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The Physics of Limbo

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Luna Lovegood wondered how many miles she'd fallen by this time; it'd been so long that she was surprised she'd not seen any of the Blithering Lava Pixies that lived at the centre of the Earth. She didn't know if it was a dream, or if it was reality, until she pinched her leg and felt the nerves tweaking in pain beneath her fingers.

Then all of a sudden she was surrounded by deep, dark forest, silent but for the cry of invisible creatures, and with nobody insight save for a strange, handsome fellow sitting on a toadstool and dressed as a pirate.

Curiouser, and curiouser, Luna thought to herself. The man looked harmless enough; he appeared to be in deep-thought, staring up at the ceiling of the tree-boughs as if he could see blue sky peeking through the gaps. She wondered if he could hear or see her, so she took a furtive step closer towards him.

"I remember you," she said nervously to the man, who looked up at her in great surprise. "You're that Stubby Boardman fellow."

"Stubby Boardman? Ha!" He threw his head back and let out a loud, barking laugh. "I wish. He still gets to go around singing at weddings and pubs, at least. I'm stuck here for eternity, by the looks of it."

"I still know you from somewhere, though. Are you sure we haven't met?"

A funny look crossed the man's face. "Er, yes. Well, it wasn't a very good day for me when we met, obviously with me dying and all--"

"Are you dead?" A look of extreme fascination swept over her face. "That's so very thrilling."

"Not as exciting as one would think, to be honest. Yes, sometimes you get to go terrify the people who annoyed you in life, but on the whole it's a bit dull, really."

"I don't know what you're doing in my dreams, then. Or hallucinations? I tried to tell Neville that the broadbeans they served us for dinner were poisoned, I could just tell--"

The man looked pained. "Er... are you delusional, or have you absolutely no idea where you are right now?"

"I've been told both countless times by many different people now, sir."

"I gathered." The man straighened his frilly cuffs, and sat up on his toadstool. "Unfortunately, I myself am unable to tell you precisely where you are or how you got here. All I can do is confirm your guesses either way."

"Oh, a riddle. I like riddles."

"Look, it's not a bloody riddle," the man said impatiently. "I'm just saying what I'm supposed to say; apparently the higher-beings don't like it when you do all the hard-work for newcomers."

"Right." She put her finger on her chin, and thought aloud: "well then, am I hallucinating? Are those rumours about licking ink off the end of your quill true?"

"No, but yes; I licked the tip of my quill during my History of Magic OWL and woke up three weeks later in a rice field in China. They exempted me on compassionate grounds."

"So I'm not hallucinating. Oh. What was China like?"

"Heavily populated."

"Interesting."

"Very. So have you got any idea where you are?"

"Have I been attacked by brain-vampires, perhaps?"

He gave her an odd look. "There's no such thing."

"That's what people said about snorkacks, but they were proven wrong too."

"There's no such thing as them, either!"

"I think you must be mad, sir," said Luna, and she sat down on a bank of moss and folded her arms in mild indignation.

"God, I wish," he said.

"I wouldn't expect a sceptic to know what a brain-vampire is. I might have expected at least a little bit of open-mindedness from someone wearing a pirate outfit."

"The eye-patch cuts off the brain circulation," the man joked in a bitter tone. "Look, we can't keep this up all day. For one, you're quite a tiresome girl, and secondly it's so simple that even a child could guess the answer! Well, a clever child, anyway. I was quite clever in my youth, you know."

"How did you die, then?"

A twisted scowl formed on his face. "Fell into bloody drapery."

"It's all right. I won't think any less of you." But then something funny settled in the pit of Luna's stomach, and a tiny voice of cognizance sounded in the back of her head. "If you're dead, and I'm not dreaming... how come I can see you?"

"I've told you before, I'm not allowed--"

"You know, I think you just don't want to tell me why I'm down here."

For all the stubble on his chin and the sinewy muscle of his arms, the man looked remarkably child-like; as if he didn't want to know where he was and wished to wake up from a horrible dream. He said nothing, and with that he confirmed Luna's niggling suspicion.

"I'm... I'm dead too, aren't I."

It took a time before the man responded by weakly nodding his head. "I'm sorry to disappoint you."

"I'm not so much disappointed as I am intrigued, really. How did..."

And then memory flooded back to her of the fall; only it wasn't a dreamy drift down a rabbit-hole, but a swift and fierce plummet into earth, with the wind wrapping her robes around her tiny body as flames engulfed her house tower.

Luna wrapped her arms around herself in an effort to keep herself warm, but she was still cold and she wondered in a not-too concerned manner if she would ever be warm again. "I just had my seventeenth birthday."

"I'm sorry."

And there was silence between them; silence as the man hung his head, feeling awkward at not knowing what to say; silence as she gathered her thoughts and stared at the moss beneath her feet. Then finally, she asked a question that had made her curious her whole life. "Can I... can I see my mother again?"

The strange man in the pirate garb nodded sincerely, and climbed down off his toadstool. "Come with me."

***