It had been such a late night, Binny overslept. She had checked in with Katniss after her conversation with her author as promised. Wow! Her author had found a way into the Stacks. As far as she knew, it had never been done before. That was something to be proud of, no? Not that she could tell anyone of course. Could she? She didn’t know what she should do. She needed advice, but that would have to wait.
Binny rushed to get dressed, zipped downstairs only to find that nobody else was awake. Binny rapped on Hermione’s door gently. It was very unlike her not to be on time.
“What? Is everything alright?” Hermione asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
Hermione sighed. “We have a day off today.”
“We get days off?” Binny was genuinely surprised.
“It’s not predictable. When we’ve built up enough of a backlog in our books, we get some downtime. Today we’re off. They announced it after dessert last night.”
“Oh.” Binny felt embarrassed at Hermione’s mention of the previous night.
Binny closed the door gently and retreated to the kitchen. She wasn’t alone for long. Katniss, still wearing her nightclothes, dragged herself into the kitchen.
“You didn’t realize we had today off.” Katniss said.
“And I forgot to tell you.” Katniss admitted.
“You were super tired. It’s okay.” Binny smiled forgiveness.
“You’re probably pretty tired yourself after last night.” Katniss had a sympathetic look on her face.
“Listen, I wanted to thank you for being there for me last night.” Binny looked Katniss in the eye. “I was feeling very low.”
“It’s okay. Really. I understand.”
“You do understand. I mean, you truly understand.” Binny said. “You spent three books fighting for your freedom only to find yourself locked up here with no hope of ever getting out.”
Katniss was surprised at just how well Binny understood her feelings. Tears were starting to well up in the corners of her eyes.
Binny continued, “You’re a fighter. But here there’s not even anything to fight. This is why you’ve been acting so strange. So… ‘out-of-character’.”
Katniss looked away trying to hide her emotions from Binny.
“I didn’t mean to upset you. I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry it took me so long to understand how you were feeling. Sorry it took me so long to understand what this place really is.” Binny said.
Katniss stopped trying to hold back her tears. “Binny Jordan. You have nothing to apologize for. You figured it out faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. And everyone reacts differently. You in a more dramatic fashion than most.” Katniss giggled as she wiped her cheeks. “I’ve never seen so much food flying through the air.”
Even Binny had to laugh.
The respite was brief though. After the laughing subsided, Binny and Katniss looked at each other, the weight of their knowledge sitting heavy on their shoulders.
“I’m sorry.” Was all Katniss could think to say.
“It’s not your fault. You didn’t bring me here.” Binny said.
“I know. But still.” Katniss thought for a moment. “Now that you understand what this place really is you could turn all crabby and sarcastic like me. That seems to be my strategy for coping.”
Binny made a decision. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
Katniss leaned in. “Sounds exciting.”
Katniss sat slackjawed as Binny told her everything. How a strange man had kept finding her and chatting with her, and how she figured out the strange man was really her author.
“OK. First of all. You’re blowing my mind.”
“Secondly, why did this never occur to any author before?”
“Three, if my author figures it out, I need to have a serious talk with her about some of the romantic choices she has my character making.” Katniss laughed at her joke.
Binny laughed too.
Katniss continued. “That’s cool. Seriously. Mind-blowingly cool. And great for him, and you I guess. But how does that help us?”
“Think about it. It’s the first evidence we’ve seen that the rules here can be subverted.” Binny said. “Remember when I tried to find Laura Ingalls Wilder? Two told me that authors who put themselves in their books aren’t allowed in the Stacks.”
Katniss thought about it. “You think it might be possible break some of the other rules around here without getting caught?”
A slow smile crept across Binny’s face. “I feel like we found a loose thread. And I want to spend today pulling on it.”
Michel was waiting for them in the garden when they emerged through the door on the side that led to the Manor.
“Him?” Hermione complained. “He’s trouble.”
“I told you already. This is Binny’s first day off, and she wants to go exploring.” Katniss admonished Hermione.
Hermione made a face but said nothing in response.
“I just want to use Needle.”
“All you ever want to do is use that sword.” Katniss said. “I can’t believe after all these years that’s still the thing you care about most.”
“Chalk it up to my relative immaturity.” Arya snapped back with a twinkle in her eye. “I’m not one-dimensional, I’m just written that way.”
“Maybe your author will pick up the pace and we’ll actually get to see you grow up at some point.” Hermione said.
“Maybe your author will actually make you the hero one day instead of naming your books after your hapless companion.” Arya replied.
“Don’t talk about her that way. I’m sure she had good reasons for what she did.” Hermione said, and looked away.
“Uh. Hello.” Michel said.
The bickering subsided as they wandered over to where Michel was sitting in the Secret Garden.
“So, what next boss?” Katniss said to Binny.
“Old people.” Binny said, and led them out of the garden and into the grand hallway, teeming with characters determined to enjoy their day off.
“Not just the old, but the old and powerful.” Binny explained.
“Well then this won’t do.” Arya put the Mitch Albom book back on the shelf.
“Are we going to spend our precious day off rudely gawking at old people?” Hermione complained.
“I’m sorry that I’m not of much use.” The literature I’m familiar with has much fewer fantastical elements than you’re used to.” Michel said.
“You haven’t read a lot since you arrived here?” Binny asked.
“I don’t read so much as I re-read. So many classics to choose from.” Michel said.
“I’m racking my brain to find characters that are old and powerful.” Katniss said.
“Yeah. In my book, only the most inoffensive actually make it to being old. Most people die long before that.” Arya said.
“What’s your author’s obsession with killing characters anyway?” Katniss asked Arya.
“No clue. I just hope I’m one of them.”
“You do?” Binny blurted out.
“Well, the series isn’t done of course, but my sense is that he puts his best effort into the characters he’s going to kill. They get the most love and attention, so that the reader is really crushed when they die.”
All Binny could do was shake her head.
“A blaze of glory, eh?” Michel asked Arya.
“You get it!” Arya said excitedly.
“Why are you so quiet?” Binny said to Hermione.
“I’m fine thanks.” Hermione said.
“Why are you so quiet?” Katniss added. “You’ve usually got plenty of suggestions. Is it tough not being in charge for a day? Don’t worry, you’ll be the boss again soon enough.” Katniss teased. But there was a slight edge to her voice.
“What about from your book?” Binny asked.
“What about my book?” Hermione said.
“Old and powerful.” Binny asked, but before Hermione could respond, Binny continued. “I’m so stupid. Duh. Of course. Dumbledore. Why didn’t I think of him first?”
“We are not going to spend the day hunting for Albus Dumbledore.” Hermione crossed her arms. Her eyes dared anyone to contradict her.
“Why not?” Binny asked. The hurt evident in her voice.
“We’ve talked about this before. Finding people in the Stacks is basically impossible.” Hermione said.
“That’s not exactly true.” Binny said.
“What do you mean?” Four heads turned to face Binny at once.
Binny looked around to make sure they were in a relatively private spot in the library. When she was sure nobody was listening Binny said, “There is a way.”
“What way?” Hermione said, her voice rising.
“I found my father.” Binny said.
Four jaws dropped.
“You found your what now?” Katniss said.
“I found my dad. From my book. My book dad.”
“You mean in your book, right?” Katniss said.
“Nope. Here. In the Stacks.”
“How on Earth did you do that?” Hermione was stunned.
“Well, first of all, we’re not on Earth. At least I don’t think we are.” Binny smiled. “But that’s neither here nor there. I found him the same way we keep finding each other. We go where we think the other person might be.”
“But Binny, how did you know where your father might be. He could be anywhere, no?” Michel asked.
“Well, I thought really hard about my dad, and if he were here, where he might like to hang out. And I’ll admit, I got a little lucky as it was someplace obscure, so there was only one instance of it in the Stacks. And sure enough he was there.”
“How was it?” Arya said in a quiet voice. “Finding your father.”
Binny thought about Arya’s book father, and turned to face Arya squarely. “It was kind of a disappointment honestly. He was preoccupied.”
Arya nodded indicating an understanding that Binny wasn’t sure she actually possessed.
“Look, I got lucky. But I think we could get lucky again. I figure a popular character would pick a really obscure place to spend their time. So they wouldn’t get harassed by fans all the time.”
Katniss and Hermione glanced at each other briefly.
“Hermione, where do you think Dumbledore would be?” Binny asked.
“Look. I’m not condoning this little expedition of yours. But even if I thought it made any sense whatsoever, I wouldn’t know the first place to look for him.”
“Why not? He’s from your book!” Arya said.
“Let’s just say I’m not the one he confided in.” Hermione’s lips were thin and drawn.
“Seriously. All you Harry Potter people act like you’re the very first magical characters ever in books. It’s not like Dumbledore is so original.”
“Arya. That’s it!” Binny almost shouted and then caught herself for fear of being overheard.
Binny told everyone who she wanted to find.
“But Binny,” Katniss was conciliatory, “How do any of us know where he might like to spend his time off?”
Michel cleared his throat. “I think I might be able to help with that part.”
“I never get used to moving between day and night like this.” Arya said quietly.
“I never get used to seeing someone walking around 1920’s Paris with a fantasy sword.” Katniss joked.
“Tell me how you know about this place again?” Binny asked Michel.
“I’m more of an ancient literature reader myself, so I don’t read a lot of modern books. However, I have made some exceptions. In particular when it involves my beloved city.” Michel said. “I particularly enjoy novels that contain depictions of Paris. I love spending time in various versions of my city that are a little more optimistic than what my author had in mind.”
“Well, it’s certainly romantic.” Katniss said.
Binny couldn’t help but observe the change that had come over Katniss since Binny’s outburst at dessert the previous night. The edge that almost always surrounded Katniss had somehow expanded beyond Binny’s view. Binny felt like she was inside a new safe place where Katniss could be more of herself. Not the disillusioned resident of the Stacks, not the hero from District 12, but just Katniss, a normal girl trying to live her life. It was nice.
“We are in Montparnasse.” Michel confided to the group.
Michel led them down an alley paved with cobblestones. The light from the lampposts outside the alley reached only so far. At a certain point the cobblestones lost their shine. The alley narrowed and turned a corner at an odd angle.
“Where are we going?” Hermione said.
“You’ll see. I’ve seen him go in here before.” Michel answered keeping his voice to a whisper.
“You mean you’ve seen him in this place?” Hermione tried to clarify.
“Well, not exactly. I’ve seen him go in. But I’ve never seen him inside.” Michel answered.
Binny felt a pang of worry. Should she have not bet on Michel?
“Is this some kind of riddle?” Hermione was getting more annoyed than usual.
“Look. I’ve never actually gotten inside.” Trying to foment further discussion, Michel put his finger to his lips, looked both ways down the alley – nobody was coming from either direction – went down the steps that led to the sunken entryway, and opened the metal door. As Binny passed through the door she noticed a small chameleon painted on one of the stones to its right.
The four girls entered the small space with Michel just ahead of them. When they looked up, it was impossible to see anything but a behemoth of a man standing in front of Michel. He blocked their entrance, and everything else for that matter – light, air. He did not look pleased. He said nothing.
Michel straightened up, cleared his throat, and said “Police! Open up!”
The large man shook his head, gently smiling, and said, “Michel, I’ve told you. That’s not the password anymore.”
Michel spoke quickly. “But Fezzik, it’s the password in the book.”
“I’m sorry Michel. But you know the rules.” And with that, with surprising gentleness for such a giant, Fezzik shooed the group out of the little entryway and back into the alley where it had started to rain.