He heard a cough and turned to find none other than Albus Dumbledore standing before him. Harry placed his hands on his hips and accosted his former headmaster. “Well, what’re you doing here? Spying on me? Have you been hired by the government to keep an eye on me? I always knew the Patriot Act was too far-reaching!”
“Oh no, my dear boy!” Dumbledore replied. “I’m here because I died and now I have to explain things to you or else there will be no resolution to the story.”
“It’s a fantasy book, Harry, what do you expect?”
“Yeah, I get your point.”
Dumbledore eyed him with a degree of wariness. “If you want some clothes you can just wish for them. They’ll appear.”
“I know. I already did, but I don’t want them any more.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” Harry retorted, standing there in all his naked glory.
To Dumbledore’s credit, he kept his gaze on Harry’s face. “Well, all right. I guess I can’t argue with that.”
“Good. Now, since we’re here and you’re an old mentor with a beard and obviously know more than I do about this situation, tell me: where are we?”
“Apparently,” said Dumbledore, appearing uncomfortable, “we are in a harem.”
“A harem?” asked Harry, his voice cracking. “For real?”
“Huh. Any reason why you chose this as our rendezvous point?”
“Oh trust me, I didn’t choose this location,” Dumbledore shot back. “We’re inside your head. I have nothing to do with the location.”
Harry cocked his head to the side, not quite comprehending the situation. “We’re inside my head?”
“Kind of. It’s complicated.” Dumbledore raised his hands as if he were preparing to launch into a long speech. “You see, I’m dead, but you aren’t completely dead yet. It’s kind of messed up. I guess you’re really in some kind of in-between state, but you haven’t really gone on yet, so technically it’s all in your head. It’s complicated,” he said again.
“Uh huh.” Harry pretended to know what was going on, seeing as that had worked for him in every book of the series. “So I choose the location. And whether I wear clothes.”
“Yep!” Dumbledore smiled, as he now had a perfect opportunity to use one of his prepared one-liners. “This is your party, Harry!”
“My party?” Harry checked.
“Your party. You’re the man now, dawg!” Dumbledore joked in a thinly veiled allusion to an Internet phenomenon. (To the ignorant: Wikipedia it. To those who say you should never have to explain a good joke: it wasn’t a good joke anyways, so the Author doubts that it matters.)
“All right! Bring on the beer!” Kegs lined the decrepit walls of the harem. “And the ladies!” Women dressed in demeaning, revealing outfits surrounded Harry. “And Guitar Hero and Rock Band!” A video game console with guitar and drum controllers set itself down in a corner of the room. “Yeah! That’s what I call a party!”
“This really wasn’t what I meant by ‘party,’” Dumbledore remarked. “Are you even of age to drink, Harry?”
“So what? It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to!”
Several of the women echoed, “Cry if I want to, cry if I want to!” and Harry gave them all high fives for their efforts.
“Harry, I implore you: leave this harem behind!” Dumbledore implored redundantly, continuing a running gag throughout the fic. “It’s not convenient for the type of talk we’re going to have.”
“The birds and the bees?”
“No. But we can go over that, too, if you want. In fact, why don’t we start on that now…”
“No!” pleaded Harry. “Anything but that! I’ll change the location! Just stop it!”
The harem disappeared and they were now in a new locale.
“King’s Cross,” Harry muttered dully. “The place between the Muggle world and the wizarding world, and now the place between life and death. What droll symbolism.”
“Oh, give the Author some credit, he’s trying here.” Dumbledore smiled. “So. We’re together, free of any distractions. Any questions, Harry?”
Harry thought for a while. In fact he had been thinking about this situation ever since he’d woken up. It was all too confusing. Several questions came into his head, but none of them were the question. None of them had the right zang, the right, zip, the right originality. He wanted something that was classic, but still relevant. He didn’t want some hasty big budget remake; he wanted a novel question that incorporated loving tributes to its predecessors. He wasn’t particularly sure why he was thinking of his question as a movie treatment, but he was, and that was that.
Finally Harry found the question had been eluding him for the first part of the chapter. “Why?”
“Ah,” Dumbledore said, beaming, “that is the question.”
“Isn’t that the question to everything?” grumbled Harry.
“No, actually,” replied Dumbledore. “I think ‘Why not?’ is a rather good question, but that’s not the Universal Question either.”
“What is the Universal Question?” asked Harry.
Dumbledore beamed again. “Now that’s a smart boy! How’d you guess it?”
“What’s the question?”
“Right again!” exclaimed Dumbledore.
Part of Harry gave up trying to figure this out and decided to take a nap. The rest of him was still perplexed. “I don’t understand.”
“No one does,” said Dumbledore. “Except for, perhaps, the Being.”
“The Being at the Center of Everything. The Being that know the Universal Question and, thus, the Universal Answer.”
“That know?” asked Harry as another part of him rented a movie and heated up a tub of popcorn, having had it with this whole philosophy business. “Shouldn’t that be singular?”
“Oh, some of the time, I suppose,” answered Dumbledore breezily. “Most of the time the Being is – are – three separate demi-beings.”
Now something made sense to Harry. “Oh. Like the Holy Trinity. The Being is God.”
“Oh heavens no.” Dumbledore seemed to think the idea preposterous. “Although they might be cousins. But anyways. The Being shifts between three beings and one being and two beings and sometimes no beings. It’s somewhat tempestuous.”
“Sounds insecure,” mused Harry.
“Aren’t we all? But regardless, the Being knows the Question and the Answer. Two adventurers – who I believe were commissioned by a pack of superintelligent transdimensional mice – sought out the Being and asked it what the Question was.”
Harry found himself interested in this existential adventure. “What was it?”
“It’s unclear. The two adventurers were con artists and splendid liars. Each said the other was lying when they reported their findings.”
“Well, what were the Questions?”
Dumbledore folded his hands in front of his midriff. “One said it was ‘What is the Question?’ which is wonderful because it answers itself. The other claim it was ‘What shall I wear this morning?’ Both claimed the other was a liar, so naturally one of them was telling the truth.”
“Ah, but not if they weren’t referring to whether they were lying about the Question and were just saying the other was a liar in most cases. You know. Little inconsequential white lies, like, ‘No, honey, I didn’t sleep with a stripper while I was in Vegas!’ or ‘Oh, I’m sure they have weapons of mass destruction.’ You already said they were known as liars outside of this Question business, but what if they weren’t lying ABOUT the Question, eh?”
“True,” said Dumbledore, “but the mice had paid too much money to consider this possibility.”
Harry sympathized with the mice. “Yeah. What was the answer to the second Question? What shall I wear this morning?”
“It’s unclear. The Being got bored and dissolved themselves into nothingness. Most scholars agree the answer is definitely not a sweater vest and jean shorts.”
“Wise,” commented Harry. “So, this Being at the Center of the Universe –”
“Everything,” Dumbledore corrected.
Harry scoffed. “The Universe is everything.”
“Possibly,” replied the headmaster, “but it is not Everything. Everything (capitalized) includes alternate universes and what lies beyond the universe.”
“Nothing is part of Everything?”
“Yes. Everything is a paradox.” Dumbledore smiled in a terrifying fashion. “It has been theorized that Everything naturally makes no sense. So when something makes no sense, theoretically that makes perfect sense, which in itself is unnatural and makes no sense.”
“You scare me sometimes,” said Harry.
Dumbledore smiled still.
“I thought it was called the Universal Question, though,” continued Harry.
“Yes. The Everythingal Question just doesn’t roll off the tongue.”
“Yes, yes.” Harry placed his hands in his pockets and considered his situation, but he quickly gave up because nothing made any sense and evidently that was perfectly normal. “I suppose that while I’m here I should ask you important questions like, ‘Is there a heaven?’ or ‘How will Lost end?’”
“Not really,” shrugged Dumbledore, “they’re unimportant.”
“Why?” asked Harry.
“Why not?” countered Dumbledore.
Harry had to admit that it was a very good question.
“But seriously,” Harry finally said, “about Lost…”
“I’m not a big fan,” Dumbledore confessed, cutting him off. “Personally, I always preferred CSI: Miami. It’s just so dramatic when Horatio takes off his sunglasses and makes a clichéd statement.”
“Pssh, I hate that show,” Harry bemoaned. “Don’t you hate it when things are that cheesy and derivative?”
“Yes,” said Dumbledore, “but I love ironic criticism so it all evens out.”
“Whatever.” Harry shivered. “This place gives me the heebie jeebies. Why am I here, by the by? And I swear to God if you say, ‘Why not?’ I will stuff those damned half-moon spectacles where the sun don’t shine.”
“Ouch. But in all honesty, I’m not completely sure. I just know there’s some rule with fantasy books where the hero has to meet the mentor again after the mentor’s ‘death,’ so to speak.”
“So… what are we supposed to do now, exactly?”
Harry searched Dumbledore’s face and found that the weird old creep wasn’t lying, or at least he wasn’t tipping his hand. “Uh huh.” With sudden force the second most brilliant thought ever to pass the mind of man came upon Harry (the most brilliant thought being “run!”). He made to face Dumbledore and grinned. “Sorry to sound sort of oblique, but I’ve got a question, Professor.”
“Oh.” Dumbledore lay his hands out to each side as an invitation, seeing no harm in a simple question. “Go ahead. Shoot.”
“Okay, here goes...” Harry drew a deep breath for dramatic effect as a crescendo of violins rose in the background, kind of like those ones they have at the end of Law & Order episodes when Jack McCoy’s got a perp on the ropes. “I need you to answer me this: who killed you?”
The effect was automatic. With a great hop backwards, Dumbledore recoiled as if he’d been stricken by a rather large and stiff pillow. “No! You know not what you ask of me, my boy! You know not! Woe is I! Woe is my poor pitiful soul! May it wither away and die before I answer such an inquiry! Woe has fallen upon us all! Woe!”
“Whoa,” said Harry. “You really don’t want to tell me, do you?”
There was a chorus of “Woe!”s now. And then a refrain (“Woe, woe, woe!”) just to balance things out.
Harry did the only thing he could.
Dumbledore’s fingers crept open and he peeked out bravely to face his oppressor. “What was that you say?” He hiccupped. “Woe?”
“No! Lemon drop!”
“Woe is I!” cried Dumbledore, attaining (controversial, contested) grammatical perfection and misery at the same moment. “I should never have another lemon drop again, I think.”
“Oh really? That’s too bad for you.” Harry opened his palm to the sky and a packet of lemon drops appeared in his hand (I could really get used to thinking-to-order, he thought). He took one out of the packet and popped it into his mouth. “Oh God yes. That’s good.”
There was no change in Dumbledore’s status. If anything he was just more terrified and more reclusive, now rocking in a ball on the floor while sucking his thumb.
“So good. So damn good.” Harry racked his brain for possible maneuvers, but his brain was not very large and his efforts were for the most part unsuccessful. So he ad-libbed. “Hot damn. Yeah. Hells yeah, biatch. That’s some high quality shit.”
Something akin to a spasm shot through the professor and his head twitched up, neck stiffening into an alert position. “What was that you said?”
“Er… hells yeah, biatch…”
“No, no!” Dumbledore pulled himself up and stood. “Did you say… did you say ‘high quality shit?’”
Harry’s eyebrows rose unilaterally in a dark brown wave. “Yep. Sure is.”
“Gimme some of that shit!”
Dumbledore shot toward him like a madman and tore the packet away from his bare hands. Without thinking once Dumbledore brought the pack to his lips and poured every single lemon drop into his mouth.
“Yes! Yes, that’s it! DAMN STRAIGHT!” He hopped a little, his mouth full with the delicious addictive candies. “ALBUS IS BACK, FOOLS! BRING IT ON! HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT!”
“Hit me with your best shot!” Harry imitated a guitar riff with his mouth. “Duh-nuh, duh-nuh duh-duh-duh!”
“Yes! Play that guitar, Potter! I’m back on the drops, and you know that everyone loves to see morally conflicted heroes with substance addictions! They always get Emmys and Oscars and stuff!”
“GIVE DUMBLEDORE’S ACTOR AN OSCAR!” Harry shouted.
“Er… okay, maybe not for this role. Maybe for something else.”
“What? I thought his performance was dynamic.”
“Really? I’m not that angry in real life, am I?”
“Well, there was that one time when you were drunk…”
“Oh please. Name it.”
“St Patrick’s Day 1996.”
“Damn. Was I really that angry?”
“You bitchslapped Snape across the room! You yelled at Dennis Creevey so much that he had to change his trousers! You told Hagrid he has B.O.! Of course he has B.O.! But everyone else has enough tact not to mention it!”
“Okay, well, I was drunk,” Dumbledore rationalized. “It doesn’t count when you’re drunk.”
“Wow. I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.”
“Yeah… well… maybe that statement was a little out of line. I probably shouldn’t have gotten drunk. I apologize.”
Harry shrugged. “Hey, I’m not the one with the stung face or the ruined trousers or the destroyed sense of self-worth.”
“I’m dead! Stop making me feel guilty over something I can’t possibly fix! Unless you want to apologize to them for me.”
“No way, dude. Hagrid’s got terrible B.O.”
“Besides, Snape’s a bastard and the other two probably won’t even appear in this fic since Creevey’s a minor character and Hagrid’s accent is annoying to write.”
Harry’s logic was sound, and Dumbledore told him as much.
“Where is this conversation going?” Harry asked.
They shared an odd moment then. It was the kind of moment when two people realize that they’ve no idea what to discuss next and so they stand unblinkingly like affluent suburban parents in line for their kid’s hot new technological Christmas present (don’t get me started on the Wii – a fine gaming device, but spending days in line? Really?). Our two heroes examined their toes and their fingernails and the bench and then their own inner angst, but none of those were interesting topics of discussion. There was an impasse between them, and Harry felt quite like a prisoner escaping from prison, but the guards had spotted him and they had guns and he was surrounded and – “That’s it, I knew they’d run if we left them with their legs,” says the rotund stereotypical prison guard – oh boy was this an unsavory situation.
“Wow,” said Dumbledore. “You really don’t like awkward conversation, do you?”
“It’s my greatest weakness.” Harry paused to think. “Well, that. And saying ‘no’ to annoying, poorly characterized, fiery, feisty redheads that should remind me of my mother.”
“Yes, that too.”
This was the point where Harry had hoped a topic of conversation would come to him. As a teenage fantasy hero, he would be extremely embarrassed if he had come to have his Talk with His Dead Mentor only to run out of things to say and important narrative questions to ask.
Dumbledore asked (with sympathy): “May I suggest a line of inquiry?”
Harry replied (with relief): “Please do.”
“It seems to me that the nature of your death is most fascinating.”
“Not really. I just saw a light and I died.”
“But you didn’t.”
“See a light?”
Dumbledore waited patiently. Eventually Harry caught on.
“Ohhhhhh. Right!” Harry exclaimed. “Why didn’t I die?”
“Well, you see Harry, when Voldemort took your blood to resurrect himself, he accidentally preserved the link between you and your mother!” Dumbledore began pacing around the area in front of the bench. Harry couldn’t help but notice the headmaster’s excitement. (Ewwwww… no, that’s not what I meant! Sicko. You should be ashamed!) “And, as I suspected, when he tried to kill you, you were kept alive by his very blood! Very ironic, great twist. There’s also some stuff about a seventh Horcrux, but don’t worry, you don’t need to worry about that. I don’t want to deal with all the imminent death angst that could create.”
Harry took several seconds to comprehend this. “Right. Blood. Cool. So I’m not dead?”
“No. Although you could stick around here if you want. It’d be a coward’s way out, but you could.”
“Hm, let’s see, complete control of my surroundings and the ability to summon swimsuit models whenever I want… or life with an idiot sidekick, a brainy know-it-all, a horny father, and a suicidal megalomaniac. Tough decision.”
“Oh, come on, Harry. You need to go back. You must avenge me!”
Dumbledore was nearly begging now, but Harry knew he had to stand his ground. “Nah. I really like it here. Being dead kicks ass!”
“Yeah, I know, but I really need vengeance! I’m pretty bloodthirsty, you know!”
Harry just whistled an apathetic note.
“Fine,” Dumbledore sighed. “I didn’t want to do this, Harry, but I must…”
Harry knew enough to know that ellipses could only mean trouble. He let his eyes dart around the area nervously, and before he could identify a source of immediate danger, a soft piano melody filled his ears.
“What the hell?” he breathed. “What’s the meaning of this, Dumbledore?”
The headmaster just brought his finger to his lips in a request for silence. The music continued, until a vocal began.
“Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world…”
“Oh God,” said Harry. “You did not pull out Journey on me.”
(Note to readers, specifically any readers who might be lawyers employed by Journey: the Author claims no ownership of “Don’t Stop Believing,” by Journey. If you don’t know it, YouTube it. Your life is not complete until you do.)
“But I did,” said Dumbledore, and as if to prove it, the distinctive lead guitar riff echoed in the background. “You can’t listen to this song and not be inspired.”
Harry wanted nothing more than to argue this point, but then the chorus came, and he just had to move to the beat. By the second verse he was all-out dancing.
“I knew you couldn’t resist,” Dumbledore stated.
“You’re an evil man, Dumbledore!”
But the chorus came and all anger was forgotten.
“Streetlights – people! Living just to find emotion!” they sung together. “Hiding – somewhere in the niiiiiiiiightttt!”
Harry talked to Dumbledore as he pantomimed the ensuing guitar solo. “Fine. I’ll go back and avenge you. Happy?”
Dumbledore just grinned.
“Don’t stop – believing! Hold on to that feeling!”
They looked at each other one last time. Outside King’s Cross Station a young woman had extreme difficulty parallel parking. Out of the corner of his eye, Harry noticed a man in a Members Only jacket walking into the bathroom. Instinctively he knew what was coming.
“DON’T STOP –”
And the screen went black as millions of Americans wondered a) if their cable had gone out and b) what the hell happened to Tony Soprano?!
Dumbledore stared at the empty space where Harry had been and popped a lemon drop into his mouth. Humming to himself, he turned and made great giant strides into the fog, confident in the ability of his protégé to achieve due vengeance for his death. If he’d really given the matter some thought, he would have quickly realized he was a little overconfident in Harry’s competence.
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