Obliviate – Chapter One

"Ah, yes, Mister Potter, please have a seat," said the old headmaster. His knowing eyes were full of life and good humor and he smiled genially at Harry. Then with a wave of his hand, a plush armchair appeared in front of his desk. Harry nodded gratefully and eased himself into the seat, apprehension eating away at his stomach from the inside. He sat there stiffly, not daring to make eye contact with the older man and feeling very small and insignificant before him. Dumbledore sat back on the other side of the desk, fiddling with a silver instrument and tapping it with his wand at different places, seemingly paying no attention to the sixth year Gryffindor.

He was confused and more than a little wary. Was this a trick to lure him into a false sense of security? What did he want with him? Harry had arrived at the headmaster's office expecting to be scolded, punished, and perhaps expelled for what he had done.

"How inconsiderate of me," muttered Dumbledore. He gazed at Harry over his half-moon spectacles, his fierce blue eyes twinkling merrily. "Lemon drop?"

He snapped his fingers and a dish full of the sweet candies appeared with a small pop on the desk. Harry stared at the lopsided, overflowing bowl and shook his head. No, he had not been expecting this. Then again, how was it possible to know what to expect from the genius, unpredictable, and highly eccentric mind of Albus Dumbledore?

Finally, he set aside the silver gadget he had been inspecting and he looked at Harry, who tried his hardest to avoid eye contact with him.

"You may be wondering why I summoned you here, Harry," he began gravely, the merriment gone from his face.

The reply came back in a small voice, "Yes."

"Look at me."

Slowly, unwillingly, he raised his eyes to meet Dumbledore's, and he felt the familiar, unpleasant sensation of someone sifting through his thoughts and memories. He tried to put up his mental barriers, to keep him out, to conceal the truth, but Dumbledore was a master Legilimens and his will was too strong. He felt his mind open up like a book to the older wizard, laying all his thoughts out, exposed.

Will he see my secret? Will he know...?

"Ah," he mumbled after a moment. He struck Harry with a piercing, ice cold gaze and his lips were curled downward into a frown. All the warmth was gone from his eyes and for the first time ever, Harry felt afraid in the headmaster's presence. The older man leaned forward across the desk, staring intently at Harry's face. "What are you hiding?" he asked sharply. "What do you know?"

A fist had crawled up out of his stomach and now had a death grip on his pulsing heart. Harry found it difficult to breathe and he felt sweat break out on his forehead.

"Tell me, Harry."

Guilt. A feeling of failure welled up in his chest and his face flushed. He felt ashamed in front of Dumbledore, ashamed that he had allowed himself to sink so low and disappoint this great man whom he respected and loved like a grandfather. How could he have failed him? It wasn't supposed to be this way. His cheeks were on fire and he wanted to disappear so he wouldn't have to be here and be confronted by the professor.

"S-sir-" he managed to stammer, taking note of how rigidly the headmaster was sitting in his seat. "I... there's something w-wrong with me..."

In a flash, Dumbledore had his wand up and pointed at Harry and he spoke in a strange language, one that he couldn't understand.

"Please!" he begged, "I just need more time, I can fix this on my own-"

Harry felt something tearing at his head from the inside, like a vicious animal had sunk its claws deep into his brain matter and was putting up a fight because it was being forcibly removed. He convulsed and nearly fell out of his chair, clutching madly at his head in futile attempt to relieve the pain. It felt like there was an intense pressure pushing in at his skull from all sides, threatening to crush it under its oppressive force. A shrill, high-pitched wailing reached his ears and Harry realized it was coming from him as he screamed for mercy.

And as quickly as it had begun, it was over. Harry collapsed forward onto the desk, breathing heavily, tired and spent from ten seconds of hell. He peered up at the professor and he opened his mouth to say something but no words would come out.

Dumbledore regarded Harry with a sad smile and told him that everything was going to be okay. Then he raised his wand again and whispered, "Obliviate."

He was lost and he was swimming.

Not in water, but in darkness and sounds and feelings and memories. It was disorienting, to say the least. He tried to open his eyes, found that he couldn't, and listened carefully, trying to determine where he was. Oddly enough, he felt as if he was light as a feather and floating on air, as if there was an invisible cushion holding him there, suspending him a few feet above the ground.

Nonsense. People can't float.

From somewhere over to his left, a hushed whisper rang out in the silence.

"Are you sure this is the best way?" a quiet female voice asked. He detected concern and uncertainty in her words. "Surely you can't do this, not now, not after all he has seen..."

"My decision is final," exclaimed another voice. This one was deeper and more powerful and the words were spoken with a sense of deep wisdom and sorrow. He had the impression that the person speaking was very tired and old.

"But won't he be missed...?"

He was starting to get a headache, but his entire body was numb and unresponsive, so all he could do was fly through the air and listen to these two people talking about him. Who were they? Where were they taking him?

"I've already made arrangements. The matter has been taken care of." There was a slight pause and he heard rustling, like someone was sorting through their pockets. "Ah, here it is. Hold it right there... On three. One, two..."

Suddenly everything was spinning very quickly and wild winds were slapping his body. A thunderous noise surrounded him, sounding like a stampede of untamed hippogriffs and then he didn't know what happened next because his tenuous grip on the world faltered and he tumbled away into the quiet sanctuary of unconsciousness.

Sunlight. Bright, unrelenting, bothersome light.

It was filtering in from somewhere over to his right, yet he couldn't determine the exact location because his body was still refusing to take commands. So he chose to lie there, peacefully, silently, absorbing his environment through the only faculties he could use.

Like I really have a choice at all. I can't move. I can't even open my eyes. What's wrong with me?

There was a fragrant scent nearby. Flowers. But he was not outside. He knew this because he was reclined quite comfortably on a soft mattress, or something that felt very much like one. There was another scent in the air, sharp and pungent, but he couldn't tell what it was and he lost interest in it. To his left, there was an insistent, dull, humming sound, but he couldn't tell exactly what that was either. The last thing he noticed about his surroundings was that he was not alone.

He heard light footsteps clicking along on the floor, growing louder and louder until they stopped by his side. If he could move, he would have gasped because suddenly his hand was being held and caressed. His heart started beating madly in his chest and he thought it might punch through his ribcage and spill out on top of him but it managed to behave and he remained in one piece, still alive.

After a moment, he calmed down and realized that someone was speaking.

"...are you? Where did you come from?" A female voice, speaking in an unrecognizable accent. Inquisitive, quiet, and sad. Her grip was delicate, warm, soothing, and pleasant. Much too soon, he felt her squeeze his hand and then let go. "Please wake up soon."

And with that, she was gone.

Where am I?

He pondered the thought for the first time, wracking his brain for possible hints. Even in his mind, all he could see was black nothingness. There were no memories explaining how he had arrived in this place that smelled of flowers and where a woman came and held his hand. He didn't have a clue because he was too distracted by another, more pressing, disturbing thought:

Who am I?

After a while, the footsteps returned. He still couldn't open his eyes or move, but now he saw an indistinct, pale blur through his closed eyelids instead of an orange, fleshy color, so he assumed it was nighttime. The footsteps approached and his hand was being held again. It was her.

This time, he felt her lightly touching his hair, moving strands away from his eyes. She traced invisible lines across his jawline and it tickled, but he couldn't move or laugh or ask her to stop. He could only lie there and feel her closeness, feel the warmth of her touch, hear the subtle beating of her heart and her soft, even breathing. He desperately wanted to sit up and ask her, "What is my name?" "Who are you?" and "Where am I?"

"I hope you get better." He imagined her with a small, hopeful smile on her face as she whispered this. Then she repeated what she had said the last time, "Please wake up soon."

He felt her leave and then he dropped back into darkness.

He learned that she would come multiple times each day, at least once but no more than three times. Every time she would hold his hand when she arrived, and she would always leave with, "Please wake up soon." Subtly, impossibly, he began to fall in love with her. He loved the feel of her soft, smooth hands on his and the sound of her voice, light and delicate and lovely. As his time in the sweet limbo went on, he realized that it was she who brought him flowers.

"I brought you a lilac today," she would say. "Please wake up soon."

She was his one and only lifeline to the world. She was a cherished messenger who let him know that he was alive and not forgotten, even if he himself forgot who he was and how he'd gotten to be where he was. He didn't know how he would have gone on without her. Her words were like magic and they healed him and made him stronger. After each of her visits, he felt more energized than before.

Soon, when she held his hand, he was able to move his fingers ever so slightly, to let her know he was there and he appreciated her presence. The first time he had done it, she had gasped and he'd felt a jolt run through her arm into his, but she had quickly calmed down and composed herself.

"You can hear me, can't you?" And then she'd done something she'd never done before – she kissed him lightly on the lips. "Please wake up soon."

What must have been weeks later (although it could have been days or years, he couldn't tell which), he could smile or frown and he had greater control over his hand. Now when she visited, she would ask him simple 'yes' or 'no' questions and he would answer accordingly.

"Do you like the rain?"

A frown. He heard melodic laughter and he wanted to touch her, but all he could do was squeeze her hand.

"No? Eh, me neither." She paused and he saw in his head a beautiful woman looking up at the ceiling and thoughtfully pursing her lips, pondering what to say next. For some reason, he pictured her having soft, cocoa brown eyes, but he couldn't visualize any other feature of her. Then she asked in her distinct, lilting accent, "What about games? Do you like games?"

A smile. More sweet laughter.

"Hmm... do you like card games?" It didn't matter that sometimes her one-sided conversations were dull and banal. They were never boring because they were the only conversations he ever heard anymore. He smiled again. "Ah, do you like solitaire?"

Ah, he knew what that was. It was a card game that one played alone. Though how he knew this was beyond his understanding.

"Oh!" Her voice sounded earnest and interested. "What about card tricks? If you could open your eyes I could show you one my dad taught me... I swear it almost looks like real magic."

When she spoke the word, he felt a tingle run up his spine and he shivered involuntarily. Magic. There was something about the word that was important to him, but what was it? Why was magic important to him? Magic wasn't even real. He desperately thought of reasons that he would find the word so meaningful. Maybe he'd been a magician, entertaining children at parties and impressing people at street corners with his sleight of hand. The image of himself wearing a ridiculous cape and pulling live rabbits out of his hat was ludicrous. No, he hadn't been a magician.

So what had he been? What was the significance of magic? Then, a sinking feeling settled itself in his stomach. Maybe magic wasn't even important at all. Maybe it had just been a sick little mishap that had made him feel strangely when she'd said the word. Maybe there was a virus spreading up his spinal cord that made him shiver every so often, and she'd just happen to say 'magic' at the right time. His hopes flickered like a dying flame and went out.

He'd never find out who he was.

Through the excitement, he hadn't noticed that she had left. He only noticed her absence when he heard her returning, except this time there was another set of footsteps, heavier and slower beneath her light, rapid ones. The voices sounded slightly distant, as if they were coming from outside the room.

"Come this way, doctor!" Her voice was energetic and alive. "I swear to you, his whole body shook! You need to take a look at him, maybe he'll wake up!"

He heard some unconcerned protests, "It's impossible. He's in a coma, paralyzed, probably brain dead-"

"He's not brain dead and he's not paralyzed! I talk to him every day-"

"You speak with him?" The doctor's voice wasn't hopeful, it was cynical and condescending. "Does he talk back to you?"

"Well, no, but-"

"Then you're wasting your time. I'm sure he can't hear you."

"Please just check him, sir."

A weary sigh. He could detect the faint scent of cigarettes and old man cologne. "Alright, I'll do it. But don't come back to me harassing me all the time-"

"I won't, sir!" She was excited again. "I swear!"

"Alright, alright!" the doctor snapped. "Just pipe down a sec, will you?"

He felt a stiff, rough hand pull his eyelids back and a light was shone in his eyes, one at a time.

"Well, his pupils are dilating-"

She didn't even let him finish his sentence before she quickly interrupted, "Does that mean he'll recover?"

"Miss O'Connor!" the doctor was indignant and it sounded like he was running out of patience with the overexcited woman. "Please try to calm yourself! And no, it does not mean that he'll recover. You'd need a miracle for that to happen."

"Oh."

"It's not like I have some magic wand that I can wave about and cure any ailment-"

At the words magic wand, his entire body jolted and his eyes snapped open. The words echoed through his head and he heard screaming and crying, he saw an old man with a long beard and twinkling blue eyes, he remembered feeling an excruciating pain in his head, and he remembered one other thing...

His head hurt from seeing so much unexpected light – he had grown quite accustomed to the darkness while spending so much time with his eyes shut. Through the blinding whiteness, he could see the vague outlines of two people in front of him although they were blurry and he couldn't see their faces.

In a flash, the woman was by his side, holding his hand. Even though her features were unfocused, he could tell she was smiling. The other figure, whom he assumed was the doctor, simply stood at the end of his bed, watching him, speechless.

"You woke up! Oh, I'm so happy for you!"

"Urgh-" he coughed once. He spoke in a raspy whisper since his throat still felt scratchy and numb from disuse. "Me too."

Finally, the doctor spoke up, sounding bewildered and disbelieving. "Who are you?"

Although every other memory in his head was fuzzy, distorted, and unclear, there was one thing he knew for sure. When the doctor had said magic wand, one true, untarnished memory had dislodged itself from the thick mud trapping the rest. It had wandered into his consciousness like a gleaming, golden ray of sunlight, illuminating the dark corners of his mind and bringing him a feeling of peace and closure. Like a missing piece fitting snugly with the rest of the puzzle, he finally remembered his identity, his name. He smiled serenely at the two blurs standing before him. Now that he knew his name, it would only be a matter of time before he knew everything else about himself.

"My name," he said, "is James Evans."

A/N - 8/1/06:

I went back and changed something in this story. To me, it's incredibly subtle and obvious all at the same time, but hopefully you won't notice the difference. First person who notices the change wins. I'm not saying what you'll win, but you'll win something. :)