Chapter 12 – Returning
Russell took in his newfound knowledge suffered through his throbbing brain that tried to process it all as he walked out into the hallway to find Nicki. The brunette girl was sitting just outside the doorframe, quite obviously leaning in to eavesdrop on the previous conversation between her mother and her friend.
“Hi, Nicki,” Russell greeted flatly.
Nicki stood up by pushing against the floor and sliding her back up the wall. She didn’t nearly reach the height of her friend but at least standing she was a bit closer to his level.
“Hi, Russell,” Nicki returned.
“Yeah, Russell. Not Ron. I know that now.” Though he said it steadily, there was still a glimmer of disbelief and astonishment in his voice. “Your mum told me everything.”
Just then Nicki spun quickly on her right foot and started down the hallway. Russell had opened his mouth so ask where she was going when he stopped by her order of, “Follow me.” His long strides helped him catch up with ease.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“To show you what Mum was talking about. I know she told you most everything because I heard through the door, but I still don’t think you quite get it,” Nicki answered authoritatively.
She made a last-minute sharp turn down the main hallway, leaving Russell to figure it out on his own that she’d left him without warning. He caught up to her again and they walked down the new hallway, passing the Learning Room and the Arts and Crafts Room and the Group Therapy Rooms along the way. Near the end of the hallway Russell saw the staircase that led down to the Isolation Unit in the basement. It had only been a little over an hour since he’d let all those kids out, but for some reason it seemed like ages ago. The night had been so eventful that Russell could hardly wrap his head around the fact that only a day had passed instead of a week.
“What happened to the kids?” Russell asked sadly. “Are they…back in their rooms?”
“Yeah, we found ‘em all before they got too far. It would have been a disaster if anyone had gotten outside of Deerfield. They were put down there for a reason, Russ. They aren’t safe in the real world. They could hurt themselves.”
Russell slowed his pace considerably. “Oh yeah. I didn’t think about that. I just didn’t think it was right for them to be kept down there just because they were Death Eaters. I mean, I didn’t think they were happy down there.”
“Well as Mum told you earlier, there are no such thing as real Death Eaters. I thought you knew it was just a game.”
“And I thought you were the only one who believed me. Guess I was wrong.”
Nicki shrugged her shoulders. “Things happen.”
Then she continued her way to the room at the end of the hallway: the Exploration Room. Russell wondered what on earth they would find in the library that Nicki wanted to show him so bad that it couldn’t even wait until tomorrow. She opened the door and flipped on the light without even uttering the spell like she had always done. Everything had changed so drastically in such a short time that Russell’s head was still spinning. He thought about asking her how she was able to suddenly stop acting like she was a witch, even though Nurse Barrington had explained it already, but decided it wasn’t worth the confusion just to hear the same story from her point of view.
The room was lined on every wall with wooden bookshelves, several of them empty and covered in dust. Instead of the traditional organization of books, this library seemed to be arranged by some inventive system the residents had created. Instead of the normal genres of books, this library seemed to organize books based on what the readers thought of them. On left wall, the shelves nearest the small window in the corner were categorized by a label that read, “Boring Books.” This section was by far the dustiest of all. Another section of shelves on the front wall had slightly less dirty build-up, which Russell attributed to their label, “Interesting Books.” On the right and back walls were two more categories of books labeled “Funny Books” and “The Best Books,” which had accumulated practically no dust had all.
Russell had half a mind to look in the Boring Books section to see if they had a copy of Hogwarts, A History or not, since Hermione would certainly be interested to know if her favorite book were available beyond the walls of their school. He knew his girlfriend would have rearranged Deerfield Home’s entire library and completely eliminated the Boring Books category by moving them all somewhere like the Interesting Books shelves, or possibly created her own category called Intellectually Stimulating Books.
But wait, Russell thought, if I’m Russell and not Ron, that would mean Hermione isn’t… Then Hermione isn’t Hermione either! And that would mean she isn’t my girlfriend…
He thought back to all those years at Hogwarts with his friends, all the memories they shared of both good times and bad. If what Nurse Barrington had said is true, and Death Eaters aren’t really real, then that would mean Voldemort wasn’t real either. If he was Russell and not Ron, that would mean his girlfriend was not Hermione (did he have a girlfriend at all?) and his best friend wasn’t Harry. So who were the people he had come to know during all those years at Hogwarts…if in fact there was a Hogwarts? Russell’s eyes glazed over as the questions raced through his mind. He completely tuned out the outside world in favor of his musing mind until he was startled back to reality when Nicki hurled a book that hit him square in the chest.
“What the…? What was that for?” he asked while rubbing his chest where a corner of the book had stabbed him.
“Sorry, it slipped. Would you bring it back to me, please?” Nicki asked sweetly. She was sitting in the back right corner in a paisley patterned, high-back reading chair with her legs crossed and propped up on a small coffee table.
Russell grudgingly got the book and took a seat opposite her on the other side of the table. “Here,” he said, holding it out for her.
“Read it,” Nicki insisted.
Russell looked skeptically at the book’s width and scoffed.
He rolled his eyes and looked more closely at the cover this time and read aloud, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.” Even as the words came out of his mouth, Russell was confused. He knew he had read them right but something seemed strange about this book. He could imagine that someday someone would have written a book about his friend Harry because of all the marvelous things he had done over the years, but this appeared to Russell to be more of a story of his first year at school, rather than a documentary sort he would expect.
“What is this?” he asked.
“It’s a book, Russ.”
“Well yeah, but…”
“Tell me something you remember from your first year at Hogwarts,” Nicki said. “Anything at all.”
“I remember the first day I met Harry. We met on the platform and then sat together on the Hogwarts Express.”
Then Nicki held out her hand for the book, skimmed through the pages, and found the exact page and chapter of the ‘memory’ Russell had described. She held the book open for him and told him to read a couple of pages. He hadn’t skimmed very far at all before looking up with a bewildered expression plastered on his face.
“I don’t get it. How did someone know all this to be able to write it in a book? Nobody could have known everything that happened like that…”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. It never really happened, Russ. An author wrote it. She made it up. She made you up, in a sense.”
Russell pinched his arm to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.
“No, you’re real. Russell is real. Ron isn’t. These are the books Mum was telling you about.”
“But if someone made all this up, why do I feel like I remember it all?” Russell said as he flipped through more of the pages, recognizing scene after scene as if he’d actually been there and done it himself.
“Mum told you that too, but she didn’t do a great job explaining it, in my opinion. Do you know what an actor is?”
He raised his left eyebrow at her to answer.
“People in the real world—“
“You mean Muggles?”
“People in the real world,” Nicki continued, slightly annoyed as Russell’s interruption, “make and watch films. Films are like stories set on a television screen.” It didn’t matter that Russell seemed to not know what a television was either, because Nicki kept right on. “Sometimes the films are based on real events and sometimes they’re not. The people in the films, or movies and some people call them, are called actors. They act like different people to fill the role of whatever character is needed in that particular film.”
Russell nodded his head just barely to show that he was at least semi-following what Nicki was telling him. His interest had even prompted him to lean forward in his chair and focus his direct attention on the girl opposite him.
“You are an actor, Russell. You play the role of Ron Weasley in the film version of these books.” Nicki motioned to the one he held in his hand and the rest of the series that sat in an orderly line on the side bookshelf. “You feel like you remember being Ron because in a sense you were Ron. You remember things about being Ron because you spent years making the films and years acting as someone else, bringing to life the actions and memories that otherwise could have only been found in books.”
If finally seemed as though Russell understood; he raised himself up straight and re-examined the book he held in his hands. “So first there were the books and I was just Russell. Then some people started to make films and I became Ron, but only as an actor, and was still Russell at the same time.” He said the last sentence more like a question, just to make sure he understood all this correctly.
Nicki nodded and smiled pleasantly. “Exactly.”
“So that means that Harry and Hermione aren’t…?”
“Nope. They’re actors, same as you. Well Amy is an actress—what we call a girl actor—and David is an actor. Travis is the actor who plays Draco, and from what I hear, you two are fairly good friends even off the film sets.”
“Wow,” Russell said. He had a hard time believing he could be friends with anyone like Draco, but he had to remind himself that these actor people weren’t necessarily like the characters they portrayed. “Things are really different than I thought.”
Nicki smiled sympathetically and reached out her hand for his knee. “You’ll get used to it. It’ll be fine, I promise.”
“So what now? I don’t have a best friend, I don’t have a girlfriend, and I have a family that I don’t even really remember further back than last week… What do I do?”
“You go home, I guess,” she answered sadly. “You don’t remember much of your family but you will, and you’ll make new memories. You still have a job making movies and you’ll always have friends.”
Russell took Nicki’s small hand and covered it with his. “Yeah, I know. Thanks,” he smiled.
Ian and Bianca Green had been thrilled to the point of tears when they received a phone call the next morning that their son was ready to go home. They expressed their shock that he had recovered so quickly but weren’t complaining in the least. The three youngest Green children were taken out of school for the day so they could all go as a family to take Russell home. Alexander brought the stick that his Russell had dubbed his wand along with him for the ride; he was going to show his big brother he’d been practicing.
They arrived at ten in the morning and found Russell and all his belongings already packed and waiting for them in the front lobby. His mother had to fight the tears of joy she felt while his younger siblings all crushed him in a group hug. Mr. Green skipped the formal father-son handshake and went straight for a hug as well as soon as his swarming children were finished.
While Mr. Green loaded his son’s things in the family car, Russell took a seat on a couch in the lobby and pulled his baby sister Annie into his lap. He pulled out the doll that she had left for him on the first day. “Thanks for lending me your doll, Annie. I promise I took good care of her. Just ask her and see!” he smiled.
Annie beamed and bent down to whisper in her doll’s ear, then held the doll up to her own for an answer. Her bright smile faded at first and then turned into a warm glow as she looked up at her brother.
“She said she wants you to keep her. I think you should listen to her, Russy.”
He laughed to himself but agreed for his sister’s sake. Mr. Green had come back inside to tell them all it was time to go.
“Are we ready, then?” he asked.
Russell looked around one more time and replied by nodding. “Yeah, I guess so.” He carried Annie and her doll outside, crunching the gravel driveway under his feet and talking to Alex about his wand as they headed for the car.
Just as the family was about to load up, Delilah nudged Russ in the side and motioned to the front door of Deerfield Home. “Someone’s come to see you off,” she winked.
He put Annie in the car and then ran back to the doorway where Nicki stood waiting for him. “Just came to say goodbye,” she said softly.
“Why don’t you come with us?” Russell asked hopefully.
Nicki shook her head. “I belong here, Russ, with my mum. You can always visit though…” she trailed off and smiled.
Russell stepped forward and hugged the girl he’d befriended at his short stay at Deerfield. He knew friends like that didn’t happen every day and he was sad to be leaving her behind. “Thanks for everything.”
She nodded and hugged him one last time before stepping back inside the doorway.
“See you soon!” Russell called back from the car.
“See you.” She waved and then closed the door in front of her.
His family was anxious to hear all about everything that had happened during his stay and asked question after question about what it was like. He told them everything—conveniently omitting the part where he stole the nurse’s keys and let out the kids in the Isolation Unit—and they “ooh-ed” and “ahh-ed” at his stories until they arrived home to the house he remembered.
A/N: This story is dedicated to my pal Nicki (dracolover81) for her friendship and ability to make me laugh. It’s been a long time running—yes, nine months—but I finally finished. Someone should throw me a party. I expect cake. Chocolate. With sprinkles. :D Comments are highly appreciated. Thanks one last time to everyone who’s read and reviewed and put up with me this whole time. Ta, MM311
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