Chapter 1 : The Deepest Scars
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The Deepest Scars
The spell was a laugh, that’s all it is, or was, because it’s as contagious as looking at Hermione when she’s looking at me with That Expression She Wears Sometimes, or when Harry’s being approached by some bloody terrifying fifth year for the Yule Ball – who does she think she is, anyway, there was no point, is no point, is there?
Except it’s a laugh, one that starts and because a laugh doesn’t die, it just keeps going. No one except me is feeling it, though – Ginny and her wide eyes, I think it’s funny the way she panics, and Loony Loony Lovegood, that’s her name, the funny old girl, they’re all pale and white and funny, so the laugh just stays with me because they won’t take it on. Why don’t you take it on? I’m asking them now, except Ginny’s shushing me, why is she doing that, we’re in some dark room anyway so who’s going to hear us?
But there’s a blue planet, Uranus, ha ha ha, and that’s a laugh because we’re on a planet, aren’t we, a planet called Earth. With its funny green hairs called grass and funny blue wetness called water and we’re some sort of growth on its back, ha ha ha. But no, behind Uranus, what a pun, a funny pun, there are people in robes, and yes, they’re the scary ones, except they can’t be because they started the laugh and it’s fun to laugh, it’s great –
Here they come now, I’m waving to them because they look funny in their big billowy black cloaks like the big billowy black darkness, darker than the darkness because their cloaks don’t have stars, their cloaks have people. Ginny grabs me and shoves me away from them, why, why are you doing that, hey, this is fun, look at me, Ginny, I’m flying, look, ha ha ha … But then they have ahold of her, she’s my sister with her red hair and freckles, I’ve got the same red hair, it’s waving in the breeze but there’s no breeze out in space where the planets are, which is a huge laugh because we’re not really out there, are we?
Oh, and look – that’s a laugh too, here comes one of the billowy men, he looks like he’s swimming through the air, but my arms are too heavy to move, but they say heavy is a relative thing and it’s all about attraction, like Hermione and her bushy hair, it would look brilliant in this breeze, I think. It’s an epiphany, actually; I’m having an epiphany – Hermione’s hair, why haven’t I ever seen it before? Merlin’s beard – ha ha, Hermione doesn’t have a beard, does she? And now it’s Loony Lovegood shoving me, except I don’t know where to and she’s yelling things that don’t make sense. That’s not too surprising of Loony Lovegood, but what is surprising is that Ginny’s screaming even though she doesn’t scream.
Except it’s a laugh because the billowy men have got her, and maybe finally I’ll have someone to share the laugh with, yes? But then there’s a crack, and an explosion, planet chunks everywhere, ha ha ha, and then Ginny’s screaming again, and there’s the thought that maybe I should be concerned, as her older brother. But she’s got so many other older brothers who can be concerned, hasn’t she, with Fred and George and Percy and Bill and Charlie and even Harry can count by now even though she used to be in love with him, wasn’t that just the greatest laugh of all?
Loony Lovegood’s shoving again, and I just let her do it because I’m laughing too hard to really move much on my own, and there’s that attraction thing again – where’s Hermione when you need her? I’m going to ask for her, yes, and come to think of it it’s been a while since I’ve seen Harry, but Ginny keeps telling me to shut it and then my head hits something hard. Now Ginny’s the one pushing, and I’m trying to push her away because I don’t like it, it hurts –
Here we go now, it’s a door that I hit. And suddenly there’s that thing called gravity, I’m heavy again, and I’m trying to puzzle it out – Ginny, how does it work, I’m heavy and attracted and – She’s pushing me, not listening to a word, her face white. I stumble up and there’s a wall right in front of me, how funny, I think it’ll be my new friend, ha ha ha, but Loony Lovegood is pulling me away from it and I’m telling her stop, stop, I wanna – But I can never finish, just like I can never finish the laugh.
And it’s sad, so incredibly heart-wrenching to be away from the wall, my best friend in the world, even greater than Harry, where is he, where is he? Maybe the laugh has ended, can it end in such pain? But laughter usually does – pain in the stomach, but this is pain in the heart. But here goes Loony Lovegood, Loony Loony Lovegood with another door – Merlin, is she good at them.
We fall out, I think gravity is still a foreign concept, what a funny phrase, but the laugh is back because I’ve found Harry again, how relieving, how funny. I go for him, my best friend with blood on his face, stumbling and lurching because it’s funny how my feet aren’t quite where I think they are – Harry, there you are… ha ha ha… You look funny, Harry… You’re all messed up… And it seems my knees aren’t quite where I thought they were either, or maybe they don’t exist at all anymore, how funny, because I’m hanging off of Harry now, and it’s so funny because usually I’m taller than him, and now I’m not –
Loony Lovegood’s explaining something in that way of hers, I want to ask her about it, but she’s talking about planets and the laugh wells up and bursts out again because we saw Uranus, what a bloody funny pun – Harry, we saw Uranus up close… Get it, Harry? We saw Uranus… ha ha ha… And for a while I can’t talk then, because there’s something hot and wet in my mouth, well, hotter and wetter than usual because mouths tend to be hot and wet – unless that’s only me and other people are different, I’ve never thought of that, but then I’ve never been inside another person’s mouth before. Maybe Harry can tell me, but when I pull him down to ask the words get lost like they sometimes do and instead I’m introducing him to Loony Lovegood who is calling me funny – yes, that’s very true, funny and a laugh.
I suppose there must be something happening though, because Harry doesn’t usually hold me so tightly, or hold me at all really, I suppose that’s something he reserves for Cho Chang and I really don’t want to be the new Cho, not in the least because I don’t find Harry attractive, yet I’m being dragged and pulled against him, so there has to be something in it regarding gravity, at least. So it’s filed away under gravity-attraction, and that’s worth a laugh, and then Harry’s thrown me – what a funny moment, flying through the air, and it doesn’t really even hurt, hitting the stone floor, ha ha ha.
After a moment I’m finding and rearranging my limbs, it’s great how roughly put-together I am, like I have to locate each individual body part before anything can be done, and I’m not going to follow that train of thought all the way because Hermione’s in front of me and she looks unconscious, and if I run her over with the thought train she might die and then she’ll never grow a beard, ha ha ha. So I lumber upright, aim myself for Harry, and take stock of the room – it’s the brain room again, how funny, we were in here before and there are brains, how fascinating. What does a brain feel like – it’s not like I can ask Hermione to pop hers out, I don’t think she’d let even me touch her brain, but maybe it doesn’t have to be hers – there are plenty in the tank, but maybe I should tell Harry what I’m doing, he looks a little stressed and there are more billowy people running around –
Hey – hey, Harry, there are brains in here, ha ha ha, isn’t that weird, Harry? And he’s interrupting me, doesn’t care – Ron, get out of the way, get down – Or he doesn’t believe me, I’ll show him now, I’ve got my wand – Honest, Harry, they’re brains – look – Accio Brain!
It’s quite funny how everyone stops to watch this bit, like they’re all finally seeing that the laugh is worth it, I’ve even got brains flying towards me and that’s got to count for something, hasn’t it? Even the billowy people have stopped, and I’m still not sure about them because all of my friends are so scared of them, but there’s nothing scary about them to me, they make me laugh.
But back to the brain, it’s more interesting anyway, because look at all that unraveling stuff, how fascinating, how funny. Ha ha ha… Harry, look at it… What is the stuff, those images? I’m watching the brain unravel like an Extendable Ear being untangled from a bundle, trailing pictures, floating, glistening trails of – what? What does a thought feel like – can I hear it, as if it actually was an Extendable Ear, wouldn’t that be funny, Fred and George would really be onto something then. But look at the way it all glistens, like rubber under candlelight but without the hard Muggleness of it, I have to know if it actually feels like that – Harry, come and touch it, bet it’s weird…
He yells, and maybe for a moment I look up and see him panic. But I’m still blinded by my laugh, and it’s ridiculous and funny for him to panic.
Next moment the brain is in front of me, and I think maybe I should try out for Seeker next year, Harry doesn’t even try to catch this one – but it’s a fleeting thought, because then I can feel its smooth scalloped shape in my fingers, still trailing vivid thoughts, surprisingly heavy. The briefest calm – a brain, in my hand, then –
Tentacles, that’s what they are – wrapping around my arms, my chest, my stomach, down my legs – I’m screaming and screaming because they hurt so bloody much and I don’t like it and Harry is gone, but his panic is staying with me, why is it staying with me –
There are flashing lights and people running again, does no one care about the tentacles, not thoughts, tentacles, and this is not funny at all anymore but here they come, slithering along my neck, caressing my pulse and then squeezing – my air, where is my air – such cold, smooth tentacles, brushing across my mouth and then I can only struggle mutely until they smother themselves across my eyes – into my eyes –
And then we are one, the brain and I.
I am him and he is me and I see him and he sees me and we are the same, walking in the same body down the same dark hall toward the same black door lit by the same pale light – through it, a circular room whose walls are covered in identical black doors, so familiar to us because we are here every day, and we know where to go, which door to put our hand on and push, which door will take us where we need to go. We think of the home we just left, the breakfast that we had, our beautiful wife with her curly brown hair and the baby she will soon give birth to. The ticking of the Time Room surrounds us; how we would love to steal a Time-Turner, just for the short trip it would take to see our future child. But time is not so easily manipulated. In any case, the Time-Turners register our touch, as does everything else in these rooms – we cannot touch what is not ours to touch.
And we cannot speak what is not ours to speak.
We keep our silence, but nod at the black-haired one as he emerges from the Arch Room. We do not know his name; we have never asked. It is better not to; we will know soon enough when our time is over. It is the same with the bespectacled one; he looks the eldest of us who research in these rooms. He smiles at us as we pass him, and we watch for a moment as he turns a page of his volume and blows across the rippling top of the bell jar full of Time Wind. We do not know its proper name, but we do know that some of us have retreated into the bell jar with the intention of healing by regressing time, but none have ever reemerged.
Each time, invariably, we identify a new brain, so it is not hard for us to deduce what happens.
We arrive in the Hall of Brains and halt, uncertain. There is a spot on the floor between the desks that we cannot quite look at; our eyes keep sliding over it as if it does not exist, as if there is simply nothing between the desks, as there is nothing at the edge of our vision when we turn our eyes too far. It is something that we have never noticed before. We watch the spot, or the desks around it, for a change, and when none is forthcoming, we proceed to our office, accepting the nothingness as an odd modification in the room, as has happened before, over time.
We file some paperwork and search out the books we have been meaning to look at from the teetering stacks piled on the floor. With these floating along behind us by instruction of our wand, we walk to the Planets, again missing a patch of the Hall of Brains along the way. We send the books through the Planets’ door first and watch them float away. One day we will catch up with them. Today is only a day of observation. We follow in at a slower pace, and as gravity relinquishes its hold on us, we are momentarily stunned at an unusual panic – gravity – attraction – Hermione – but it is gone as quickly as it came, and we float on.
It takes us eleven rotations today to find the progression. This is far more than it has been in years, and we feel today’s orbit aging us already. Our wife will be worried when we return home tonight. We think of her, and the baby. It will be born soon, we think. We have lost track of time today; it is always so hard with the Planets, and in these rooms in general –
And we turn back to the progression. As we watch, there comes a faint sense of uncertainty – the sort we felt in the beginning, when we were shown the Planets for the first time, when we reemerged and were told we had spent three weeks in the room.
We realize that it is no progression today – there is a mistake. There is an angle between Pluto and a star that we are not familiar with – even after so many years, we do not know all of the stars that come and go in this room – and we reach for the door. It will always come to us when we need it –
After the twenty-second rotation, we see it again. The mistake, the angle, something between Pluto and that star, and a faint sense of déjà vu permeates us as we think of our wife. She will worry; we are not usually with the Planets for so long.
We reach for the door.
The mistake is so clear after the thirty-third rotation that it is almost like staring into the sun. We remember doing that when we were little during a solar eclipse, and our older sister told us not to do it, we would hurt our eyes, but we were a child and did it anyway –
Eleven rotations pass. The forty-fourth surpasses sun-like clarity and becomes a mental presence, a knowledge that is just slightly off because it is missing. There is something wrong, something to be learned here. We reach for the door. We have been here far too long today; our wife will worry. Our lovely wife with our baby and her curly brown hair and her deep, sea-green eyes – but Hermione has brown eyes –
We reach for the door – brown eyes –
And open our blue eyes in the Hall of Brains. We lie in the spot we could not see, writhing in the grip of something harsh that cuts at us and strangles us, staring at the other bodies slumped on the floor, hearing the slight ripple of greenish potion in the tank of brains –
And we are the brain, jolting down its syntax, floating with the Planets and still reaching for the door as we complete the fifty-fifth rotation. The mistake, the progression – how long have we been away from our wife now?
As we near sixty-six, we reawaken in the Hall of Brains to the sound of footsteps – a black-haired someone is running, and somehow that is funny, and we are giggling, but there is yelling, too, and we get the sense that someone is panicking – we recall cloaked people, billowy people –
The mistake, and Pluto – we need our books, but we cannot find the door in the room with the Planets no matter how hard we try –
The seventy-seventh rotation brings terror far more than uncertainty; we have not had a relapse into the nothing-patch in the Hall of Brains this time, but we are fairly certain now that we have been with the Planets for far too long; it has been years since we have seen our wife, our unborn child – will it have our eyes, blue eyes, or hers – sea-green – brown –
The Hall of Brains. Why are we here? Why do we alternate between these two rooms, these two realities – is there another room here that we have not yet discovered, that brings us into this conflict – what force is holding us down in this hall when we keep opening our eyes to see the Planets –
With the eighty-eighth rotation, we give up our search for the door. It was always behind us in the past, but the past is not a stable concept in any of these rooms. Evidently it has moved, and we must follow it, or find it, or hope it presents itself, but even if it does, we are not sure we would be able to move through it; our restraints in the Hall of Brains seem to be holding us down here, too.
At the ninety-ninth rotation, we blink and land in the Hall of Brains, and blink again and are back with the Planets. The switching strikes us as funny; we are wracked by giggles and then every time we blink, we flicker between the Hall of Brains and the Planets, barely holding our fear at bay beneath the frantic, spastic laughter –
The one hundred and tenth rotation starts us panicking, because we remain in the Hall of Brains even as we open our eyes among the Planets – we are in both places at once, two parts of the same, we are being torn in two across these rooms to feel both at once – and we see them both, our wife, our beautiful, green-eyed wife, and beside her the younger brown-eyed girl – Hermione –
We blink as we reach the one hundred twenty-first rotation, and we are gone from the Hall of Brains. We are with the Planets. We have been here far too long – that is our first thought – but then we are gripped by a harsh, unnatural panic, as the Planet room gives way and suddenly there is gravity, gravity in the Planets’ room – gravity – attraction – Hermione –
And we are one, the brain and I.
We fall together.
I watch him as he falls, as he watches me. We are one, the brain and I. I fear with him, I feel his apprehension, his excitement. He has been with the Planets for too long – he will never leave them now, only for the Hall of Brains, and only for me, because he will swim forever in a hazy green potion waiting for me to choose him – and he will know what they know, he will know their names, all the other brains, and they will know him – never able to speak of their work, their knowledge, never able to share –
They do, in the end, but never through words. Their thoughts slither around me like they swim around each other, twist deep into my skin until they draw blood, and then flow into my body and twine themselves into my mind – I am him and he is me. I know him and he knows me.
We are one, the brain and I.