Chapter 1 : tooth in the brain
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Originally written for The Misfit's April Fools Consequences Challenge
I do not own the characters.
tooth in the brain
She was out of ink. The bottle was lying on its side, cap missing, and the label, which had once read ‘Flourish & Blott’s Extra Shiny Quick-Drying Ink’, had long been scrabbled away by nervous fingernails. That was the first thing Ginny Weasley noticed when she peeled her face out of the crook of her elbow, disoriented. Her cheek was stiff with congealed drool, and the muscles around her neck and shoulder had gathered into tight achy florets. In front of her, The Standard Book of Spells Grade 1 was propped open, standing upright like a thick panel. Somehow she’d awoken to find herself in a remote corner of the library, away from the groups of students thumbing through their tomes, scrolling and unscrolling their essays, somehow hoping they would magically expand and fill out the required length of parchment.
The Standard Book of Spells was not the only book in front of her. There was the other one, a much slimmer volume with a dull leather cover and a fraying maroon ribbon for a bookmark. It looked like an ordinary diary. At the bottom of the title page were the words: Winstanley’s Bookstore and Stationers, 422 Vauxhall Road, London. The rest of it was empty; at least it looked that way. She remembered fishing it out of her cauldron many months ago, from beneath a stack of second-hand textbooks. It was cool to the touch and as she turned the pages, they seemed to murmur, their blankness regarding her dispassionately.
Hello. My name is Tom Riddle. Can you keep a secret, Ginny Weasley?
That was how it all started. She remembered writing: it’s funny Tom, the way you eat my words. And the diary had written back to her using her ink: you have given me Voice, little Ginny, and I am indebted to you. These days she found herself in the oddest of places – in bathrooms, lying under the sinks, hands stroking the icy piping, or along the edge of the Forbidden Forest, with such a pungent saline scent in her nose that she thought the sea might have crept into the trees, and secretly she hoped that it had.
She had tried getting rid of the diary, but somehow Harry had discovered it in an out-of-order girl’s toilet, of all places. The Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived. She’d broken into his dorm one afternoon and ripped through his belongings, chanting in her head, where are you, Riddle, I know you’re here. You let him be, he hasn’t done anything. And when her hands finally closed on its familiar covers, she had never been more relieved and more miserable.
Something troubling you, little Ginny? It was him. She hated that voice; it filtered through her head, sliding and slipping around her words, through the interstices of her thoughts, concentrating into a point in the middle of her skull. His voice was a tooth in the brain. She rubbed two fingers against the back of her head, as if to alleviate that strange internal itch.
“Go away.” There was a sob, building like a bubble at the top of her throat. She refused to let it go.
Strange that you’d go to such lengths to get me back, only to ask me to go away again. That can be arranged, you know.
“You leave Harry alone,” she said fiercely. Now she was sitting up, her back perpendicular, hands pasted to her lap. A fourth year Ravenclaw walked past her desk, shooting her a look. Ginny didn’t notice.
It was fascinating meeting him. The Boy Who Lived. He is famous, after all. I have to confess that he was reasonably happy with what I told him.
You’ve always had a – a thing for him, isn’t that right? You told me, remember? Dear Tom, he doesn’t see me, I don’t think he ever will. I wish he would, though. Sometimes I’m so envious of my brother, Ron.
She unstuck her hand from her lap and reached out to snatch the diary. She would shred it with her fingers, lacerate the old leather that bound together his existence and his memories and that hateful enchanting voice. But as usual, her hand slipped off its trajectory and instead made contact with her first year spellbook. Several pages came off in her hand. She ran a finger over the zigzag of their torn edges.
Someone clapped her on the back and she dropped the handful of ripped paper. A voice boomed in her ear, “And what, pray, is our Ginny up to these days?” Looking up, she scowled at the two familiar faces of her brothers, who had snuck up on her and were now sandwiching her in an attempt to share her chair.
“Get off, you two. This chair’s meant for one person.”
“Ginny, are you studying?” Fred exclaimed. “In the library?”
“Are you going to do a Percy on us, now? And we thought you had such promise.” George let out a long sorrowful sigh. It didn’t match his grin.
“Oh, pish posh, Perce,” Fred waved his hand dismissively. “Perce the Perfect.”
“Perce the Prodigy.”
Ginny reached out and shoved her brothers away from her with unexpected strength. They tumbled onto the floor. “Why don’t you let Percy be for once,” she hissed. “And what are you two doing here, anyway?”
“Looking for you,” Fred answered, picking himself up and dusting his robes.
“Have you forgotten, knucklehead?” George burrowed an elbow into her lap and levered himself up. She winced. He reached out and picked up the diary. “Didn’t know you kept one of these, Ginny.”
“Give it back!” Her voice tripped up a notch.
“Quiet, you’ll bring The Pincer over. Anyway, what are you so worried about – it’s blank.”
George flipped through before stopping at a certain page. “Here,” he said shoving the book at her. There was nothing there, except the date: April 1st. Her breath knotted in her chest.
“It’s – ”
“ – April Fools, yes – ”
“ – our birthday, yes – ”
“ – and you’ve forgotten.” Fred’s mouth grew tight and the corners of his lips sharpened, almost an expression of triumph. “Instead you’re here, studying.”
“We thought you were one of us, Ginny.” George smirked, and she thought of picking up her spellbook and chucking it at his face.
“Yeah, we take back that thought.”
She remembered something: the twins, when they were back for their summer holidays and having a game of Quidditch with Charlie and Ron in the fields and she hadn’t been allowed to join in. “Shove off, Ginny, you’re too little,” Fred said and loped off, while George ruffled her hair, making the untidy red strands tumble over her eyes, striating her vision. She blew the hair out of her face. That night she’d stole out to the shed where their brooms were, picked one and gone for a ride. It was Ron’s Shooting Star and it crawled through the air rather than flew but still, it was such a strange sensation, enveloped in space, her feet becoming limp fish, useless without the ground. For many nights, she had been doing just that – riding in her thin pyjamas, dipping through the shadows by herself.
Ginny bit her lip; she liked that pinch of pain. The tiny point in her brain shuddered and before she could stop herself, she hurled first the empty ink bottle, and then the spellbook at her brothers.
“Leave me alone!”
George caught the bottle, but the book thumped Fred on the shoulder. “Ow! Bloody hell, Ginny – ”
But the twins had finally seen her, the way she gripped the edge of the table, the tracing of veins beneath the chalky skin of her temples.
“C’mon,” George motioned to Fred. He looked mildly contrite. “We didn’t mean anything, Ginny.”
They ducked behind the shelves and vanished and she thought she might cry; she hadn’t meant any of that. It was their birthday after all and she’d forgotten. That burst of anger – that hadn’t been her. Now they were gone.
Dear Tom, I wish my brothers would – I mean I don’t know what I wish they would – I mean they know everyone and everyone loves them and –
“I hate you.” She gritted her teeth at how absolutely pathetic she sounded; the corners of her eyes were beginning to warm up and scarlet heat crested against the ridge of her cheekbones.
Tag-a-long. Tom’s voice slithered through her thoughts easily and her fingers found their way to the back of her head again, rubbing at the itch buried deep in her skull. Little Ginny in her second-hand robes, lagging behind her brothers, noticed by none. You belong to me now, little Ginny.
Before she could give yet another ineffectual reply, there was a series of soft popping sounds, and a thick green gas billowed through the library. It had the stench of eggs gone bad and sweat crusted in the armpits of shirts worn over too many days and somehow she also thought of chickens, a pile of chicken carcasses, warm chicken guts spilling over her wrists. Students jumped up in a flurry of parchment and quills and Madam Pince began howling at everyone to get out. There was laughter, which was quickly squelched by the noxious smoke. Fred and George had set off Dungbombs in the library.
She froze, and just then, Madam Pince swept into view – tall, bony, collared to the chin in black, the pince-nez glasses skating down her nose in rage.
“You,” she snarled, stabbing a finger at Ginny. “You and your brothers have been sitting here and plotting all this while! You have befouled my library, this sanctum of education.”
“I had nothing to do with it, I swear.”
There was nowhere to go. She didn’t want to go out into the castle with its long winding corridors and alcoves dug into the walls – anything might happen; she might stray off her path or she might slip into forgetfulness clutching the diary in her pocket, her sweat soaking into its covers, lapped up by the hungry faceless pages.
“Please let me stay.” The sob sitting in her throat was inching forward. It would fly out of her any moment now.
Madam Pince gave her a cold look, lifting her forearm and burying her nose into her sleeve. “You and your brothers are prohibited from entering the library for the rest of the term. Gather your things and leave this place at once.”
She turned and strode away, waving her wand at the foul smoke, Vanishing the whole cloud in an instant. Ginny put her lip back between her teeth and punched her upper jaw down on it. Her knees wobbled and her heartbeat clattered in her temples.
There, there. Riddle’s voice was silk, and her pulse slowed. I know how you feel. I always do. I can take care of this for you, you know.
She understood. “I – I’ve run out of ink.”
You don’t need ink.
And as if someone else was controlling her, she opened the diary right to the centre where the string binding was showing. Holding her left hand over the pages, she pointed her wand at the palm and whispered, “Diffindo.”
The flesh opened up to the bone and blood poured onto the book, pooling on the pages before sinking through, into its hidden dimensions, red eaten by white. Tears were dripping down her cheeks now, and the sob pushed free from her, followed by another and another, and they all hung in the air, sounds refusing to disperse. She snapped the book shut, shoved her injured hand deep into her robes and made her way through the dusty shelves and chairs and tables left askew by the students who had departed in a hurry.
Later, she would be sorry – no, she would be horrified; she would be stumbling out of the hospital wing, cradling her newly-bandaged hand before running off to the bathroom, which would only make her feel worse, and finally she would return to the library and break through the closed doors. She would fumble through the debris of paper and metal, searching for that one thing, the source of it all, which she hated, which she had once loved, which yoked her into its binding, a secret gesture, an invisible friend. And she would find it intact, or it would find her, but either way nothing would change.
But that would be later.
Now, however, she walked up to Madam Pince’s counter, stopping to grab several books from a shelf and slipping the diary in between them, and slammed the whole pile onto the re-shelving trolley. Madam Pince’s glare was daggered.
“Happy April the first,” Ginny said spitefully before walking out of the library and disappearing into the dim corridors of Hogwarts.
* * *
Irma Pince flicked her wand and there was a scuffing sound as the chairs and tables realigned themselves into their orderly ranks. The library smelt clean again, pinewood and the respectable odour of aged parchment. She made her usual rounds of the library, two fingers dragging across the spines of the volumes as she walked. Time to time she would stop, pull a book from a shelf and polish it, straighten out its dog-ears, and Vanish the scribbles left by students. Oh, the students. Nothing was sacred to them – just look at how many books returned with ink stains blotting out the text, with a page or two ripped out, with those abhorrent little tendrils of writing in the margins.
She thought briefly of the Weasley girl sitting in the corner all by herself, crouching behind her propped-up textbook. There was something about how small and drawn and curled-in her shoulders were and how thick the schoolbook was, the covers enclosing her. A distant memory struck Irma: she remembered being young again, how she picked at her food, swirling her porridge into a whirlpool of starch, book leaning against the milk jug.
It was a bit ridiculous really, the way Irma Pince grew into herself. She grew from the crooked gawky girl with pointy elbows and eyes red-rimmed from all that reading into the tall striding woman wrapped in black robes. She grew into her spindly hands, her grapnel fingers polishing and preserving the rarest texts of the Restricted Section, which no student was allowed to peruse, the arthritis building up in the joints. She grew into her bad back, hunched over her desk, into the tension blooming in her shoulders. She grew into her name, into her tortoiseshell pince-nez glasses, chain attached to a hairpin. She grew into the nickname that the students of Hogwarts now gave her – The Pincer.
Irma remembered herself in buttoned-down robes glowering at a group of her classmates banging and shoving, their limbs moving so quickly and freely that sometimes they seemed to melt into each other. And Irma the child had pulled another scowl, shrugged and rammed her glasses back up the ridge of her nose, before continuing with her essay. She remembered how she took such pride in the arrangement of her essay; her handwriting was straight-backed and the paragraphs were pruned into perfect squares. If Irma had to describe her youth, she would have said how everything seemed perpetually out of order, how everything was a vast and gross blur, children running, shrieking, laughing, food running down their chins, and how absolutely ridiculous it was that she was expected to partake in all that.
She shook away the thoughts and went back to work, turning her attention to the re-shelving trolley. She felt it at once. There was something different about the pile of books on it. There was a presence in there; there was something alive and thinking. She rifled through the stack in the trolley, heart thumping with an excitement she’d never felt before, until her fingers closed on the source of that strange unbalance in the library.
It was a book. A personal diary. Black covers, trimmed with gold leaf at the corners. She’d never seen this book before, not in all the years she’d been a librarian at Hogwarts. There was nothing inside.
“Specialis revelio,” she whispered, tapping her wand to it.
Nothing happened for a minute, and then, slowly, writing began to appear, a brilliant scarlet rising out of the emptiness of paper – neat, twiglike handwriting slinking across the page.
June, 1942. There has been another attack on a student, a fatal one this time. A girl was found dead in the second floor bathroom. They would not announce her cause of death. But I think I know. Wouldn’t you like to know?
She froze. More writing appeared.
Hello, Irma the Librarian.
She had never encountered such an object – and a book at that! The ink smelt like rust.
I have something to show you, Irma. I think it might be relevant to the times.
How could she reply to this? And what was she supposed to say? The extent of the book’s sentience was unsettling. She would bring this straight to Albus Dumbledore; she reached out to close it.
You’ve chosen the right book, Irma. I’ve been waiting to tell you, to show you.
There were shapes moving in the pages, behind the red writing, like silhouettes in fog, that slowly grew clearer, or maybe the paper was becoming less opaque – she pressed her face closer to the book to get a better look.
Irma didn’t know what happened next, except there was a terrific sucking force, pulling her forward and all sense of balance went out of her as she keeled and fell through the pages and through the scarlet shining text (somehow the writing nauseated her and as she fell through them she thought the ink would leave a stain on her), through all the concealed dimensions folded into the thickness of a piece of paper. Air surged past and the shapes of things became long blurred streaks of themselves. It felt as though she was speeding through stone halls and corridors and doorways and through crowds of people; their voices were spikes of sound in her ears as she passed. The movement ceased and she landed on the hard floor.
It was cool in this new place, and in front of her was a row of sinks and mirrors. Water dripped from a tap someone had forgot to turn off completely and thick, soupy streaks of sunlight fell from the windows, set high up on the walls. She recognised this bathroom; it was the girls’ bathroom on the second floor. There was the sound of someone sobbing, a muffled huh huh huh coming from one of the cubicles and she picked herself up, smoothing out the creases in her robes and rubbing at her bad back, at the sore patch behind her shoulders. Pushing open the cubicle door, she saw a girl with round glasses sitting on the toilet with the lid down, ankles crossed, blowing her nose into a yellow handkerchief. The girl didn’t look up.
“I hate Olive Hornby,” the girl wailed, dabbing her cheeks with the same soaking hanky she’d just blown her nose in. Irma wrinkled her nose and looked away. “I hate Olive Hornby. How I hate Olive Hornby.”
She heard the sound of the door opening. Footsteps. Someone speaking a low-pitched sibilant language. Irma had never heard a word of Parseltongue being uttered before, but she recognised it at once. Her skin prickled and her mouth went dry, tongue clinging to the roof. But she couldn’t move. The memory – the book was controlling her fully; here within its realm it had absolute power, and it stuck her to the spot, locking her body into place. Irma could only watch as the girl stopped her crying fit, screwed up her face as if listening to the strange voice before getting up and heading toward the door. She wanted to cry, do not open the door, you stupid girl but there she was, powerless and buttoned down in a memory that wasn’t hers, that was alive. The girl opened the door.
Irma saw her freeze; her eyes, still shivery with tears, grew enormous, and her fist unclenched, and almost as if in slow motion, the girl fell backward, the rigid line of her body unbroken until it hit the ground, skull crunching against the stone. Everything about her was open, her slack mouth, her eyes, even the nostrils seemed flared. Against her will, she turned to face what was outside the cubicle.
Something huge was blotting out the light, and hovering right before her face was a pair of bloated sulphur-coloured eyes. Eyes that caught her own stare and branded their way through to the back of her brain. Images swam in her head in garbled trains, in clusters of too bright colour – she saw the dead girl falling again, heard her thudding onto the floor, she felt pain in her knees, in her neck, in her wrists and fingers, she remembered going stiff – now she was going stiff – she found herself at someone’s funeral – it might have been her mother’s and there she was, in the front row, prim and veiled in black, fingering the cuffs of her sleeves and her tweed buttons and not liking the open public space of the cemetery. How she longed for the tightness of the library, the tall crammed shelves, alphabetically stocked with information, the bands of space between the shelves.
All these things – they rose to the surface of her brain and were pulled out of her and she felt light-headed, nauseous. The eyes hung before her like fattened cinders. She was falling backwards, just like the dead girl. Back and back and back she fell and there was no floor and she was weightless, hurtling through stone, through air, through paper…
And just like that, she was back in the library, ejected from the pages of the mysterious book, which had now clapped shut. Irma was shaking; the library was cold. She snatched her wand from her robes, pointed it at the diary and uttered a curse. The trolley exploded and the books were blasted into a blizzard of shredded paper. Something jumped off the shelves and snapped its way to her. It was a copy of The Monster Book of Monsters, which, angered by the noise had abandoned its designated position and now proceeded to attack her, cracking its covers at her ankles.
“Reducto!” she spat.
The library was a mess. There was nothing sacred about it, nothing especially intelligent about the huge numbers of books fitted into place on the shelves, oblivious to the information they comprised. Irma turned and fled, slamming and locking the doors behind her.
She didn’t see the figure skulking in a niche, behind a gargoyle. Dull-eyed Ginny Weasley, face still blotchy with tears, her arms withdrawn into her robes, hugging herself. Ginny watched Irma vanish down a staircase, before tugging herself away from the shadows and making for the library.
A/N: ARGH. OK. This is completely different to everything else I've written so far. Eep. And as usual I'm a nervous wreck D:
I'm not sure if this story can be considered canon! Let me know what you think, and please, tell me what genre this story best fits in. I'm always bad at classifying my fics.
Thank you so much for reading :)