Posted originally on the Archive of Our Own at
Rating: General Audiences
Archive Warning: Choose Not To Use Archive Warnings, No Archive Warnings
Category: F/M, Gen
Fandom: His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
Relationship: Lyra Belacqua/Will Parry
Character: Lyra Belacqua, Pantalaimon, Will Parry, Elaine Parry
Additional Tags: Post-Canon, Yuletide 2008
Stats: Published: 2011-09-04 Words: 1532
shades of grey meaning that turn out so sweetly
After the events of The Amber Spyglass, Lyra tries to figure out
one question to ask the alethiometer about Will.
Written for Yuletide 2008. Title from "The Answer" by Automatic
"The owl, maybe," Lyra thought aloud.
Pan made a movement like a shrug.
"What, owls are like wisdom, right? Mr. Scoresby told us those stories about
the warrior goddess and her owl. I think it could be the owl," she continued,
as if trying to convince them both. She'd already decided the hourglass
meant 'time', that seemed plain enough. The hardest part still was figuring
out which symbol meant Will. What should she even try to think of? Boy?
Man? Friend? Love? Knifewielder? Will meant so many things, not just to her,
but in the grand design of their adventures; how could she choose just one
symbol to represent him?
"Maybe the question you should ask first is 'which symbol means Will' then,"
Pan suggested lazily, trying to sun himself on the ridge of the roof. It had
been a rare nice day in spring, with the sun teasing them by peeking out of
the clouds between showers. Pan had wanted to play, but Lyra was
determined to figure out this question, so they compromised by working
with the alethiometer outside on the roof.
"That's dumb, Pan, and you know it," Lyra snapped, tossing an acorn in his
direction. "This questions is hard enough and I already know the answer."
She paused. "Maybe." She shifted around, trying to get comfortable against
the roof tiles. "And anyway, how could I ask what symbol Will is if I en't got a
symbol for him?" She frowned. How had she spent so much time up here
before? It was uncomfortable and boring now. Everything had been so much
"Well can't you just try one, see what it says? And haven't you got a trunk full
of books on this anyway?" Pan's voice was sharp; he was easily bored when
Lyra became serious and focused.
"Pan, don't be silly, if I ask with a symbol that's wrong, I'm asking a different
question, en't I? And then I won't understand the answer, either. Or if I do, I
still don't know what was the question!"
In response, Pan snuffled.
"Besides," Lyra continued. "What'm I meant to look up in a book? They en't
got a dictionary of symbols for every person in the world." Pause. "Worlds."
Pan cleaned his paws for a moment before flowing along the roof to Lyra and
nuzzling his head against her side. "Are you sure you'll know the answer to
the this question, anyway?" he asked quietly.
Lyra sighed. That had been the point. Ask a question she knew the answer
to; maybe it would help her understand the symbols again. She pat Pan
absently and laid the alethiometer carefully on the velvet bag in her lap.
"Your idea," she muttered, and picked up a stone from the gutter to drop
into puddles in the courtyard below.
Pan nuzzled once more before pouncing up to run along the roof, relieved to
** ** **
Lyra threw the alethiometer onto her pillow and stamped her foot in
frustration. It was childish, but then, everything had been easier when she
had been childish. When she had been a child. Before this whole adventure.
Maybe if she could recreate that, act like she had before, maybe she could
recreate her understanding of the compass symbols. Not that she believed
that, honestly, but, again, it was easier.
"I think you're just blocking yourself," intoned Pan. Lyra bared her teeth at
him, feeling a pang of longing for Iorek. He'd always had a way of making
even the worst situations seem alright. As had Will.
"What am I blocking, then, if you're so wise?" she challenged, sliding to the
floor and facing Pan on the windowsill. He ruffled his fur and preened a
moment before responding, as if enjoying to keep Lyra in suspense.
"It's because you don't want to get the answer. Or you want it to be
Lyra climbed up off the floor and gathered Pan in her arms, burying her face
in his thick, soft fur and forgiving him for knowing her so well. "Well, why
wouldn't I. I don't want a bad answer like it's gonna be. And really, what's
the point? I should just study and ask boring questions like they want me
to." She jerked her head towards the door and the rest of the college.
"You won't," said Pan, snuggling. "You want to see if it's a different answer."
"It won't be." She didn't convince either of them.
** ** **
"Maybe it's not the owl."
"I never thought so," Pan said haughtily from the same windowsill the next
"I mean, maybe it en't 'wisdom' at all. Like, I'm asking a question, en't I? Just
that should mean I'm looking for wisdom. So I need time, and Will. Maybe I
just need one that means 'see'." Lyra bit her lip. 'See' or 'touch' or 'hold'.
"Best not push your luck," said Pan. Lyra grumbled but didn't reply. There
were so many symbols, and she knew, she remembered, that each one had
several meanings. Obvious ones and secret hidden ones. Ones that meant
something if you asked one question, but not if you asked another.
Sometimes she wondered if the symbols meant different things depending
on who was asking. That might explain why there were so many books - and
why they didn't seem to be all that much help.
"So... what means 'seeing'?" She asked aloud, hoping Pan would think of it
like a game and help her.
"There isn't one that's just eyes."
"Which ones've got eyes then?"
"Alright. How 'bout 'light' then? Can't see without light."
"The sun? The candle?"
"Can't see much with a candle."
"Pan, why is this so hard?!" Lyra buried her head in her blanket and
punched her pillow. She was running out of time; she'd promised the
masters that she'd try it her way for a month. Just one month, then she'd
study properly. It wasn't that she didn't want to study - for once she was
interested in what people had to say in books, what she could learn, how
they explained how the alethiometer worked. How the alethiometer worked,
full stop. But it still stung that her gift for reading it had been taken away
through no fault of her own or anyone's. Nobody was mentioning it, nobody
was reminding her, but it was hard to forget. Why, if she hadn't been able to
read it, she would've been dead a hundred times over by now. And Will...
she didn't even know. Probably dead too. Iorek for certain. And all the good
they'd done, well they wouldn't have been able to. Was it so wrong to miss
"A window?" Pan suggested through her tantrum. Lyra turned to look out
her own window. Blossoms were beginning to fall when the wind blew.
"There en't a window, but... c'mon." She hopped up off the bed and held out
her arm to Pan, who climbed gracefully onto it, no questions asked.
** ** **
The sun was shining through the clouds again when they got to the Botanic
Garden. Lyra realized she hadn't been down there in a while, and she
wondered if it had to do with this idea, this question she'd been trying to
ask, this answer she'd been trying to avoid. She sat down on the bench,
watching Pan run around the garden chasing leaves and blossoms and
feathers. She felt like they'd both been cooped up inside for ages. Inside
where, she wasn't sure.
Lyra held her breath and set the hands of the alethiometer. She still wasn't
sure of the symbols, but she needed to try something. Anything. Placing the
compass in her lap, she closed her eyes and put her hands by her legs,
palms down and fingers trembling.
** ** **
A lifetime away in that very moment, Will guided his mother over to the
bench in the Botanic Garden. The rain had finally stopped and a hint of a
rainbow was arcing up over the city. It was good to get out, it was good to
take his mother somewhere; he'd left her too long.
"What's that? What's that. Marted mart mart'n," she was mumbling, and Will
tried to follow her eyes to see what she was seeing.
"What is it, mum, what do you see?"
"Mart'n," she repeated.
"I don't see anything, just leaves caught in the wind."
"Marten," she whispered.
Will sighed and sat back against the bench, patting his mother on the
shoulder. A blossom had fallen from the tree and landed on Will's lap,
delicate as a touch. He moved to brush it off, but instead he closed his hand
over it gently, and leaned over to kiss his mother on the cheek. "Shall we sit
for a bit?"
** ** **
A lifetime away in that very moment, Lyra let out a breath and opened her
eyes, not bothering to look at where the hands of the compass were
pointing. Pan abandoned the leaf he'd been chasing and scampered over to
"Do you know now?" He put his paws up on his shoulder to nuzzle her face
since she had not moved her hands to pet him.
Lyra smiled and kissed his nose. "Yes. I know."
** ** ** FIN ** ** **
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