NOTES: This concept came to me while I was attempting to fall asleep last night, and I just couldn't resist it. I hope you all have as much fun reading it as I did writing it. THERE ARE NO HARRY POTTER SPOILERS IN THIS FIC. I promise. I haven't even finished the book yet.
On Insanity, Human Nature, and Questions of Literary Merit
The television is almost completely muffled by the thick wood door; only the treble can be heard, and it sounds like the buzzing of a feeble mosquito, but it's still enough to prove that the apartment is occupied. Wilson knocks a third time and then quickly takes a step back, expecting the door to be flung open at any moment. When nearly a minute passes and he still doesn't get an answer he approaches again, pressing his eye to the peephole in a futile attempt to see inside.
"House!" he shouts. Still nothing. Finally Wilson resorts to his most surefire tactic. "House, I brought food!"
Now the door does swing open, albeit more slowly than expected. House peers out groggily, thrusting his cane across the threshold as a doorstop. With his free hand he grabs the bag Wilson's holding and quickly surveys its contents before nodding, apparently satisfied.
"Sorry," he says, in the trademark tone that means exactly the opposite, "I was tied up mourning the state of today's youth."
"I'm headed to the bookstore," says Wilson, before House can shut the door in his face. "I've got two copies on hold. Want to come? Observe the insanity first-hand, maybe terrorize some children?"
"Not unless one of the books has a cut-out center with a bottle of Vicodin in it," says House, grimacing melodramatically. "I'll need the extra fix to survive such a prolonged exposure to morons."
"Sorry," says Wilson. "I forgot to order the special edition."
"Then that would be a definite no," says House. "But you can drop my copy off here on your way home."
Wilson sighs as the door closes.
It's after nine o'clock by the time Chase works up the nerve. He's wasted the entire day on the pretense of cleaning his many bookshelves, trying to find a way to put his nervous energy to productive use. He's made it across one entire wall—the shelves line his living room to either side of the overstuffed leather couch and the entertainment center.
Forcing himself to start with the enormous collection of textbooks and medical journals, Chase has spent the afternoon attacking binding after binding with a dust rag and a vacuum cleaner. In a fit of perfectionism, which he knows is really thinly veiled insecurity, he's pulled the entire collection from the shelves and reorganized the enormous heap alphabetically by subject and then by title, because he can't ever remember the authors.
Now he finds himself seated in front of the other wall of shelves, because his knees are sore from squatting on the floor all day. He wonders for a second if this is what it feels like to be old, then thinks maybe he's skipped whatever's in between entirely. The shelves on this side of the room have doors which he keeps perpetually closed; he can't bear to leave this collection exposed even though he hardly ever lets anyone into his home anyway. He surveys the entirety of it now with the doors propped open: The contents might just as well be the science fiction and fantasy section of a small bookstore. Chase feels a swell of pride in looking at it, then just as quickly a wave of shame.
Sighing, he gets to his feet and walks to the shelf where the first six books are housed. He's made sure that they have a top shelf all to themselves; there's just enough room left for the seventh. He picks up each one and carefully examines its cover before putting it back. Finally, he pulls his cell phone from his pocket and stares at its tiny screen. He's going to call her, he decides, then loses his nerve at the last minute and chooses the text messaging menu instead.
Come over if you're free, he writes. I want to go out. He sends it before he can change his mind, then wonders regretfully if it sounded too demanding.
Go where? Cameron replies, more quickly than expected, and Chase jumps as his phone chimes.
Just come over, he writes, and turns off the phone, because he knows he'll end up telling if he keeps talking to her. If she's going to snub him, it sure as hell isn't going to be on a cell phone.
The weather report is nowhere to be found.
Foreman flips on the television, walks into the motel bathroom to get a fresh cup from the ice bucket, and comes back to a shock. The station which should normally be playing news this time of night is showing scenes of a riot in a bookstore. He sits down on the bed and watches in fascination as stands crash to the floor and pages loosed from broken bindings fly through the air, two robe-clad teenage boys wrestling across the store.
Pulling the remote from beneath a pile of newspapers covered in pictures of the fictitious scar-faced teen he's stubbornly ignored for the past eight years, he changes channels to no avail. From one harried reporter to the next, the madness at bookstores is being treated like a blizzard, or some other natural disaster.
Watching the costumed children line up, breathless girls screaming hysterically into microphones, Foreman feels a pang of bitterness. This is silly, he tells himself. He disapproves because it's unproductive for children and adults alike to become so wrapped up in fiction. It has nothing to do with the fact that he wishes he'd gotten to be so carelessly excited about something in his childhood.
Chase has changed his shirt three times when the doorbell rings, and he finds himself stuffing the evidence into a drawer. He'll probably end up needing to iron them later, but for now all he cares about is that Cameron doesn't find out he actually cares about the way he looks for her. He's fairly certain that's against at least one of her rules, though she claims not to have them anymore.
She's standing expectantly on his doorstep when he finally gets there, wearing tight jeans and a black tank top, hair unusually curly. Catching himself staring, Chase motions for her to come inside. In hindsight he isn't sure what he thought Cameron would be like in an actual relationship; he just knows that everything she does somehow strikes him as unexpected. He's equally surprised when she shows up with Chinese takeout and a DVD rental as when he finds himself pinned to the wall less than a minute after his arrival.
Cameron smiles as he locks the door behind her, then leans up to kiss him lightly. This is one of her good nights, thinks Chase. He's learned that single-minded sex almost always means she's upset about something.
"Were do you want to go?" The television is on, blaring news coverage of the various bookstore events, and Cameron glances at it.
Chase pauses, trying to figure out how he wants to say it. Now that she's actually here, he isn't sure he can really go through with it. But he forces himself anyway, because he knows he can't expect to hide things like this from her forever, and he wants her there with him.
"I thought we could go join the insanity," he says at last.
"You're a fan?" Cameron raises her eyebrows, but she's smiling just a little. "Nevermind, of course you are."
There are crowds of smiling, happy children on television, and Cuddy can't seem to look away. It doesn't matter that it's making her miserable, or that even though it's the middle of the night she can still hear House's voice in her head. She lies on her couch in pajamas, a slowly-melting bowl of ice cream on her lap, and watches the children.
Hundreds of them are lined up, from toddlers with scars face-painted on their foreheads by overzealous parents to college students with enormous coffees and costumes so elaborate she wonders how long they've been planning.
Unconsciously running her fingers over the skin of her belly, Cuddy thinks how utterly lost she is when it comes to things like this. Somewhere in her office at work, she has the first book, started, but never finished. She's a highly accomplished woman in a difficult field of work, and yet when it comes to a children's book about magic, she can't understand a word.
Cuddy sighs, and licks a drip of chocolate ice cream from her spoon.
"Did you do this for all the other books, too?" asks Cameron. The line they're standing in is snaked outside the bookstore and all the way down the street. There are barricades and security guards, and the whole affair feels more like a celebrity meet and greet than a book release.
"No," says Chase excitedly. "I always wanted to, but I couldn't because of work."
Cameron laughs. "Yet another perk of being unemployed."
"We're going to be here at least two more hours," he warns, suddenly nervous again. He isn't sure whether it's the reminder of his uncertain future career, or the fact that she's been so agreeable about this whole thing, but he's been fighting off the feeling that something bad is going to happen all night long.
"So?" says Cameron. "We came this far, right? We're not leaving without books."
"Have you read them?" asks Chase, suddenly realizing he doesn't know, and mentally kicking himself for assuming.
Cameron rolls her eyes. "I might have been working for House for the past three and a half years, but I'm not living under a rock."
Then the clock strikes midnight, and there's an enormous cheer from the crowd. The line is instantly a flurry of motion, but it's more sideways than forward as everyone suddenly turns to the person beside them in excitement. Chase looks at Cameron, and finds her looking at the line intently.
"It's like watching an experiment on mob mentality," she says. Then she shakes her head and turns back to him. "Kiss me, it's midnight."
"Isn't that supposed to be for New Year's?" asks Chase, surprised. But then she's kissing him, and the crowd is cheering again as books are finally being sold, and he can't seem to focus on anything else.
"House!" Wilson calls, feeling like he's fallen into some weird movie about a time loop. "House, I've got your book!"
The door opens again and House snatches the book. Wilson follows him inside this time, determined to have more than a few sentences' conversation with his friend after an entire night of standing in line.
"So what's the verdict?" asks House as they sit down on the couch. "Is Harry tragically killed as he vanquishes the Dark Lord and saves the world, or do puppies, sunshine, and Cameron rule the day after all?"
"I don't know," says Wilson, taken aback. "I heard a lot of things while I was there, but I have no idea what's true and what isn't."
"You mean you didn't look at the last page yet?" asks House, feigning shock.
"Well, no," says Wilson dryly. "The general idea with a book like this is that you don't know the ending until you've read up to it. Something to do with plot devices and suspense."
"I'll bet you twenty bucks that Harry lives," says House, a shrewd glint in his eye.
"Why?" says Wilson, suspicious. "I would've thought you'd expect him to die."
"But if he dies, then there are millions of disgruntled fans. If he lives, there's still room for more books to come." House grins smugly. "It's all about the money."
"But it's an epic hero story," Wilson argues, though he isn't sure why. "In order for it to be a true epic, it has to have a definitive ending. If Harry lives, it'll be detrimental to the artistic merit of the series as a whole."
"Fine," says House. "Twenty bucks."
Wilson sighs, knowing that House will never pay him for his copy of the book anyway. "Twenty bucks."
House opens the book and looks carefully at the last page. "And the verdict is—"
"Wait!" says Wilson, suddenly changing his mind. "I don't want to know."