"Eyes" With An "L"
Banana is easy. Pretend to hold one and then mime peeling it.
Break makes sense. Bring two fists together and pretend like you’re snapping a twig.
Numbers are hard, but only because other people do it different. For me, 'three' is two fingers and a thumb, and I can count to twenty on just one hand.
I remember my head hurting. I woke up in bed, all wet with sweat, and called out for mummy. I tried to turn my head to her when she came in through my bedroom door, but I couldn't. My neck was frozen. She screamed out for Daddy, and then I went to the hospital. It smelled like plastic and mint there.
"Kuh, kuh, kuh," the lady mouthed, holding my fingers to her neck so I could feel her vocal chords rattling.
"Kuh, kuh, kuh," I think I said.
I saw Severus lurking out the window. He wasn't allowed to see me anymore, because no one was allowed to see me anymore.
Your, I pointed at Sev. Hair, I pinched two fingers together near my scalp. Is black, I made a fist and grazed my knuckles against my cheek.
Your, he pointed at me. Hair, he pinched two fingers together by his temple. Is red, he flicked his lower lip with his pointer finger.
No, no, I shook my fist from side to side. Orange, I corrected, making squeezing motions with my hand. My hair is orange.
Your eyes, he pointed at me, then touched his cheeks below his lids in turn. Are green. He moved his right hand, palm side up, over his forearm while wiggling his fingers. He used the sign for 'grass' by accident, but I knew what he meant.
"Lily hugger," mummy said.
Wait, that isn't right.
"Lily, honey," mummy said. Her eyes were gleaming that way they always did when she and daddy talked about The Cochlear. The experimental, magical device that would screw into my brain, and make me hear again. Except not really.
"It isn't the same as processing sound through the ears," Doctor Singh had signed. "But the recent human trials indicate that you'll be able to understand speech and ambient sound."
I was more worried about the fact that they would drill into my skull.
Mummy started talking again, but it was too fast. I opened my notebook and jabbed my finger at the paper. I could tell how frustrated she was by the way she scribbled.
They're ready to do the implant. Daddy and I were able to get you into one of the human trials. A pause, she searched my eyes, and then, aren't you excited?
"Don't do it," Sev signed.
I pulled my cardigan tighter around my shoulders, feeling every spiky blades of grass against the flesh of my crossed legs.
"Your parents should just learn how to sign," he said, and his mouth moved like shouting. "Everyone should just learn how to sign. And you shouldn't let muggles go hacking at your skull!"
"I don't know," I shrugged. "It might be nice to talk to more people."
"Well you can talk to me!" Sev's wrathful hands whipped through the air.
"Don't fuss with it!" mummy said, swatting my hand away as my fingers explored the stubble on my scalp.
Four weeks, it had been, since the anesthesia. Since interpreters had signed about 'radiofrequency,' 'electrode arrays,' and the 'auditory cortex.' Four weeks, and the external stitches on my head were just beginning to wither and fall off. They would be turning on the implant later that day, and no one knew what to expect.
Mummy scrubbed the counters until the varnish peeled, and daddy stomped upstairs so heavily that the table shook. My stitches itched, and the bald spot got cold with every passing breeze. Toony hid in her room, and her door vibrated from loud music. I think mummy must have shouted at her, because the door went suddenly still.
The exam room still smelled like plastic and mint when a beaming Doctor Singh activated the cochlear.
'Shriek' is a good word. It means what it sounds like. But it doesn't 'sound;' nothing 'sounds.' The world shrieks.
Out of some long-lost habit, I threw my hands over my ears. I squeezed palms against my head, and shut eyes tight. That motion brought with it a memory: mummy and daddy fighting, Toony and I hiding under blankets. I realized that they might have kept on screaming at each other, night after night. And if the meningitis hadn't saved me from the sound, I might have known about it.
But every shriek I'd been spared over the last three years came back, violent, and all at once. Closing hands over ears did nothing when the sound was coming from inside my own brain.
"Turn it off, turn it off!" I yelled, and if I hadn't been the one to say it, I might not have understood the noise. I could remember hearing, and this wasn't hearing.
All at once, the screaming softened to a dull roar, and deep furrows dug their way into the brows of the assembled adults. The audiologist fiddled with her computer and the shrieking rose and fell like waves.
I heard someone murmur to my left, but the sound of mummy's voice wasn't nearly as vivid as that of the thrumming medical instruments.
"...important to manage expectations," Doctor Singh warbled into clarity.
"Can you hear me, sweetie? Can you hear me?" Mummy seized my shoulders, and Doctor Singh lay a steadying hand against her greedy arms.
"Yes," I whimpered, and mummy's eyes flooded with tears.
So did mine. She thought I was crying because I was happy too.
"No signs, honey, use your voice," Mummy quieted my hands with her own.
"I want to go back to deaf group," I said, picking at the bits of roast swimming in gravy on my plate.
"But you aren't deaf anymore, honey," Mummy said.
I let the pause ring in the air, before summoning the courage to say "but I'm not Hearing, either."
"You can hear," Daddy chortled. "I see you hearing now."
They refused to understand that ambient information transmitted via cochlear implant wasn't the same as hearing. They couldn't understand how it had been easier for me, before, even if it had been harder for them.
Toony's chair scraped backwards from the table and I winced. Voices were still difficult to pick up, yet simple things like gusts of wind could be deafening. Well, not deafening...
"Petunia, where do you think you are going?" Mummy snapped.
"If you lot are just going to continue ignoring me, even now Lily isn't all sick, then I'm going to go to my room!"
It had been two months since the cochlear was activated, and two months for Toony's resentment to become obvious. We'd been so close before, she’d even defended me from the kids who teased my voice, or called me a robot for the wires sticking out of my head. But maybe that's just because I couldn’t hear then, or the implant hadn’t gotten turned on yet, so she couldn’t be mad at me. Her poor, deaf sister.
The next morning, a letter arrived.
A letter arrived, and no one really knew what to say about it. Daddy got angry, thinking it was some sort of prank. Mummy scrubbed the kitchen counters, thinking psychopaths were targeting our family. Toony stayed quiet, remembering how I could make flowers wiggle in my palm.
I was the centre of our parent’s attention again, and Toony seemed to think I’d done it on purpose. Like I’d chosen to lose my hearing, or have magic in my blood.
"I got my letter," I signed. I always turned off my cochlear when I was with Sev, even though the audiologists told me not to.
"I knew you would!" he grinned, punching the air with every gesture. "It'll just be you and me, no parents, no muggles..."
We'd invented our own sign for muggle: 'stupid' with an M.
"They can probably even take out your cochlear!" he said.
As much as I loved that idea, an impossible one in the muggle world, I didn't want to have to sit lessons with interpreters. I told Sev as much.
"Well, we don't have Deafness in the wizarding world. Healers can just, boom, make you hear proper again."
"I don't want to hear again!" I raged. "I don't want to hear, and I don't want a cochlear, and I don't want an interpreter, and I don't want to be a witch, and I don't want to be a muggle!"
"What do you want, then?" Sev said in subdued gestures. "Just tell me, and we can make it happen."
"I just want to be me!" I cried, and I could tell I was verbalizing. "And I want everyone to just let that happen. Because maybe I'm something in between all these things." I let myself calm down before adding, "Sometimes, I just wish everyone was deaf..."
"I'd make everyone deaf for you," Sev said. He didn't sign it, and his lips barely moved, but I could read them.
All at once I worried that he might be telling the truth. That there might be some magic to strip the world of hearing. And I didn't want that either, not really.
The Hogwarts Express gained momentum up the tracks, and it took me a while to notice how the ever-present sound of ringing was getting louder. We’d just found a new compartment, far away from the rowdy boys that had tried to trip Sev. I collapsed into a new seat, and laid my aching head against the cool glass of the window.
"I'm sorry, what?" I asked, and Severus repeated whatever insult he'd just made about that messy-haired boy.
"Lil, is everything ok?" Severus' voice murmured, overwhelmed by the sound of the steam engine rattling. I only knew what he'd said because of the way his hands moved out the corner of my eye.
"I think my cochlear is acting up," I said after swallowing a lump in my throat. The ringing was growing ever more fierce, drowning out all ambient sounds.
"Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no," Severus' hand snapped the sign repeatedly.
"What?" I asked, lifting my head from the window.
"Your implant might not work at Hogwarts. Muggle technology kind of... malfunctions," he finished. He didn't know the sign for 'malfunctions,' and his voice was so overwhelmed by the piercing ringing that I had to read his lips.
"What should I do?" I asked, getting dizzier by the second.
"Find a prefect!" he shot up to standing. Sev’s sign for 'prefect' was ‘jerk’ with a P. “And turn off your cochlear!”
Together, we stumbled along the length of the Hogwarts Express while I fiddled with my implant. Turning it off made all other sound stop, but didn’t soften that ringing one bit. I didn't know anymore whether or not I was making my anguish audible. I could have been moaning or groaning, but all I could here was shrieking. And maybe I did that, too.
We came to sudden stop, followed by a flurry of motion. I let myself fall to the ground, head in my hands. The skin under the patch of rough, partially grown hair burned hot. Then, a stick against my scalp, followed by sweet, sweet silence.
Madame Pomfrey later restored my hearing in full - boom - which was nothing to complain about. I still had Sign, which became a private language between Sev and I. We could talk about anything in front of anyone, and it beat passing notes in class.
But the world was loud. And it never let up, not once.
I'd never realized, before, how much noise Sev made when he signed. His his Ps popped and his breath came out in fierce gusts. Our conversation attracted curious glances - not least because Sev had joined me at the Gryffindor table, and not everyone in my house was pleased to have a Slytherin there.
That other people talked out loud during meals was shocking to me. I had no idea how they managed to pay attention over the roar of so many voices, clattering dishes, and that disgusting smacking sound of chewing.
“I think I’d like to be something that could fly - like a bird,” I mused. We’d just finished our first Transfiguration lesson, where Professor McGonnagall had turned herself into a cat. I’d clapped long and hard with everyone else.
“No, you’d be something with massive eyes,” Sev said. “Like a bushbaby.”
“Heeey,” I drew out the sign, before pushing his shoulder.
“What are you guys doing,” a voice boomed behind me and I flinched.
James Potter, of course.
“We’re talking,” I sniffed.
“You’re not making any noise,” James argued. “Except for Snivellus, here. You sounded like you were having some sort of fit, mate.”
Sev scowled and I felt hurt. It had been so scary, before, trying to use my voice like Mum always wanted me to do. I never knew how I sounded, or if I was doing it right. I didn’t like using voice in shops and things, because other people would stare - wondering what was wrong with me.
“It’s called sign language,” I explained, annoyed. “And the point is that you don’t make any sound.”
“How does that work?” James asked, plopping into the seat beside me. Sev’s snarl grew more pronounced.
“Like any language. Every word or expression is a different sign, like this” - I tapped my forefinger against my thumb - “means ‘bird.’”
“Oh,” James copies the motion. “Bird. Like pecking. So you just kind of mime it?”
“No, you don’t mime it,” Sev seethed. “It’s a different language with its own rules. Probably too complicated for you to ever understand.”
“Some signs are easy,” I interjected. “Like ‘banana,’” I showed him the peeling gesture. “Or ‘break.’” James might have been obnoxious, but if he wanted to know...
“What’s my name in sign?” James asked, and a cruel smirk played on Sev’s lips. The Slytherin made a swooping J shape with his pinkie, then knocked his fist against his temple.
“Oh cool.” James said, repeating the motion. “James.”
‘Idiot’ with a J. Another of Sev’s inventions.
“So what were you guys talking about - or, signing about?”
“Sign is talking,” I corrected him, a little sharp. Ever since Madame Pomfrey had restored my hearing, I’d been surprised by how intimidating my voice could be. And pleased. “We were talking about what sort of Animagus we’d want to turn into, if we could. I think something that could fly would be best.”
“Yeah, I bet Snivellus would be a bat or something,” James scoffed and the Sev and I both ruffled. “I’d want to be something big. With horns,” James added, sticking out his pinkies on either side of his head. By sheer luck, he’d manage a nearly accurate sign.
"Lily!" Severus signed my name - 'eyes' with an L. "You don't understand, I'm doing this for you!"
"So how exactly is calling me a 'mudblood' supposed to be for me?" I demanded, fists firmly planted on my hips. "Just be honest. You don't like muggles."
"You have to realize," Severus lowered his voice. "He has strong magic! We could finally do it!"
"Do what?" I snapped. "Kill me and everyone like me?"
"No," Severus, formed a full fist with the word, insisting on signing even when I didn't. "We could take hearing out of the world!"
Gut dropped. Heart sank. The image of a broken young man swam before my eyes.
I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything.
"Hey Evans," Potter yelled, swooping up from his seat on the grass. I kept walking. "Evans, wait up!"
"What do you want, Potter?"
"Wait, look!" he said, tapping my shoulder. I swung around, dripping with disdain.
A fist against his cheek, turning as though twisting a door handle: will. His finger pointed at me: you. Gesturing his finger outward from his chest: go. Tapping a fist against his chin: date. Both hands palm-side up, then pulling them together so that his fingertips met: with. Pointing to his own chest: me.
His grammar was terrible
It got better.
A/N: Thank you SO MUCH to Isobel/apondinabluebox for reviewing all the British Sign Language in this story for accuracy! Thank you to Maia/Milominderbinder for giving me this prompt and hosting this challenge, and to WeasleyTwinMom for previewing this story!
And definitely Crestwood, for being such an amazing Beta and helping me so much, and coming up with the title "'Eyes' with an 'L'"!
And during this era, cochlear implants weren't yet available to the general public. BUT, there were experimental human trials dating several decades back--which worked to help me resolve the anachronism!
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