“This is part of what we all do here ladies,” One said to the three girls who were still conscious.
“Why do you need all three of us?” Arya complained. “The princess here seems to have it under control.” Arya motioned towards Hermione.
“You know we take care of each other in threes. Just like there are three of us,” One answered.
“It’s not like she’s going to be here for long anyway,” Katniss remarked looking down at Binny who was just starting to rouse.
One gave Katniss a reproachful smile. “Katniss, you never know who might stick around. It took awhile for Hermione to arrive and now look at her.” One gave Hermione’s shoulder a squeeze.
Hermione looked embarrassed.
“Three siblings getting super powers? It’s derivative at best, drivel at worst,” Katniss sneered.
“The girl from the Hunger Games is calling Binny’s book derivative? You’ve read Battle Royale haven’t you?” Arya said.
“Uh, Lord of the Flies anyone?” Hermione lectured.
“Uh, Lord of the Rings anyone?” Katniss snapped.
“You should talk when it comes to stealing from Tolkien.” Hermione shot back at Arya.
A voice from the floor interrupted the bickering. “I’m not dreaming, am I.”
“No. You’re not.” Hermione crouched down to face Binny, extending a hand.
“Thanks.” Binny took the offered hand and got to her feet. “Uh, Hermione, can I ask you a question?”
“Why of course.” Hermione smiled.
“And I apologize in advance if I’m saying the wrong thing, but, how come you don’t look like – ”
“The movie?” Hermione gave a knowing smile.
Binny flushed worrying she’d caused offense.
“It’s okay. Even people who’ve been here for awhile wonder that.” Hermione tried to be reassuring. “Everyone here is a character from a book. You see me as my author intended. Just as I see you as your author intended.”
Hermione continued, “Most of the characters here are from books that have not been made into films.”
“Or incredibly successful television programs,” Arya interrupted.
“Or television programs,” Hermione agreed with Arya before continuing. “But because most characters who know us are familiar with our film or TV representations they get confused when they see us here expecting us to look more like the actors playing us on screen.”
Katniss picked up Binny’s book and had it open to a particular page. “See this picture?” Katniss stabbed at the image with her index finger.
Binny looked at the drawing. It was her, but not her.
“You don’t look exactly like that, do you?” Katniss continued.
“No. I guess not,” Binny agreed. It also occurred to Binny that not only was this girl purporting to be Katniss Everdeen not sixteen, but she didn’t act much like the Katniss Binny was familiar with in the books. Binny decided it best to keep that observation to herself for the moment.
“Your book has drawings at the beginning of each chapter like mine. That image is the book’s illustrator’s conception of you. But, what you look like here in the Stacks is what your author was imagining as he or she wrote your book.” Hermione said.
“You don’t think they’ll make my book into a movie do you?” Binny regretted the statement the moment it left her mouth.
“Ha!” Katniss cackled. “Honey, the only thing your book is going to be made into is a doorstop.”
“It’s not good?” Binny’s cheeks reddened.
“I found it quite charming actually,” Hermione defended.
“Not enough blood for my taste,” Arya said.
There’s blood? Binny thought.
Katniss just shrugged her shoulders.
Seeing the look on Binny’s face, Arya added, “Don’t fret. At least you’re the star of your book.”
“Being the main character of your book is not all it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes readers think other characters are more impactful, even if that wasn’t the author’s intention,” Hermione said.
It was the first slightly positive news Binny had heard since she had woken up in this place. She was the main character in her book. That must count for something. Binny thought better of saying this aloud for fear of being impolite.
“Ladies,” One gently interrupted the conversation. “Why don’t you take Binny to your quarters. I’ve gotten everything prepared for the four of you.”
The four girls followed One through the maze of the library. Normally, Binny might have traced her fingertips across the spines of what must be the thousands of books they passed as they walked. But she was so afraid to touch anything, she kept her hands at her sides and kept her eyes looking straight ahead for fear of getting lost.
After what seemed like dozens of twists and turns they eventually found themselves passing through an arched and oversized stone gate into what Binny supposed was some kind of main thoroughfare. She was still inside, but this hallway was as big as some streets she’d been on and it was teeming with people – all shapes, sizes, colors. And all kinds of outfits too. Binny saw people walking around in everything from cowboy hats to space suits.
But it wasn’t only people. Binny gaped at what could only be described as alien creatures sprinkled through the dense crowd. One particularly gelatinous creature slunk by as they walked.
Katniss saw Binny staring and offered, “From The God’s Themselves. Asimov of course.”
Binny nodded as if she’d knew what Katniss was talking about. But she’d never heard of it or of Asimov. Nodding seemed the best course of action for the moment.
Doors and entryways of all shapes and sizes lined the outer wall of the passageway. Gates and arches provided entry back into the library periodically interrupted the stone bricks of the inner wall. The passageway itself seemed to curve slightly and endlessly in either direction, like the curve of the earth itself.
Eventually they came to a door set in the outer wall. Binny only knew it was a door because of the handle. That was the only thing sticking out from the tangle of ivy that was obscuring the door almost entirely. The ivy seemed to grow on the outer wall of the huge hallway only in this one particular location.
One stood to the side motioning Binny to proceed. Binny cleared the vines as best she could. Once revealed, Binny saw that the door was made of thick wooden planks and held together with pieces of decorative wrought iron. Binny tried to turn the handle. It was locked.
“Oh, I’m so forgetful. Please accept my apologies,” One said in her lilting voice.
Before Binny could ask One what she was apologizing for, One motioned to Binny to look in her pocket.
Binny was past questioning what they were telling her to do in this crazy not-a-dream place. She fished her hand around in the pocket of her jeans and pulled out an aged key. It had definitely not been there earlier. But none of this really had, so what was the difference?
Binny put the key into the keyhole and turned. It took both hands to turn the key and eventually she managed. The whole experience of opening the door was reminding Binny of something but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.
Binny took a deep breath and pushed the door inward. It swung slowly open to reveal a tremendous amount of lush overgrown foliage. Rose bushes had spread their branches so broadly they were like little trees themselves. Binny’s curiosity tugged her through the door. Once through she could see everything more closely.
And then just as the sunlight hit Binny, so did the realization of where she was. She’d read the book with her mother a few years earlier. Binny Jordan, the protagonist of the Madrona Heroes Register found herself standing in the Secret Garden.
“I know this. I know this.” Binny was running from plant to plant smelling the roses, examining every detail. “I don’t understand, how – ”
The others had followed her in. One closed the door behind them.
“You don’t understand much, do you?” Katniss said. And then quickly as if anticipating a criticism from One she added hastily, “And nor should you since you just got here.”
Katniss continued, “As you know, we are characters in books. And while we all come from books, so does everything we use here in the Stacks. After all, we need somewhere to sleep.”
“I think she likes it,” Hermione said.
“I’m glad. I thought she might,” One agreed.
Binny was beaming thanks at One.
“Don’t get too excited, there are 359 Misselthwaite Manors. You’re not that special.” Arya said casually.
“Arya!” Hermione exclaimed.
“Wait, what?” The confusion was crawling back into position on Binny’s face.
“And there are three times as many Gryffindor dormitories, not that it’s a competition of course.” Hermione said to Arya.
“Like I said, everything we have here comes from books. And One and her cronies can make an unlimited number of copies of whatever they find in the books,” Katniss said.
“Katniss. ‘Cronies’ has such a negative connotation.” One raised her eyebrows reproachfully.
“Sorry. Friends. Or whatever you three are. Though, it’s not like I’ve ever seen the three of you, or even two of you together for that matter.”
“You’re not the only one that needs to sleep sometimes,” One said.
Hermione saw the puzzlement on Binny’s face. “One and the other two are sort of caretakers. Keepers if you will. They arrange everything we need, and make sure everyone’s taken care of.”
“Are the others called Two and Three?” Binny said. She’d said it with a straight face, even though she was kidding.
Luckily, nobody noticed the joke. The only reaction she got was Hermione saying “Exactly.” with what appeared to be satisfaction at Binny’s quick learning.
“Come on. Let’s go. I call firsties on rooms,” Arya yelled from atop the wall on the other side of the garden. In the wall was another door identical to the one through which they’d come.
“There are a hundred rooms. I think there are plenty for each of us.” Hermione shook her head at Arya’s impetuousness and motioned for Binny to follow her through the door.
Binny hadn’t seen all hundred rooms in Misselthwaite Manor but she’d seen enough to find a pair that suited her needs. Binny was glad there was a fireplace as she thought it might get cold.
Arya had chosen an enormous dimly lit hall filled with paintings and suits of armor. Arya said it was to give her enough room to practice her swordplay. Binny thought it was more about making a show of needing so much space.
After choosing their rooms the girls gathered by the entrance to the secret garden through which they’d entered where One was about to make her exit.
Katniss was lying on the ground staring up at the sky.
Arya stood once again on the wall. She’d shimmied up a nearby tree and jumped onto the wall from a branch. Arya looked down at Katniss, “Jealous?”
“Of what?” Katniss sounded bored.
“My tree-climbing abilities,” Arya trumpeted.
“Seriously? Are you kidding? Do you have any idea?”
“Then prove it.”
“No thanks. No need. And besides, I always feel so underpowered in this body. It’s like I don’t have my muscles yet,” Katniss said.
“Katniss, you know this is only temporary,” One said.
“What’s temporary?” Binny whispered to Hermione.
Binny thought she had whispered quietly enough for no one else to hear, but One responded to her question. “Katniss is speaking of how we prefer that new characters arriving in the Stacks be looked after by characters similar in age and perspective. We find that the familiarity makes the transition a little easier.”
“Oh.” Binny looked at Katniss. “That explains why you’re so young here.” And then to herself she wondered if that explained why Katniss was acting so different than she did in the books. Maybe Binny herself was acting differently than she did in her own book. Binny abandoned the line of thought before it got too confusing.
“And if it weren’t for a brief flashback in the first book I wouldn’t even be able to be eleven here,” Katniss said.
“When we’re not in our books, we can be any age at which our authors have conceived us. Whatever we like,” Hermione explained to Binny.
“Oh, of course. You could be eighteen. Oh wait, you could be even older too,” Binny responded.
“I prefer eleven,” Arya said as she executed a treacherous jump.
“Your only other choices are ten and nine,” Katniss said.
“Katniss, we all make sacrifices,” One sounded soothing, but Binny could detect a hint of a stern edge.
“Yes. I know One. I know.”
“What is our purpose?” One said.
“It’s not the exact quote you know.” Katniss said.
One’s silence was the only response Katniss received.
Katniss then said as if she was repeating something she’d said many times before, “The beauty of all literature is that you discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
Katniss glanced at Binny and said in an aside, “F. Scott Fitzgerald, you know.” And then continued her speech, “And that is our purpose.”
“Thank you for reminding us how important our sacrifices are. I’m grateful.” And then turning to the others, “and I’m grateful to each of you.”
One moved to exit via the wooden door through which they’d originally entered, but stopped briefly to say one more thing to the girls. “Oh yes, and don’t be late for dinner please.” And with that, she was gone.