Chapter 1 : One
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A word of caution: Iím hoping some people may be able to read this as a stand-alone fic, but if you havenít read Welcome to Blunderland, it may a) be confusing and b) ruin that story for you. Regardless, I hope you enjoy this fic, and thank you for waiting :3
(Wee disclaimer: the story summary borrows from the famous Mark Twain quip: Ďthe reports of my death are greatly exaggeratedí)
more than music)feeling that sunlight is
(life and day are)only loaned:whereas
night is given
- e. e. cummings
Itís like dreaming of running, only to stumble, fall, and wake with a jolt in bed. For a moment I swear I feel the ground beneath my feet, the clod of earth and turf thatís tripped me. Then I wake for real, and all my limbs seize up at once so I stretch out like a compass needle and nearly give the poor man reviving me a concussion.
I become aware of voices and someone clutching my wrist. Thereís the strangely comforting sound of someone retching, and the familiar rush of blood in my ears. Then they start to ring, as my fingers fizz with pins and needles.
I donít have a voice yet Ė movement is enough of a challenge. Waking up has taken the life out of me, and all I can do is lie back, dazed, and stare up at a sky so white that it sears my eyes.
The fingers stay on my wrist like a restraint. I try to sit up, but my head reels. ĎLet go,í someone says, and the pressure lifts from my wrist. Without that grip, the world seems dangerously distant, and someone far away is wailing like a child. I canít help but respond to their screams.
Iím able to sit up now. The roomís at a pitched angle that makes my head spin again. Itís all white, apart from a mass of darkness in one corner that Iím unable to make true sense of without my glasses. Thereís a patch of deep crimson close by, finishing in a pattern like a crown of milk at my feet.
I refocus on my fatherís face. Itís filthy, with dirt or soot smeared across the cheeks and with dried blood on the chin, with eyes that are wide and unnerving.
ĎDonít look,í he says again, and embraces me. This gesture is more unnerving, because this is my father, and my father is not that kind of person. He smells overpoweringly of sweat and I must hold my breath.
ĎWhere am I?í I ask him.
He doesnít answer me, but his arms tighten.
Over his shoulders, I can see my own outstretched hands, where blue sparks are dancing between my fingertips like a mirage.
They wonít let me have visitors for the first two weeks. Iím apparently too fragile, and they need time to run tests. Iím not allowed out of bed. I lose my appetite. I ask for books and Dad sends me half my bookshelf, but theyíre ones Iíve already read and I canít muster the enthusiasm to try them again. I lie on my back and stare at the ceiling. I am in my own room and thereís nobody to talk to.
They never get too close. I think about asking for ink, just so I can draw on the floor the boundary that they all unconsciously adhere to, just to see how theyíd react, but theyíd only give me a pencil and ask if I want the íProphet crosswords too. In the time being, they only come close if they need to. Some days my hair will stand on end and then they donít come into the room at all.
Some days they send people from the Department of Mysteries and I pretend Iím asleep. This never works. They want to take me back to the Ministry, but apparently my dad wonít allow it. I wonít allow it either, but Iím not asked for my opinion.
After a fortnight Albus is my first proper visitor. I canít make my mind up about this, because Iím not meant to like him, and in some ways I can see him as a friend, but in others heís not and Iím more in his debt than ever before.
He gets off lightly, with a cut on his hand thatíll never heal. This means Quidditch is out of the question for him now, which I point out to him in due course. He points out that I got off worse.
ĎGrave news,í he said. ĎHa, ha. Pun intended.í
When they let me out, term is already over, so Dad takes me straight home. The flat is spotless, tidier than Iíve ever seen it. Heís put a vase of wilting flowers on the kitchen table. I go to pick one of them out of the water and say thank you, but Iím nervous and I burn it to a crisp between my fingers.
My bedroom hasnít changed since I was last here. I fantasise that nothing has happened to me, but it doesnít hold whilst I can still see a reflection of myself in the windowpane. I will have to avoid the mirror in the hallway from now on.
Dad hovers in the doorway with a cup of tea, unsure of whether to approach me when Iíve been labelled volatile by Ministry staff and Healers alike. ĎDo you want to talk?í he says.
ĎNot really,í I tell him.
ĎThe Ministry will probably visit again.í
ĎYou know we canít tell them.í
ĎYeah, I know, Dad.í
He tells me to calm down. He has a point; the static in the air is fairly noticeable.
ĎCome and have your tea,í he says.
Itís impossible to get away from it at school, when I go back for seventh year. Iím not used to being looked at, and people never seem to stop looking at me. I think itís known as morbid curiosity.
I start to think of my life as being in two parts: BC and AD. AD can stand for After Death, although I canít think of a suitable description for the first part of my life beyond Before Cold and that doesnít have the same sort of impact.
There is little similarity between the two. From BC, I still have my name, my history, and the most basic aspects of my appearance. I still have a thin face and light hair and scrawny, awkward limbs. I still have an appetite for libraries and I still have long fingers and slightly knobbly knees. I still need to wear glasses. I am no longer asthmatic, however.
I get to keep the bruise below my eye and the scrapes across my cheekbone. I am now incapable of much in the way of healing, although I will apparently still grow old and wear out like everyone else.
I can no longer blush, which is an ironic mercy.
I am technically dead, although I am also technically alive. I am beyond belief. I am so impossible itís a wonder that I havenít already collapsed into my own event horizon. I died for three minutes and was revived, which is rare but not unheard of. What cannot be explained are the side-effects Iíve developed as a result.
I have a heart, and it still beats blood around my body, but thatís hard to tell from the greyish pallor my skinís taken on. My organs apparently function perfectly, but I donít have the same optimum body temperature everyone else does. I am room temperature. If Iím outside, air temperature. I donít feel the cold, nor much of the warmth. I am bordering on being perpetually numb, just as I was before my short-lived death.
I cannot resist a mirror, although I hate myself for this. I canít blame people who stare at me when I have my own morbid fascination in studying my new look. My eyes are a permanent concern, because they lose more colour every day and Iím convinced Iíll one day be left with nothing but pinpoint pupils, the stuff of nightmares. The longer I go without seeing a mirror, the more I believe that Iím still the boy from the BC side of life and that Iím not the new, dead thing that loses track of the beating of his own heart now and again.
I can only think of the worst change in the most clinical, formal terms.
They revived me with a spell. This spell is a common part of both Auror and Healer training, specifically the training of those who are likely to respond to emergency situations. The spell is non-verbal and the tip of the wand should be applied directly above the heart. It will deliver a series of shocks to the muscle and is designed to be applied directly before cardiopulmonary resuscitation. But I came round before that was necessary.
Given the situation, the spell was delivered with haste. I wonít call the caster incompetent, because if it werenít for them, things may have gone a lot worse. But the spell residue doesnít make my afterlife any easier. It starts in the heart and travels through the veins, and the harder the heart beats, the more the spell is activated, and the shock looks to complete the circuit. Or at least thatís how I see it.
I have been instructed, if I feel nervous, or frightened, or if I have just exercised, or for whatever reason my heart may be going like a jackhammer Ė to keep my hands off anything flammable, fragile, or living, lest I set on fire, damage, or kill them.
Please donít touch.
This is the most noticeable symptom of my condition. I am allowed to leave lessons if I feel too agitated, but I donít want to draw attention to myself. On the plus side, nobody picks on me anymore. I look like Iíve risen from the grave and Iíve got lightning bolts in my blood. Iím still a weakling but I think youíd have to be thick as a Slytherin to take me on.
They avoid me in the corridors. Crowds part and give me my own path to walk down. People go suspiciously silent when I pass. This continues beyond the first day of term.
My best friend Flora tells me what I should do. ĎYouíre a zombie,í she says. ĎYou are literally the walking dead. Live up to that.í
ĎHow?í I say.
She mimes sleepwalking, holding her arms out in front of her. ĎBraaaains,í she says, and then starts to giggle.
ĎWonít that creep people out even more?í
ĎYeah, but itíll be a bit funnier,í she says. ĎI could do with cheering up on the way to Runes.í
Flora was with me when I died, although I have no recollection of her being there. What I do remember as being present is her blood, and lots of it. Sheís hardly easy on the eye these days either.
If it werenít for the presence of Aurors, Iíd be dead. If it werenít for the presence of Aurors, she would also be dead. I escaped with half a life. She survived a curse thatís twisted half her body into scar tissue. The left corner of her mouth is always quirked upwards in an uncertain smile. Iím certain she frightens as many people as I do.
But here sheís standing in front of me with her arms held out and face lopsided in a zombie parody.
The joke will never get old. I know what I am.