Harry Potter and the Years of Rebellion
Intermezzo I: Lost
By Mike [FP]
Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)
Lucia Covelli sat at a small glass-topped table in a wide loggia that overlooked the azure sea. Morning was the best time of the day – in a complicated world, this was one of the few things of which she was certain. She was dressed casually, far more casually than would normally be the case. The Granger girl had reacted very poorly to anything that even hinted at cloaks or robes, and her client's comfort was very important at the moment. Blue denims and loose white shirts were hardly an imposition, in any case; she had dressed similarly in her graduate school days, thirty years prior.
Her morning's reading was strewn across the table, held fast against the breeze by small stones gathered from the beaches far below. Each day she had La Repubblica for breakfast, as well as the Times – both London and New York – and Yomiuri Shimbun. The last was a legacy of her ex-husband’s business interests, but she’d made it her own long before the divorce. After that, it was always case notes and her morning espresso.
It was rare when all her notes could be held in a single binder. However, she found herself with the very unaccustomed luxury of a single client. Still, that one client was shaping up as a serious challenge. The cases that came to her via Amelia Bones were often coloured with cloak-and-dagger overtones, but this one….
The girl was only sixteen, though she both appeared and projected herself as somewhat older. She displayed a very facile mind, beneath which Covelli suspected were several layers of trauma. She projected a strong personality, as well. It was absurd to think that all of this was the result of a single explosive incident of accidental magic. The girl’s guard – and the fact that she required a guard raised its own questions – was a terribly injured but absurdly polite fellow named Moody, who insisted upon being called Alastor. He had quickly forwarded her concerns to Bones. The response was cryptic, and asked her to expect a representative with more information – a functionary from the British Ministry bearing a dossier, she presumed.
The tapping of shoes rang out on the terrazzo. "Who is there, please?" she asked loudly, as she slammed shut the binder containing her notes. She was fairly sure it wasn’t Moody; the sound of his wooden leg made for an uneven pattern.
The voice that answered was terribly familiar. "Good morning, Lucia. You were never an early riser when we were young."
Covelli gasped. She fumbled for her reading spectacles unsuccessfully, and settled for squinting at the speaker; she saw sharp features, a severe bun, and an equally severe cloak. The woman was surely not a messenger, and was in fact nearly the last person she had expected to see. Has it been four years? Five? she wondered. After settling herself, she responded, "People change, Minerva… or do they? How long has it been since you last let your hair down? Forty years?"
Minerva McGonagall crossed her arms. "I see that you remain too vain to wear spectacles. Perhaps we don't change at all."
Covelli rose slowly but gracefully, as schoolgirl banter from days long past played through her mind. "That cloak belongs on a crone," she said haughtily.
McGonagall's lips nearly disappeared. "Those denims belong on a child."
"Biddy," Covelli snapped.
"Priss," McGonagall snorted.
"Bint," Covelli laughed, and added, "Now that is a word I have not used in quite some time."
McGonagall smiled faintly. She briskly strode forward and clasped Covelli's hands. "It's been too long, Luci."
"It has," Covelli agreed.
"An owl now and again would be appreciated," McGonagall chided.
Covelli frowned. "It's been nearly fifty years since I kept an owl, as you are well aware. You could make use of a telephone."
McGonagall’s smile broadened for a moment. "I used a telephone last year, on one occasion."
Covelli gestured toward the second chair at the glass-topped table. “Life takes many unexpected turns, does it not?"
McGonagall sat heavily. "Indeed."
Covelli pushed her papers and binder aside before sitting. "When we were young, I could see that you would be headmistress of Hogwarts.” She stopped for a moment, and pushed back any harshness in her tone. “I understand that it is purely a matter of time now."
"I have no desire for change, and no need for power," McGonagall said firmly. "Albus will serve many more years. As for myself, I doubt that I shall remain at Hogwarts beyond the end of the decade."
Covelli knew that her face soured at the mention of Dumbledore, and she consciously refocused; it was only then that McGonagall’s announcement dawned on her. “You? Leave Hogwarts? What would you do with yourself?"
McGonagall shot her a cross look. "Retire, of course! I am old, in case that had somehow escaped your attention."
"We're only seventy years old," Covelli chided. "That is the prime of life."
"Luci, we're seventy-one years old, and for me the emphasis lies squarely upon old – my prime has passed," McGonagall sighed. "Even the men in your family appeared unaccountably young for their ages, as I remember it. On the other hand, I am able to pass for my actual age amongst Muggles with precious little effort."
Why do you choose to see yourself as old? Covelli wondered. She frowned, and changed the subject. "I have heard more talk of Muggles and blood in the last two days than in the preceding twenty years. I take it that much of wizarding Britain still uses the word `Muggle' as an epithet?"
McGonagall matched her frown. "It only grows worse."
Covelli watched McGonagall carefully – it was a professional hazard, one that she was willing to indulge. "When will you ask about her? She is one of yours, after all, and I assume she is the sort of student in whom you would take an interest."
McGonagall nodded, and the corners of her mouth turned upward. "Perceptive as ever… ten points to Gryffindor, Miss Greengrass.”
Covelli stiffened, despite herself. “I was twenty-one years old when I last went by that name,” she managed to say.
McGonagall closed her eyes, and lowered her chin. “My apologies. I didn’t intend to bring forth unwelcome memories.”
Covelli gritted her teeth. “It will be difficult for you to avoid sensitivities, should you choose to speak of those days.”
“Very well,” McGonagall said in clipped tones. “Yes, Miss Granger is one of my charges…”
“And you wish to know of her progress, if any, in as much detail as I can provide,” Covelli finished for her.
McGonagall relaxed, and the trace of a smile returned to her lips. “Do you know me so well, or am I simply transparent?"
"You're far from transparent, Minnie," Covelli said. "Hermione Granger is a very intriguing young woman.”
“She is that,” McGonagall agreed. “Have you made any progress, then?”
“First, there’s little to tell. That is why you’re here. Second, it’s best that you pose that question to her parents,” Covelli said firmly. “I can not – and will not – answer you directly without their permission.”
“I see,” McGonagall said hesitantly. “Of course… you’re perfectly correct, of course. I shouldn’t presume any rights in this instance.”
Covelli sat back in her chair, and continued, "She is obviously important to you. Do you consider her your protégé?"
McGonagall sat up sharply in her chair. "There are so many of them, year after year after year… most remain at arm's length,” she explained hesitantly. “They grow up before your eyes… some acquit themselves well, and some do not. After they leave, some acknowledge you with a wave in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, and some do not. Once in a great while – not often, thank Merlin – but once in a great while, one truly stands out. Harry Potter is special, of course, very special – that goes almost without saying… but Hermione…" She trailed off into a deep sigh.
Covelli let McGonagall stare into the distance. And thus all roads continue to lead to Harry Potter, she thought. What’s happening here? After a time, she caught McGonagall’s eye and asked, "How much do you know about the girl’s upbringing?”
McGonagall’s lips thinned, and she looked down before making eye contact. She said, “That is not something we’ve discussed in great detail.”
You haven’t changed in sixty years, Covelli laughed to herself. I’ll let you lie to me, for now. Instead, she asked, “You weren’t a religious sort, were you?”
McGonagall arched an eyebrow. “I was raised in the Church of England, on account of my mother. Albus has prevailed upon me to attend services, from time to time, but… I would not consider myself religious in the sense that I believe you intend.” Her brow arched higher still. “What are you searching for?”
Covelli thought about what she could say and what she could not. “I’m trying to understand the particular significance of the book she was clutching when she arrived,” she ventured. “She wouldn’t release it until this morning, and still won’t let it out of her sight.”
“She’s quite fond of books. The book is religious in nature?” McGonagall asked.
“I’ve seen many of its kind placed in lodgings during my travels,” Covelli returned. “It is the New Testament of the Bible. Do you have any thoughts as to why she might be so attached to it?”
McGonagall leaned back in her chair. “I… I can’t imagine, honestly.” She folded her hands before her face, and seemed to retreat.
“She’s holding back,” Covelli said. “This is why I contacted Bones.”
“Holding back in what way?” McGonagall asked.
“She has tried to convince me that all of this stems from the incident in the flat,” Covelli explained. “Her parents are clearly devastated and appear to have experienced trauma of their own. They all seem to be awaiting permission to speak, in a sense. This makes effective treatment impossible.”
“Hermione Granger has seen and done things that few of us will ever face,” McGonagall said; her voice was painfully measured. “Doubtless she feels that she is in possession of important information, perhaps even secret information.”
“Do you care for this girl?” Covelli snapped.
McGonagall’s eyes flashed. “She is the best student Hogwarts has produced in at least twenty –”
Covelli cut her off. “Please don’t avoid my question.”
McGonagall deflated. “Yes,” she said quietly. “Hermione is very important to me.”
Covelli sighed in frustration. “Then act in that spirit. You sounded like Dumbledore just now. Either tell me what she is hiding, or lead me to understand how I can build trust with her.”
McGonagall seemed to wage an inner war. When the battle was concluded, she asked, “Will you allow me to speak with her?”
Covelli nodded. “I shall be meeting with her parents in a few minutes. You can spend that time with her. She is quite fragile now; I trust that you will be measured and calming?”
McGonagall nodded. “I am capable of measured communication.”
“I remember your idea of diplomacy, Minnie,” Covelli teased.
“People do, in fact, change,” McGonagall snapped.
Covelli waited for a long time, before she asked gently, “Do you need to talk?"
McGonagall frowned. "Is that a professional question?"
Covelli sighed. "Minnie… after all these years…" She moved to her feet.
McGonagall stood as well, stiff as a broomstick. "Luci… it has been too long." She sagged, and Covelli enveloped her in a sisterly embrace. McGonagall responded awkwardly, in the way of a person unaccustomed to touch.
“Stay,” Covelli said.
McGonagall pulled back, and looked at her curiously. “Pardon?”
“Stay here, at the villa,” Covelli offered.
“I don’t wish to intrude,” McGonagall said. “Hermione’s care is the most important consideration –”
“You won’t intrude,” Covelli insisted. “Tell me – do you believe I might need assistance in interpreting her experiences?”
McGonagall stroked her chin. “I hadn’t thought of that. I’d simply intended to answer your questions as best I could… there is Hogwarts business to which I can attend…”
"Let us get you settled, then," Covelli said. "I have a number of guest rooms available, and we must get you some proper attire as well." She grinned impishly. "You'll roast like a hag in Salem wearing that thing here."
McGonagall shook her head. "The phrases one picks up in the States – goodness. At any rate, there's no need to fuss."
Covelli turned on a full-bore smile, knowing what the effect would be. "I live to fuss," she said.
McGonagall rolled her eyes like a schoolgirl, and Covelli resisted the urge to crow. I'll liven you up, dear Minnie, she thought.
Covelli put her fingers to her mouth and gave a piercing and thoroughly unladylike whistle – something that she had learned in her university days principally to torture her mother. An ancient woman in a drab dress trundled out to the loggia.
"Gina, può aiutarmi con il bagaglio per favore?" Covelli asked.
The woman waved her arm derisively. She squinted at McGonagall, and snapped in a thin and reedy voice, "Fa come fossi a casa tua!"
Covelli crossed her arms, and tapped her foot. "Gina can be so difficult!" she pouted. "All I asked was that she help with the baggage, and she –"
McGonagall cut her off. "I heard her quite clearly. Grazie tanto, Gina. Vorrei di carta da lettere?"
Gina summoned a crooked and ancient smile. "You speak, then," she said.
"No. Per imparare bene la lingua, ci vuole molto pratica," McGonagall said smoothly.
"Only you would be able to express why you do not speak a language, using the very language that you supposedly do not speak," Covelli smirked.
Gina looked McGonagall up and down, then grunted, "For you and the girl, I speak the English. For the one with the leg, no." The ancient maid cast Covelli a withering glance, and added, "I get Antony for the bags. He sits and he eats… good for nothing. Bah!" She turned her head and spat for effect, and then added, "I bring your – eh – parchment," before she stomped off.
Covelli shrugged. "Gina was my mother's domestica – can you imagine? I'm increasingly convinced that she must have been Augustus Caesar's domestica, as well. What can one do?"
"I'm sure that you have more important things to do than guide me around," McGonagall said. "As I said, I have Hogwarts business to occupy my time; we’re putting into place some changes in September…" She tugged at her cloak. "It is far too warm for a cloak, isn't it?"
"This is the Amalfi coast, Minnie, not Hogsmeade," Covelli said. "You will find everything more relaxed here."
"I have one bag – it wasn’t as though I planned to remain here," McGonagall said, and took out her wand. “I can manage it on my own, thank you.”
Covelli set her hand over the wand. "No."
McGonagall was taken aback. "No?"
"Magical energy must be kept to a minimum throughout the villa," Covelli said. "That is why the Apparation point is outside the walls, why I do not take fire calls, and why I retain a Squib domestica and groundskeeper."
"Why? I don’t –" McGonagall began.
"The overwhelming majority of my clients are neither witch nor wizard," Covelli explained. "I have found over the years that paranoids and schizophrenics often sense magic, even though they cannot see it or understand it. After this case, I will surely have need to contract with an Unspeakable or the like. It will take a full energy negation before I may resume my regular practice here.” She sighed. “It wouldn’t be the first time."
"No magic, then. Well… well… that should be… quaint.” McGonagall reluctantly put away her wand. “I do look forward to hearing more about your work – in general terms, of course."
"I'll want to hear about your work, as well,” Covelli ventured. “Events in your world have certainly been interesting, since we last spoke."
"Indeed," McGonagall agreed. "We can scarcely turn without tripping over your former spouse these days."
Covelli consciously kept her shoulders from rising and her lips from sneering. When the moment passed, she said flatly, "We both gained as a result of the marriage. I have few regrets."
McGonagall seemed to weigh her words. "And how does your daughter fare in all of this?"
Covelli sighed. "Some things are best set aside, to await a bottle of chianti and a fine meal."
“I look forward to that,” McGonagall said.
“As do I,” Covelli agreed. “I will tell you something of my daughter, and perhaps you will explain why a senior British ministry official arranged psychological treatment for a sixteen year old girl.”
McGonagall sighed. “Perhaps we should dispense with that presently.”
McGonagall stopped short of the closed bedroom door, and composed herself. As soon as she felt prepared, she knocked sharply three times. There was no response.
“Miss Granger?” she called out evenly. “This is Professor McGonagall. May I come in?” She heard sounds from inside the room, but no answer to her question. “Hermione? Would you please allow me inside?”
The door muffled the sounds inside, but she could hear humming of some kind, perhaps singing. She sniffed – there was a peculiar acrid odour in the corridor. Suddenly there came a loud whump from inside the room, followed quickly by a crackling sound. McGonagall turned the doorknob as hard as she could, but it spun uselessly.
“Hermione? Let me inside now, please!” she called out.
“I can’t,” Hermione returned.
“Open the door,” McGonagall demanded.
“I can’t,” Hermione repeated.
McGonagall sniffed again. Something’s burning, she realised. ‘No magic’ indeed! “Stand aside!” she roared, and drew her wand. The door exploded inward, and she raced inside.
Flames licked up from inside a small rubbish bin beside the bed. A section of the wooden floor was burning and the bedcovers looked to be next. McGonagall called out a fire-suppression charm and then cast a very weak Vortex Charm to draw the lingering smoke into the corridor and away from Hermione. For her part, the girl sat before a writing table next to the shuttered window as if nothing had happened. She didn’t even turn to acknowledge that the door had opened or that the flames had been quelled.
McGonagall dashed across the room to her. “Come, we must leave this room immediately!”
“I can’t; I have to finish this,” Hermione said without looking away from the mass of papers strewn across the table. Several sheets before her were covered with text. She scribbled madly with a Muggle biro until she reached the bottom of the page at hand. When she finally turned to face McGonagall, she was insistent. “I need to finish this now.”
McGonagall took a half step backward. Hermione’s eyes were devoid of anything at all – no description seemed to capture their appearance, in McGonagall’s mind. The girl’s face was pale and drawn, even more sunken than during the journey to Italy. “What is it that you need to finish?” she managed to ask.
“The jailer left an assignment for me,” Hermione said off-handedly. “The first draft wasn’t right, so I had to be rid of it.” She gestured absently toward the charred rubbish bin.
“The jailer? What…?” McGonagall stopped cold. “Where is your wand? Does Mr. Moody still have it?” she enquired, even as her eyes searched the room.
“Haven’t seen it since… you know…” Hermione whispered, and then ducked back toward the papers and to her work, whatever it was.
Severus had insisted upon administering a potion to temporarily suppress her magic, as soon as she and her parents had been brought to Grimmauld Place from the Lovegoods’. Obviously, it had since worn off. McGonagall carefully leaned forward – she didn’t want to panic the poor girl - and peered through her spectacles over Hermione’s shoulder.
Two equally distributed handwritten columns covered each of the dozen or more pages. All of it consisted of a single phrase, repeated.
I will not tell lies.
Hermione looked up again, with a faint smile that McGonagall would have taken for pride in other circumstances. “It’s almost right. If I just keep writing it, it’ll stay.”
Baffled, McGonagall knelt beside the girl. “You’ve written these words a thousand times,” she said gently. “I daresay that they’ll remain on the pages.”
Hermione stared down without comprehension, and shook her head slowly. “Here,” she said, pointing to the back of her hand. “It’ll stay here, like it stayed on Harry. She thinks we’ll lie but we won’t do it; we won’t. She won’t beat us. We won’t tell her anything.”
McGonagall’s mind raced. She wondered who ‘she’ was. She wondered what had really happened to Hermione when Voldemort attacked her family home. The girl before her bore little resemblance to the student McGonagall had known, in the ways that mattered – she seemed confused, lost and strangely childlike.
“He doesn’t want to tell,” Hermione confided. “I wanted him to tell, but he wouldn’t. He won’t let her beat us. He won’t let them win.”
“Harry wrote these lines for someone,” McGonagall asked. “Who accused him of lying? When did this happen?”
Hermione focused intently upon something beyond McGonagall’s ear. “I took murtlap essence from the stores,” she said distantly. “It bled for days, you know.”
“It bled… what?” McGonagall seized Hermione’s hand, and traced her finger across the back of it. “Here? Did these words appear here, on Harry’s hand? Did… did Umbridge do this to him?”
“It’s still there,” Hermione whispered. “All you have to do is look for it.”
“Did she do this to you, as well? Hermione… please…” McGonagall demanded to know.
Hermione pulled her hand free. She snarled, “Where were you?”
McGonagall was stunned by the question, and she tried to measure her response. “Hermione… last year was hard on so many –”
Hermione abruptly jumped to her feet, and McGonagall nearly toppled over backward. “Where were you? He bled for days! Snape t-tore at him… and I didn’t… Dumbledore said it was for his own good, and I believed it… I told H-Harry to keep going….”
McGonagall slowly clambered up from the floor. “Professor Dumbledore had very legitimate –”
Hermione’s fists clenched and shook violently. “Where were you? Where were any of you? Taking your tea in the bloody staff room?” she roared.
McGonagall held herself in check with considerable effort. “Umbridge would have removed us all, and the Ministry would have welcomed it. We had to weigh everyone’s needs, under the circumstances –”
Hermione’s face contorted, and her eyes judged and convicted McGonagall. “Where were you? COWARDS!” The girl slammed her fist down against the writing table; it rattled and shook wildly.
“You need to sit down now,” McGonagall said as calmly as she could manage. “It’s best to sit and relax, and we can discuss this in a calm and reasoned fashion.”
Hermione continued to stand, her fists growing tighter, her posture growing more menacing. “You could have stopped it, you could have helped him,” she snarled. “Snape could have stopped it. Dumbledore could have stopped it with a word.”
McGonagall felt herself begin to slump, as guilt crept upon her. “Perhaps I should have paid more mind, but Harry has always… you’ve been resourceful, the two of you and Weasley. That’s why I encouraged Harry toward his ambition, toward becoming an Auror, toward –”
“He doesn’t want that!” Hermione shouted. “We hate the Ministry!”
McGonagall took in a sharp breath. She had already begun working on Severus to admit Harry into N.E.W.T.-level Potions, before the dismissal. To hear that it would have been for nought was like a punch to the mid-section. “I can’t believe it has come to this. Harry wanted so much to be… it was surely in the heat of the moment… he couldn’t really have meant it… could he have?”
“He meant every word! I – will – not – tell – lies!” Hermione exploded. The sound of strained metal rent the air and the frame of the bed collapsed. The writing table exploded into splinters, and the papers on the floor burst into confetti that whirled about the room.
McGonagall ducked the shower of splinters. She’d seen the Lovegoods’ flat, after Hermione’s collapse, and knew that there was little time to waste. She levelled her wand and whispered, “Stupefy.” Hermione fell onto her, and they both crashed to the floor at the end of the fallen bed.
As loudly as she could manage, McGonagall shouted, “Luci!” She kept shouting until Covelli and Hermione’s parents found them there. McGonagall was too overwhelmed to be embarrassed by her own tears.
It looked like Hogwarts, but it wasn’t – it couldn’t be. Hermione picked her way through shattered corridors to the tatters of the Fat Lady’s portrait.
“Password, please. Say it as though you mean it,” the Fat Lady’s mouth said from a dangling strip of canvas.
“Failure,” Hermione said, and the shredded portrait’s frame fell to the floor.
The Common Room looked as though M.C. Escher had drawn it. The stairs were twisted like Moebius strips, the fireplace jutted downward from the ceiling, and the floor was curved. She lost her footing, and slid to the centre of the room before coming to a stop.
All the couches were set on their backs, facing upward toward the fire. Hermione scrambled back to the edge of the room, and wrapped her hand around the doorjamb. People sat on the couches – actually, they were bloody molten things shaped like people. One was taller than the others, with a shock of singed red hair. It turned toward her.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” it said, just before it dissolved into a thick red puddle.
“Ron?” Hermione cried. “No! No!”
Ginny came in through the opening to the corridor, but paid her no mind. She walked to the red puddle, nudged it with her toes, sat down on the couch, and calmly began to pick off her face. “Greater love hath no woman than this, that she lay down her life for her friends,” she said. “Would you like to lay down, Hermione?”
Hermione fell to her knees, sobbing. “I can’t! I tried to do it! You know that, Ginny, don’t you? I tried so hard!”
You must take control of this, while you can.
The voice was everywhere and nowhere. Hermione wiped at her eyes with the backs of her hands and sought out the source, but saw no one except her tattered and melting friends. A cloud of incense billowed into the room, and she gagged at the smell and the taste. Madame Trelawney swept down the stairs from the girls’ dormitories, with bulging eyes, billowing robes, and absurd gestures.
She stopped in front of Hermione, and dramatically called to the heavens. Her eyes glazed over, and she said in a misty monotone, “You have no love in you. Your heart is a dead, shrivelled thing. You can only take… and take… and take…” She began to claw her own eyes out, and Hermione shoved her up the sloping floor until she fell backward into the corridor. The Common Room sagged deeper; Hermione lost her balance, and she rolled head-over-heels back to its center
“Enjoying the show?” a silky voice whispered in her ear. Her blood ran cold as she turned to face Tom Riddle. He was young and healthy, with dark hair and intense eyes, and something achingly familiar about him. He pushed Ginny aside, flopped down on the couch, and eagerly ate popcorn from a bowl. Hermione tried to turn and run from him, but her feet sank into the stone.
Listen to me, Hermione. This is your dream. It’s yours to control.
Once again, she looked for the voice but saw only Riddle. “You can’t save him, Hermione. You can’t even save yourself. You may as well enjoy the show,” he smirked.
Her fingers turned to claws, and she dug her feet free. She slowly dragged herself up the curving floor to the portrait hole. The corridor outside was all wrong now, with ever-changing twists and turns like a writhing snake. A new portrait had replaced the Fat Lady.
“You know who you are,” the portrait said. It was a woman, her thick dark hair tinged with white strands, and blue eyes ablaze. “This is a terrible place. Surely you don’t want to stay?”
Hermione gazed at the woman. She saw her breath, and her feet froze to the floor. “I know you,” she said.
“Yes, and I’d like to know you,” the portrait returned. “Come back with me.”
“You’re the voice I was hearing…aren’t you?” Hermione asked weakly.
“Keep thinking – never stop thinking, and never give into this. You’ll make the connections,” the portrait encouraged her.
The corridor rippled, and Hermione barely maintained her footing. “How can I come with you?” she shivered.
“Any way that you like,” the portrait told her. “It’s your dream, after all.”
A deep dangerous rumbling echoed from one end of the corridor, closing fast. “But it’s real. It’s all true –” Hermione began.
The portrait chuckled softly. “This is vivid but hardly real, and all its truths are subjective. In your everyday experience, do people melt? Are there fireplaces on the ceiling?”
Hermione hesitated, and grew even colder. “Is it better out there?”
“Could it possibly be worse than here?” the portrait asked. “Take my hand, and hold tightly.” A canvas hand extended from the front of the portrait, and reached out until Hermione seized it. When she could see clearly again, she sat next to the woman from the portrait, on the squashy couch before the fire in the Common Room that she knew.
“I remember you… I’m at a villa that overlooks the sea,” Hermione said hesitantly.
“That’s right,” the woman said. “I’m Doctor Covelli – do you recall our meetings?”
Hermione did recall it now and she didn’t understand why that seemed like a revelation. “It hasn’t gone all that well, has it?” she said quietly.
“It could be better,” Covelli said. “Are you frightened?”
“A little, yes,” Hermione admitted.
“What frightens you?” Covelli asked.
“I should have been frightened in there. I was, but I wasn’t, not really,” Hermione said. “It was all very strange.”
Covelli flashed an enigmatic smile. “Interesting. Are there other fears?”
“A few,” returned Hermione. “This isn’t the real Common Room. Where am I?”
“Excellent,” Covelli said. “You know where you are. Keep thinking on it.”
Hermione sat bolt upright. She was coming out of a dark fog. “I was writing lines, and then… Professor McGonagall was there, and she stunned me, I think. Yes – I had another outburst, and she stunned me.”
“Where are you?” Covelli asked.
Hermione stood up from the squashy couch, with great effort. “I should be waking soon. Hopefully, I won’t need you or any other figments of my imagination.”
Covelli seemed to regard her carefully. “You’re getting closer. What gave the room away, may I ask?”
“Nothing here casts a shadow,” Hermione observed. “The room is perfectly lit, which is impossible.”
Covelli crossed her arms. “Nothing casts a shadow?”
Hermione looked down. “Interesting – it seems that I cast one.” She froze. “So do you.” Her mind took a leap forward. “I’m not imagining you. I’m not going to wake up now, am I?”
“Not immediately, no,” Covelli said impassively.
Hermione wandered the room, picking up various objects and putting them down again. “Are you using a Dreamweaver?” she asked.
“I do understand why your professor is so fond of you,” Covelli laughed.
Hermione turned on her. “I want to wake up. Why are you keeping me here?” she demanded.
“Think on the dream that you just had, and you’ll answer your own question,” Covelli calmly instructed.
“I wasn’t myself anymore… if I were to awaken right now, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between reality and dreams,” Hermione realised. “I’d be irretrievably mad, wouldn’t I?”
“The human mind is rarely so absolute in my experience,” Covelli said. “I believe you would have eventually recovered, but at great cost. By remaining here for now, you have the opportunity to shape the outcome. I had to make a professional judgment and I did so.” Hermione said nothing, and Covelli added, “Do you regret my decision?”
“No,” Hermione said quickly. “Thank you for that. It’s just… I think I should be grateful, actually, but I can’t seem to manage it. I’m finding it difficult to feel anything at all.” She looked to Covelli nervously. “Am I making any sense?”
Covelli stood, and walked to the foot of the stairs that led to the girls’ dormitories. “You have an excellent eye for detail,” she said. “This room hasn’t changed much since I last saw it, actually. What’s missing, do you think?”
“It’s missing the smaller things – books, for example, or bric-a-brac,” Hermione noticed. In a blink, the various sets of shelves filled with books and the tables were littered with personal items.
“Yes, quite an eye,” Covelli noted with approval. “What else is missing?”
Hermione smiled, for the first time in a long while. “Crookshanks,” she said. Her stout orange cat sauntered down the stairs and into the room, brushing slowly against her leg before settling in front of the fire.
Covelli reached down and scratched the cat behind the ears. “Fascinating. Is there more?”
Of course, Hermione thought. She concentrated on her roommates; on Ginny and Ron; and finally, reluctantly, on Harry. None of them appeared. “I don’t understand,” she said.
“This is a very quiet room, isn’t it?” Covelli observed. “It’s a very safe room.”
“I’m hiding in here, aren’t I?” Hermione realised.
“Only safe things will appear here – you’ve no room remaining for anxieties or doubts,” Covelli said. “It’s common for people to have a safe place in their landscape of dreams, even if it lies beyond conscious awareness. You’re here now because this is where you need to be.”
Hermione flopped backward onto the squashy couch. “I like it here, I think.”
“Do you understand the consequences of remaining here for too long?” Covelli asked.
Hermione stood again – it seemed easier this time – and browsed the shelves until she found what she sought. She opened the book, turned to a particular page, and read aloud. “For, what other dungeon is so dark as one’s own heart! What jailer so inexorable as one’s self!”
Covelli moved to glance at the book binding. “You’re quite well read, aren’t you? Hawthorne…at least one of his other works should be required reading for English witches, I believe.”
“How will I leave?” Hermione asked.
“How much do you know about Dreamweavers?” Covelli returned.
“I know what they are, and a bit about how they work,” Hermione said. “Given their, um, status, it’s not surprising that the library lacks key information. I don’t understand how you were able to make one so quickly. Aren’t they made specifically for the user?”
“Usually, yes,” Covelli confirmed. “What possessed you to learn about Dreamweavers in the first place?”
“I had a strong interest in nightmares last year,” Hermione said cautiously.
Covelli studied her for a few moments. “I see. In any case, you are using my personal Dreamweaver.”
Hermione felt a flutter of panic, but it quickly dissipated into the room. “But doesn’t that mean…?” She felt as though she needed to catch her breath, though the feeling wasn’t disturbing. “If I can’t get out, neither can you.”
“Again, the human mind is rarely absolute,” Covelli assured her. “I can leave here as long as I return within a reasonable period of time. If you were to become locked in this room, I could sever myself from the Dreamweaver. It would… not be pleasant.”
Hermione’s eyes widened. “Why…?”
“Consider it a display of trust,” Covelli proposed. “It might help us both if you’d consider extending the same.”
Hermione hesitated. “There are things I know… I’m not sure…”
“Your professor has gathered that. She summoned your Headmaster. He will give you permission to speak, if that is what you must have,” Covelli said. “If you concentrate, you will be able to hear what’s taking place outside.” She inclined her head toward the unlit fireplace; a large jar of Floo powder sat atop the mantle. “Consider using the fireplace as a metaphor.”
Hermione swore that Covelli’s jaw ground at the word ‘Headmaster’. Something else occurred to her, and she felt a momentary blush. “What about…other sorts of things?” she asked.
“What sort of things?” Covelli enquired.
“Personal things,” Hermione managed.
“These are your thoughts and dreams,” Covelli reminded her. “I will know and see what you want me to know and see. Those choices are yours to make. Of course, the more that I know and see, the more likely it is that I can provide assistance.”
“I still don’t understand how I’ll know when it’s time to leave,” Hermione said.
“The Dreamweaver will know. You’ll fall into a normal sleep, and awaken a few hours later,” Covelli answered.
Hermione closed her eyes, and tried to still her thoughts as though she were about to take a brutally difficult examination. “I’m tired,” she said at length. “Is it dangerous for me to rest?”
“No,” Covelli said. “I’ll be watching over you. You need to know that I may not always appear as myself. Dreamguides –”
“Take many forms,” Hermione finished for her. “Von Hennen mentioned that in her introductory chapter.”
“Very good,” Covelli said. “You’re safe here, for now. I’ll return when you’re rested.”
Hermione rested her head against one arm of the couch. Crookshanks toddled over to her, climbed up, and curled into a ball atop her legs. She didn’t even notice when Covelli left the room.
Covelli hadn’t uttered a sound in nearly half-an-hour – not since she had mumbled ‘hoggy-woggy-Hogwarts’ and then laughed. She had barely moved at all since closing her eyes an hour prior. McGonagall sat beside the bed in an ancient dining chair, and watched for the slightest squeak or movement. By contrast, Hermione had writhed as though she were in a horrific dream before falling deadly still.
“Unnnhhh,” Covelli groaned.
McGonagall sat up with a start. “Thank Merlin!” she gasped, and moved to help Covelli sit up.
“Nuh… NO!” Covelli snapped. “Leave me!” Her eyes were wild and lost.
“Luci! Do you know where you are?” McGonagall asked quickly.
Covelli’s eyes slowly came into focus. “Villa,” she managed. “Can’t be taken from her, remember?” She inclined her head toward Hermione. A thin gold chain bound Covelli’s right hand to Hermione’s left.
McGonagall dropped back into her chair heavily. “I can’t believe that I allowed you to do this,” she sighed.
“Not your decision,” Covelli croaked.
McGonagall brought a cup of water to Covelli’s lips, who eagerly drank from it. Covelli’s domestica – Gina, McGonagall recalled – opened the door, peered in, and let forth with a flurry of Italian. Covelli snapped something in return, closed her eyes, and frowned. “It seems that he has come, and brought someone with him. They have somehow Apparated directly into the villa. Minnie, have you altered my wards?”
“Wards? I thought there was no magic –” McGonagall started.
“There was to be no magic in the house. The property is warded, of course – I’m not a fool,” Covelli said. “Did you create a breach?”
“No!” McGonagall insisted. “Very little keeps Albus from his chosen destination, of course.”
“Of course,” Covelli spat. “First accidental magic, then the Dreamweaver, now Apparation… how will they possibly clean all of it away?” She opened her eyes again, and glared at McGonagall. “Well? Let’s get on with your intervention.”
“This is for Hermione, not for you!” McGonagall snapped. She sighed, and added, “Luci, it’s been fifty years. Why can’t you…?”
“Let it pass?” Covelli sneered. “Not in a thousand years, but it can’t be helped now – he’s here, and she may have need of him. Open the door.” When McGonagall stood to cross the room, Covelli sighed, “Use your wand, Minnie. I suspect I’ll have to burn the villa to the ground and rebuild.”
Madam Pomfrey rushed in first. “I gathered my things as quickly as I could. It wasn’t clear whether supplies would be… Miss Granger?”
Dumbledore entered slowly, almost carefully. He seemed to take no notice of Madam Pomfrey’s outburst, or Hermione’s still form, or the condition of the room. His eyes were unreadable, and McGonagall shivered. “Hello, Lucia,” he said.
Covelli’s eyes narrowed. “You will address me as Doctor Covelli.” McGonagall couldn’t take her eyes off Covelli’s free hand; it was clenched so tightly that her nails dug into her palm.
Madam Pomfrey gasped, “Is that what I think it is?” and reached toward Hermione.
“STOP!” Covelli shouted. “Do not touch her!”
Pomfrey shrunk back. "Albus... you do know that I'm required to report the existence of one of these...."
Covelli rolled her eyes. “Oh, for goodness’ sake, Dreamweavers are not illegal!”
“In any case, we are not in England at present,” Dumbledore said casually.
Covelli closed her eyes tightly. “There’s no time for this. Minnie, introduce me to my accuser, so that we can move onward.”
“Madam Pomfrey is our resident healer at Hogwarts,” McGonagall said.
“Pomfrey…?” Covelli quickly opened one eye. “I remember you as a boy.”
Madam Pomfrey appeared scandalized for a moment. “Certainly not! You… you must be thinking of my brother, Oscar. Did you attend Hogwarts?”
“Yes,” Covelli said flatly.
Dumbledore leaned in toward Hermione. She was draped in finely wrought netting – McGonagall knew that it was spun gold. The netting was interlaced every inch or two with a crystals. Seven of the stones were larger than the others – placed above the major chakras, McGonagall recalled. The largest stone rested on Hermione’s forehead.
“You used your own Dreamweaver for Miss Granger,” Dumbledore said.
Covelli said nothing for a time. “How did you recognise it as mine?” she asked at last.
“I did not,” Dumbledore admitted. “You would not have had the luxury of guiding her to make one of her own. In addition, this was intended to fit someone taller than Miss Granger, though it is properly positioned.”
“Five points to Slytherin,” Covelli sneered.
Dumbledore’s face froze, and McGonagall fought back the urge to wince. “I shall be sure to inform its Head of House of your generosity,” he said. “Why would you take such an audacious risk on Miss Granger’s behalf?”
“Because Bones said that you’re responsible for this,” Covelli seethed. “How many people have died over the years because of your mysterious plans, I wonder? We can head that list with my brother –”
Dumbledore sighed. “There is nothing that I can offer beyond an apology, Lucia, and I have done so many times –”
“You have no right to address me by my first name!” Covelli shouted. Dumbledore bowed his head.
“None of this is helping Hermione!” McGonagall snapped. Covelli took three long, slow breaths.
Dumbledore folded his hands thoughtfully. “She seemed to be in stable condition upon her departure,” he observed. “What has triggered this relapse?”
Covelli directed her answer to McGonagall; she refused to look in Dumbledore’s direction. “Relapse? Any previous events were merely precursors.”
“May I check on her physical condition?” Madam Pomfrey asked.
Covelli nodded. “Be sure that you do not dislodge the Dreamweaver in any way.” She sighed. “It’s probably best that you simply use your wand.”
Pomfrey appeared puzzled. “How else would I perform an examination?”
Covelli pounded her free hand against the bed. “Why did I do this? I should have known… Oh, God, I should have told Bones to just… argghhh!” She launched into a spewing rage in a crazy quilt of Italian and English that McGonagall strained to follow.
“Lu… Doctor Covelli! I know that I am unwelcome here, but there is no need to… I say!” Dumbledore started.
McGonagall’s jaw dropped; she could count on one hand the number of times that she had seen Dumbledore so rattled, and it dawned on her that Lucia Covelli had now instigated two of those occasions. Covelli continued to rage on. McGonagall picked out “cacasentenze” several times, which she thought she understood; “vecchio schifoso”, which she was more certain about; and “vaffanculo”, about which she had no doubt.
“Miss Granger’s pulse is lower than I’d like to see, and her magical energy is unusually depleted,” Pomfrey said quietly, “but she is intact and doesn’t seem to be in immediate danger. Under other circumstances, I’d administer a Dreamless Sleep potion.”
Dumbledore immediately turned his attention to Pomfrey, and Covelli shifted the focus of her tirade. “Dreamless Sleep potion! If that remains the standard of care for trauma, it’s no wonder that I receive so many referrals from England!”
Pomfrey’s hands moved to her hips. “I don’t know who you think you are, but I’ll tell you that sometimes the only thing to be done is to put dreams at bay!”
Covelli gathered the chain that bound her to Hermione, and then squeezed the girl’s hand as she shifted to a sitting position. She fixed Pomfrey with a haughty glare, and tilted her head regally. McGonagall cringed – she remembered that particular posture all too well.
“I am Lucia Elisabeth Greengrass Covelli, Madam. I completed my studies at Hogwarts, and then apprenticed under this old fraud,” Covelli said brusquely, as she pointed rudely at Dumbledore. “After he sent my brother to his death and generally made a complete ruin of my life, I went on to earn my medical degree from the University of Torino and a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University. I have studied with some of the most capable therapists on the planet, and I have treated the minds and bodies of patients for more than forty years – and I’ll tell you that putting dreams at bay only causes them to return later with greater intensity. If you want to learn something, then you may observe and perhaps assist. If you do not, then I suggest you leave us.” She redirected her glare at Dumbledore. “I do hope you had the good sense to bring a Pensieve?”
Madam Pomfrey had slowly backed herself to the wall as Covelli had raged on. “I… believe that I went to school with your brother… er… one of your brothers – Carl?” she offered.
Covelli pursed her lips. “Giancarlo acknowledged me, did he? Perhaps you’re just guessing; it’s no matter. Yes, he is my youngest brother. May we now move along?”
Dumbledore withdrew a stone bowl from within his robes. “It did occur to me that a Pensieve might conserve valuable time. Do you have your wand at the ready?”
Covelli frowned. “No, I don’t.”
Dumbledore set the bowl at the foot of the bed and withdrew his wand. Covelli snapped, “Under no circumstances will you point that at me!”
“I can withdraw the memory, if you like,” McGonagall offered.
Covelli hesitated before nodding. “Take care with the extraction, Minnie; I’ll need it returned to its place.”
McGonagall looked up to see Pomfrey mouth “Minnie?” in astonishment. Her lips thinned, and she returned her focus to her wand and the proper incantation. Moments later, the resulting silvery thread was in its resting place, and their fingers were dipped into the pensieve.
They stood in a place that very closely resembled the Gryffindor Common Room, and watched Hermione talk to Covelli. Pomfrey gasped when Hermione said that she’d shut herself in the room; the implication was obvious. When Hermione mentioned having an interest in nightmares the previous year, McGonagall had searched for the slightest reaction on the Headmaster’s face and found a small hint of frustration. He stood there through the rest of it without expression. Hermione began to ask about other sorts of things, and the memory abruptly ended. McGonagall was left curious but set it aside.
Dumbledore stroked his beard. “I can certainly see how it is in Miss Granger’s best interests to communicate with you freely,” he said. “If she requires my permission, then she has it. We shall have to reach an understanding, you and I, when her treatment has concluded. If she is truly open to you, then I believe you will come to understand my position.”
Covelli let out a deeply held breath. “I thank you on her behalf,” she said.
Dumbledore sighed. “You will most likely revoke that statement, after hearing the rest of what I must tell you. Miss Granger has had a recent experience relating to the keeping of secrets, which may affect the manner in which you choose to guide her.”
“This is not something that I wish to hear,” Covelli said menacingly.
“No, I fear that it is not,” Dumbledore agreed. “I hesitate to discuss this openly.” He made a point of looking down at Hermione.
“It is not as though I can follow you to the corridor,” Covelli pointed out. “If it must be said, then say it.”
Dumbledore proceeded to explain how he had acquired a secret-binding spell from Algernon Croaker at the Department of Mysteries, and had obtained Hermione’s permission to cast it upon her in order to safeguard an important secret about Harry Potter. McGonagall realised immediately that it must have related to the lost prophecy in some way. Covelli began to ask specific questions about the nature of the spell.
As the details emerged, Covelli remained calm, but McGonagall began to boil inside. “How could you?” she interrupted.
“Miss Granger had no defenses with which to protect the information –” Dumbledore began.
“Then that information should have been kept from her,” McGonagall snapped.
Dumbledore sighed. “I found that I could not refuse her. She wanted to assist Harry, by helping him to carry his burdens, and I could not stand in her way.”
“I… I don’t understand… Albus, how could you have… have done that to her… nothing could be so important that you would intentionally…” Madam Pomfrey stammered.
McGonagall had forgotten that Pomfrey was in the room. Dumbledore seemed to come to the same realization, and calmly turned. He said, “Obliviate. Poppy, you must inventory the potions stock in the Hospital Wing. You shall contact Severus to obtain any needed items. It is critically important that the Hospital Wing be well prepared for the times to come. You may leave my office now. I trust that you enjoyed your tea.”
Madam Pomfrey blinked hard. “Yes… of course. The tea was lovely. I… must conduct a thorough inventory.”
Dumbledore picked up a scrap of paper from the floor, pointed his wand at it, and said, “Portus. Poppy, be sure to throw this away, would you?”
“Certainly… Albus,” Pomfrey said in a daze. “Mustn’t… leave a mess.” She took the paper and disappeared.
Covelli frowned deeply. “I see that you haven’t changed. This had better be worth the lengths to which you have gone.”
“Harry saw the prophecy, didn’t he?” McGonagall asked.
“Yes,” Dumbledore answered. “I shared it with him.”
McGonagall’s eyebrows rose. “But you told us that it was broken… the prophecy was revealed to you?”
“Indeed,” Dumbledore said. “I only say what I am about to say because Miss Granger’s life may hang in the balance, and because I bear responsibility for that circumstance.”
“Goodness, it’s getting easier for you to apologise… or perhaps she is needed for another of your grand plans?” Covelli sneered. McGonagall glared at her, and she looked away. Dumbledore said nothing; he merely motioned to the pensieve, and McGonagall carefully returned Covelli’s memory.
Covelli worked her jaw as though attempting to cause her ears to pop. “Skillfully done,” she said. “So, this poor girl has somehow become intertwined with a prophecy?”
Dumbledore nodded gravely. “Minerva, I shall leave it to you as to whether you wish to retain memory of what I am about to say. As I said before, Doctor Covelli, we shall need to reach an understanding at a later time.” He spoke the prophecy, and then allowed the room to stand in silence.
McGonagall bit back tears. “It’s not fair,” she said. “It’s simply not fair.”
“Prophecies are, for the most part, neither fair nor equitable,” Dumbledore gently pointed out.
Covelli winced and rubbed at her temple. “Is it a true prophecy? Are you certain of that?”
“Of that there is no doubt.” Dumbledore removed his spectacles and deeply rubbed at his eyes.
“Do you truly expect the boy to be victorious, against this monster of yours?” Covelli asked.
“Harry must defeat Voldemort,” Dumbledore insisted.
Covelli gritted her teeth. McGonagall began to move toward her, but Covelli waved her free hand dismissively. “You… expect a Pyrrhic victory, don’t you? Your Mr. Potter… he will be a martyr?” she asked.
Dumbledore’s blue eyes suddenly seemed bottomless, McGonagall thought. He fixed them on Covelli, and said, “I will gladly give my life to prevent that outcome.”
Covelli groaned, “Heard that before…” She twitched, and this time McGonagall didn’t hold back; she took up Covelli’s free hand in her own.
“Could this kill her?” McGonagall asked Dumbledore anxiously.
Dumbledore looked to Covelli. “This was a noble choice, even if you do not believe that it was so,” he said, but her eyes had already rolled back. She slumped against the pillows and lay completely still.
“Minerva, I shall leave it to you as to whether you wish to retain memory of what I am about to say…”
Their voices sounded distant, as though they were bubbling through deep water, but Hermione had heard enough. She couldn’t bear to sit through the prophecy once more, so she withdrew from the fireplace. The flames reverted from a sickly green to a normal shade of orange. She didn’t know what to make of Dr. Covelli’s railing against Dumbledore, and she certainly didn’t know what to make of her Headmaster now. He was not the man that she had once believed him to be; of that much she was certain. The Common Room had once seemed so comfortable to her but now it was confining her, chafing her.
The portrait hole suddenly opened but no one came through. There was a rasping sound, a sort of breathing sound. Her eyes swept the room; nothing was out of place. She took her wand in hand, caused it to shine brightly, and carefully crept into the corridor beyond.
There were no writhing walls this time, but the corridor seemed to curve more than it should have. She heard a scurrying sound behind her, and thought of rats. A few moments later, a rumbling began to fill the corridor… WHUMP-a-whump-a-WHUMP-a-WHUMP-a-whump-a-whump-a… louder and louder still, until the stone floor began to quiver.
She heard loud breaths before actually she saw it, and dove to one side just as an enormous something nearly ploughed into her. She saw massive heads and thick black fur and great trunk-like legs, and something else seated atop the rest of it.
“Wheeeeeee!” the smaller Something shouted out in what was surely unrestrained glee. Short blonde hair and wide eyes caught flashes of light from the wall sconces as the beast and its rider disappeared into the darkness.
Hermione followed warily down the curving corridor, until she reached the central stairwell. It was completely empty; she could scarcely imagine Hogwarts so empty, even at Christmastime. Still, there was a faint sound… giggling? She began to descend the stairs, toward the Great Hall. It was definitely giggling, she decided – the peals of laughter that came from small children. The stairs seemed to go on forever. Somehow this Hogwarts was far larger than the one she knew.
The ceiling of the Great Hall depicted a clear day with high clouds, but Hermione thought it seemed as far away as real clouds would be. Everything was out of proportion – the tables were too high, the benches too long, the head table too far away. She didn’t even recall the hall seeming so large on that first fearful evening when she had stood there, exposed, awaiting the Sorting Hat. It was at that moment that she looked down, and screamed.
She was wearing The Outfit. It was frilly and old-fashioned and oh-so-pink, and there she stood in the middle of the Great Hall, dressed in The Outfit and her childhood Mary Janes. ‘My little Princess,’ her daddy had called her, and it was her only happy memory of the horrid thing. Mummy had made her wear it to school once a week, which had been the highest form of punishment young Hermione had been able to imagine. It occurred to her that it should probably come up to her waist, shortly before it occurred to her that the Outfit was in fact a perfect fit.
“Maybe if I just hide in the park, no one will ever miss me,” Hermione said in a little-girl voice. She crept along, ducking twice beneath the Ravenclaw tables, until she came to the old metal swing from the park, which was anchored in the stone floor just to one side of the head table. She looked around nervously, and clambered up. With her toes pointed as sharply as she could manage, she was barely able to push off, but she kept at it. Soon, she was swinging as high as she could go, and everything began to fall away – The Outfit and the beast in the corridor and Tom Riddle and Harry…
“Young lady, what do you think you’re doing? Classes begin in five minutes, and you’re going to soil your dress!” Cordelia Granger said. She was the perfect picture of a professional – immaculately styled hair, flawless teeth, tailored suit without a single ripple or wrinkle.
Hermione dragged her Mary Janes against the stone with each arc, until she came to a stop and slid down from the swing. Her mother took her by the hand. “Look at your shoes,” she scolded. “Those marks will never come off.”
“Yes, Mummy,” Hermione mumbled; “You’re right, of course.” She allowed herself to be led across the Great Hall to the Slytherin tables, where Mrs. Wickham awaited her.
“I’m terribly sorry, Mrs. Wickham,” her mother said smoothly. “Mr. Granger and I crossed signals this morning, I’m afraid.”
“Quite all right, Mrs. Granger, quite all right,” Mrs. Wickham assured her. “Hermione, please take your seat and open your mathematics text to page 136.”
They were all there, seated on the benches, glaring at her with murder in their eyes – Ralph Flatley, Lucinda Meecham, Teddy White, and David Stroud… her living nightmares from the Worthington Day School. Poor Victoria Fisher was there, as well.
“Lookie, lookie – Her-Majesty is here!” Ralph mocked.
“As long as we don’t have to listen to Her-Whinging,” drawled Lucinda.
David Stroud reached out and grabbed Hermione’s arm roughly. “Don’t you dare raise your hand,” he hissed.
“Let me go!” Hermione snapped, and pulled free.
“Mister Stroud! See me after class!” Mrs. Wickham boomed. Teddy watched Hermione until she returned his glance; he drew his finger across his throat and she hid behind her mathematics text.
“Who can tell me the square root of 361?” Mrs. Wickham asked. Hermione’s hand shot up, to her horror. She managed to wrestle it down; desperate, she sat on her hand, but then her other hand rose.
Her classmates all dropped their pencils and stared at her, judged her, hated her. “It’s… it’s not my fault. You could do it too, anyone can do it!” she blurted out.
Mrs. Wickham pointed to her. “Hermione?”
Ralph threw his book at her. “No, we can’t all do it!”
Hermione refused to cry. “I… I’d rather not answer, ma’am,” she said weakly.
“Does anyone else have the answer?” Mrs. Wickham asked. She received sullen stares by way of reply.
“Oh, for goodness’ sakes!” Hermione shouted. “I know Victoria can answer this one, and probably Teddy as well! All of you could, if you’d just apply yourselves!”
“Why don’t they just send you packing to Oxford already, so you’ll quit mucking up our lives!” David seethed.
“Why don’t you want to be smart?” Hermione pleaded with them.
“Who would want to be a horrid priss like you?” Lucinda sneered.
“I just want to get along,” Victoria said softly.
Hermione slammed her textbook closed. “Nineteen,” she said with conviction. “The answer is nineteen.” She stormed out of the Great Hall.
They were in front of her, though, at the base of the stairs – the four of them, hovering around Victoria Fisher who was sprawled on the ground.
“Leave her alone!” Hermione shouted.
“Uh-oh, it’s Her-Majesty,” Ralph laughed. “No worries; she wouldn’t dare get her hands dirty.”
“No, but she’d tattle,” Lucinda pointed out. “She’s like that, you know.”
“I am not!” Hermione huffed.
“Tattler! Tattler!” they all mocked.
“Shove off, Granger,” David Stroud blustered. “This is between us and ickle Vickie.”
Hermione stood her ground. “Get away from her!”
David turned on her. “Or what?” Before she could move, he lashed out and grabbed her by the hair. “I think this gorse-bush needs a trimming,” he cackled.
Her hair blew in the wind. No boy would ever treat her like that, Hermione decided. David Stroud needed a trimming, she figured. All the hair on his head promptly fell out. His eyes grew into saucers, and he released her so fast that she fell to the floor. He crawled around, screaming and scooping up his hair.
Victoria Fisher’s eyes were nearly as big. “How did you...?” Ralph wrapped his arms over his head, as though he were trying to hold his hair in place.
Teddy growled, “She’s a witch!”
Hermione’s Outfit tore at the seams as she grew. Her expanding feet painfully burst her Mary Janes in two.
A wild-eyed Lucinda shrieked, “Burn her!”
David tore a torch from one of the wall sconces, and advanced on her. “Burn her!” he shouted.
The stairs were lined with every student from Worthington Day School… her parents… her neighbours… everyone from Hogwarts…but there was no choice. She threw the tattered remains of The Outfit at David and ran up the stairs as fast as she could manage. Somehow, they stayed on her heels. People were hooting and hollering at her, and tears streamed down her face but she couldn’t stop to wipe them away.
They trapped her in the corridor that led to the Gryffindor Common Room, Ralph and Lucinda to one side and Teddy and David to the other. All four carried torches now, and all four were smiling madly. Hermione heard a loud breathing sound, and then “Wheeeeeee!”
So it was that Hermione found herself standing in front of the entrance to the Gryffindor Common Room, whilst Fluffy the three-headed dog devoured her childhood tormentors and Luna Lovegood grinned madly at her from Fluffy’s back. She was wearing a summer shirt emblazoned with the words ‘I Found a Snorkack’ and short pants.
There was a pop! beside Hermione, and an unfamiliar house-elf appeared. It cast a shadow. “Doctor Covelli?”she asked.
The house-elf smiled brightly. “Doctor Covelli wonders where Hermione ever saw a creature such as this,” she said, pointing at the three-headed dog, who wagged his tail and belched.
“Oh,” Hermione said. “That’s Fluffy.”
“Doctor Covelli is sure that Hermione has an interesting story to tell!” the house-elf laughed, and motioned to the portrait hole that led into the Common Room. Hermione wasn’t particularly surprised that Luna was able to follow them inside.
“She hasn’t moved in four days,” Mrs. Granger said anxiously. “She hasn’t eaten, hasn’t taken water… I’m trying to understand this, really I am…”
Covelli squinted and rubbed at her temples with her free hand. “Your concerns are reasonable, Mrs. Granger. If I had encountered a patient in this state during my rounds, I would have told her family to prepare for death. I can only assure you that she is asleep, but not in the manner that you understand it.”
She studied the Grangers as she sipped water and nibbled at slices of sfusati. Since arriving, they seemed to have slid from being merely wounded to virtually defeated. Mr. Granger cleared his throat and let his bleary eyes fall upon his daughter. “Should we be preparing for her death, then?” he asked, and Mrs. Granger let out a small, strangled sound.
“No,” Covelli said firmly. “Her condition is improving. I cannot say when she will awaken, but I believe it will be soon.”
Mr. Granger asked. “So this thing… does it work like an amplifier of sorts? Perhaps it merges different sorts of brain…” He sighed. “I suppose I should stop trying to equate all of this to the re…”
Covelli waited a few moments for him to finish his thought, but he did not. “Yes? You were saying?” she prompted.
“I was going to say ‘to the real world’,” he admitted, “but this is all very real, isn’t it?”
Covelli forced herself to smile, despite a mounting headache. “I live in two worlds at once, Mr. Granger, so I do understand your confusion. Sometimes it is hard to come to terms, or even to find the words that explain… ehh… how to say it… dissonance?”
“You’re not like the rest of them,” Mrs. Granger said, and then quickly added, “I don’t mean that badly, of course! It’s just that they seem to try so hard to hide, but you… Hermione’s professor said that you practiced medicine, which shocked me.”
“Just like the rest of the world, the nature of the magical world varies from place to place,” Covelli said. “Wizards living in England and most of the old colonial nations tend to be…” She trailed off, not certain how to explain something that was obvious to four-fifths of the magical world but that might surprise or even offend her patient’s parents.
Mr. Granger’s brow furrowed. “Tend to be what, exactly? Do we need to add to our concerns?”
“England was the first to enforce secrecy,” Covelli explained. “The English were the ones to write the international secrecy statutes and pushed the hardest for them, although most of Europe quickly fell into line. You have to understand a little of the way of things four hundred years ago. This may not be a comfortable discussion.”
Mr. Granger appeared interested, and Mrs. Granger voiced no opposition. “Go on… please?” he asked.
“Before the seventeenth century, the people of the larger world were content to burn heretics,” Covelli said. “Of course, every country did persecute witches prior to that, but it was uncommon. After the Thirty Years’ War, focus shifted from heresy to purity of a sort. They stopped burning each other, and started attempting to burn us. A true witch couldn’t have been burned at the stake unless she was unconscious, of course, so nearly all the killing was fruitless. They couldn’t burn us, then, but they could burn everything we owned, seize our possessions… strip us of land, titles… and they were much better at that. Separation was as much a matter of economic survival as it was personal survival, you see? Many of the problems in the magical world stem from those days, I believe. It’s easy to hate when you live in isolation, and it’s easy to blame people who’ve taken something from you. For those of us from exclusively magical families, it was easy to turn that hate against those who newly joined us – people like your daughter.”
Mr. Granger seemed to ponder what Covelli told him, before he nodded in understanding. “The rest looks like simple fanaticism to me,” he said. “The magical world isn’t so different after all, is it?”
“Not in my experience, no,” Covelli admitted.
Mrs. Granger asked abruptly, “Why is England special, then? Why wouldn’t it have been the same everywhere?”
“In much of the world, the line between the magic and the mundane is thinner,” Covelli returned. “Among traditional peoples, folk magic is an accepted part of life. They simply missed all of these troubles, and to them, Europe still seems obsessed with something unimportant. In America, most of the wizards who moved there were independent sorts, like the people around them.”
“It’s such a big place,” Mrs. Granger noted. “I imagine it’s easier to blend.”
Covelli nodded. “I lived in America for more than ten years, in New York City and San Francisco, and you’re correct. You can hide in plain sight quite easily.”
“What about the rest of the world?” Mr. Granger asked.
“The Chinese magical community is well hidden, but that wasn’t the case until fifty years ago or thereabouts,” Covelli went on. “The Australians are more like the Americans than the English.”
“That still doesn’t answer my question –” Mrs. Granger began.
Covelli cut her off. Her headache was growing worse, and she was weary of thinking of English wizards. “The seventeenth century was a particularly complicated time in Britain, because the magical community permeated the noble class,” she lectured. “The magical community was dealing with the English Civil Wars and a major goblin uprising all at once. In England, witch burnings were mostly a thing of the past before the Civil Wars; it was the forfeitures that came later. The landed families in both worlds lost or gained based upon favour, and that changed by the moment. The major English magical families supported Cromwell because the Stuarts had heavily taxed and repressed them, and they paid for it when Charles II was restored. The major Scottish magical families supported the eventual Charles II, and ended up in Cromwell’s path. Everyone knew too much, and the magical community paid dearly. In the aftermath, they all had good reason to demand secrecy; really, it was the only thing they agreed on. Some of the Scots dabbled in the affairs of state for a while longer – at least two of the clans, though you won’t find reference to that in any text – but even they backed away after the Battle of Culloden.”
“I see,” Mrs. Granger said, though to Covelli’s eyes it was apparent that she did not. “Were you raised in England, or are you simply well read?”
“History of Magic was a speciality of mine, long ago, and its connection to the broader world interested me,” Covelli admitted. She hesitated, before adding, “I spent most of my childhood in Wales.”
“I understand that you were in the same House as Hermione when you attended Hogwarts?” Mrs. Granger asked.
“Yes, I lived in Gryffindor House,” Covelli answered quietly.
Mrs. Granger pressed on. “Were you Head Girl, by chance?”
Covelli smiled slightly. “No, I lacked the disposition for it. Professor McGonagall was Head Girl for our year.” She paused for a sip of water, and then added, “Is it important to you that Hermione is appointed Head Girl for her year?”
“It’s always been important to Hermione,” Mrs. Granger answered quickly.
“Suppose that Hermione were to leave this experience with different priorities?” Covelli posed to her. “How would you feel about that?”
Mrs. Granger’s brow beetled. “Why would she not wish to be Head Girl? Doesn’t every girl at boarding school wish for that?”
“Not every girl, no,” Covelli returned evenly.
Mr. Granger squeezed Mrs. Granger’s hand. He said, “Perhaps we’ll cross that bridge when it comes, eh? We don’t know what Hermione will be doing in the fall, let alone next year. Her health and well-being are all that matter now.”
“Of… of course,” Mrs. Granger said weakly. “She will be all right… won’t she?”
Covelli closed her eyes. “I believe so. I should return to her now.”
“We’re not to touch her, is that right?” Mr. Granger asked.
“I did not tell you this,” Covelli murmured.
“Professor McGonagall said –” Mrs. Granger began.
“You’re not to… disturb the Dreamweaver,” Covelli managed to say. “Her right hand is free.”
“We’d like to stay with her for a while,” Mr. Granger said.
“Good… very good…” Covelli mumbled. She felt a certain sort of warmth, and knew that Mr. Granger had taken his daughter’s hand.
Hermione felt flat, which was a strange feeling considering that she was quite accustomed to feeling round. She tried to move forward, and then backward, but she could only move from side to side.
“Hello?” she called out.
The sconces responded to her voice, and in the dim light she could see that she was in the Trophy Room. Luna, in jungle garb and wearing a pith helmet, was polishing trophies with a dingy rag and a flask of one of Filch’s cleaners. “Hm, there’s a riddle in this…” she mumbled as she drew closer. “Looks like this one could use a dusting...” Her eyes suddenly brightened. “Hello, Hermione. I wondered where you were off to, but honestly, how can you see through all of that dust?”
Before Hermione could flinch, Luna began to dust her off, but the rag wouldn’t quite reach her face. “That’s better,” Luna said. Then, she turned and called out, “Ron? Harry? She’s back.”
There were two portraits on the opposite wall that she’d never seen before. Ron wore a Weasley jumper and a smirk. Harry’s hair was even wilder than in reality and he had a hungry look to him.
Ron’s eyes sparkled, and he said, “I was wondering when you’d come around. All you ever do is sleep and dream!”
Harry bore into her with intense eyes. “Hello, Hermione. I’ve been waiting for you,” he said in an unusually husky voice, and she shivered.
Mr. Filch trundled into the room, followed closely by the dreaded Mrs. Norris. “Keep at your work, Lovegood,” he growled. “Too batty for Ravenclaw, you are.”
“Be a dear and fetch me some tuna, would you?” Mrs. Norris said to Filch. The cat strolled toward Luna, licked her paws, and sat on her haunches. “Isn’t this interesting? Why do you all appear as portraits, I wonder?” she mewled.
“We don’t change,” Ron said.
Harry nodded. “We’re always the same, the three of us.”
Hermione sighed. “The hero, his friend and the bookworm,” she explained.
Luna sat cross-legged on the floor and pulled one of the trophies into her lap. “The doer and the thinker and the one who holds them together – at least that’s what I’ve seen. We all see what we want to see, I suppose.”
“The prince, the princess and the jester,” Ron said glumly, “that’s what people see.”
Harry chuckled. “I though we were the one who looks for trouble, the one who always finds it, and the one who gets us out of it.”
“But we do change,” Hermione insisted. “Look at this summer; I mean, everything has changed.”
“Great, just bloody great,” Ron fumed. “Now, I’m the crazy one, Harry’s the rich one, and you’re –” He stopped and his eyes lit. “Wait a minute. You’re the crazy one… so what does that make me?”
“Remain focused on the truth, Hermione,” Mrs. Norris warned. “The voice may sound like your Ron, but it’s only a shadow of you. Do you believe that you’re crazy?”
“Hermione’s no crazier than I am,” Harry said. “Ron’s the id, I’m the ego and Hermione is the superego.”
Mrs. Norris made a strange gasping sound that Hermione decided was laughter. “Wherever did you read about that?”
“She dreams about a fellow named Freud sometimes,” Ron accused.
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Not Freud! It’s schadenfreude, and everyone feels that now and again. Tell me you don’t feel good when the Slytherins get their just desserts, Ron. I know you feel like Harry has everything and you don’t, and sometimes you think it’s fair that he suffers in return – don’t you?”
Luna’s mouth formed an ‘O’. “Ronald, is this true? I thought Harry was your friend. I haven’t had many friends, but I didn’t think they behaved this way.”
“That’s not fair,” Ron said sullenly. “I’m tired of people expecting us to be the same all the time. I’m not a portrait.”
“I’m changing,” Harry insisted. “You’ll see.”
“Look at what I did for Ginny,” Ron went on. “I didn’t do that because I wanted something for it, or because I owed her. I did it because it was Ginny, and somebody had to save her. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his sister… or his friends.”
“What did you say?” Hermione shouted.
“Greater love hath no woman than this, that she lay down her life for her friend,” Harry accused. “I thought you were going to lay down, Hermione.”
“That phrase,” Mrs. Norris mused, “it’s the connection to the book you were holding, isn’t it?”
“It’s from the Gospel according to John,” Harry explained. “It was a gift from my master.”
Hermione blinked back tears. “I was going to lay down, Harry, I swear it!”
“Let’s change,” Harry said. “I’m ready to change.”
Ron beamed. “It’s about time, mate!” Just as Dr. Covelli’s hand had reached out for Hermione before, Ron began to come out of the portrait – first a canvas leg extended, then a hand and arm, and then the rest. He shook furiously, and the canvas shed from him in bits. “There! Right as rain! Come out, Hermione!”
“I don’t know if I can change,” she whispered.
“Everyone can change,” Mrs. Norris offered.
“Into what?” Hermione asked. “Don’t I need to know that first?”
“Life is an uncertainty,” Mrs. Norris said.
Hermione moved forward and the room sparkled and she crackled, and then she was standing next to Ron and he was hugging her. “Good for you,” he whispered into her ear.
Luna dropped the trophy in her lap, and it struck the floor with a clang. Thick black smoke poured out of it that quickly took the form of Tom Riddle. “What’s keeping you, Harry?” Riddle asked. “It’s time to change.”
Ron quickly moved in front of Hermione. “Stay away from her!” he growled.
Riddle laughed. His skin turned to pale grey and his face reshaped itself into something inhuman. “Fear this, if you wish,” he sneered, “but even if you have the courage to name it, that won’t save you. Fearing me won’t be enough.” He reached a skeletal hand toward Harry’s portrait. “Come out, come out, whatever you are…”
Harry stared at Hermione with the same hungry look as before. She found herself drawn toward his dark eyes, but Ron held her back. Mrs. Norris hissed. Harry moved forward, but it wasn’t his arm that came forth from the portrait. A huge canvas snake kept coming and coming and coming, until it formed a huge coil at the centre of the room. With one powerful quiver, it shed the canvas, and advanced on Hermione with unnatural speed. She couldn’t move, couldn’t pull herself away from the snake’s brilliant green eyes. She just stood there, as its mouth opened wider and wider. Ron pulled at her arm desperately but she was rooted in place.
Mrs. Norris leapt at the head of the snake and tore at his eyes with talon-like claws. “Return to the Common Room, now!” she yowled. Luna jostled Hermione hard, and together with Ron they ran into the corridor and up the endless stairs. Ron insisted on standing guard outside the portrait hole. Hermione followed Luna inside.
There were no books, no bric-a-brac, no tables; there was no squashy couch, and there was no fire. There was nothing at all in the Common Room excepting Luna, and Hermione sank to the floor. Mrs. Norris scampered into the room. Like an Animagus transformation, the cat resolved itself into Dr. Covelli.
“Everything’s gone!” Hermione shouted. “I tried to change, and everything’s gone!”
Luna waved her hands and they were filled by an upside-down copy of the Quibbler. “Not everything,” she said.
“All of your corridors lead to the same place,” Dr. Covelli said. “We need to go there soon.”
“I just want it to be over,” Hermione wept. “I’m so tired.”
Luna tossed the paper aside and it disappeared. She extended her hand, and helped Hermione to stand. “Please don’t push us away,” she said. “You need to come home.”
Hermione looked around. “Us? What ‘us’? There’s only you,” she sniffed.
Luna grinned strangely. “You can’t see the rest of us because you don’t want to see,” she said.
“You do need to come home soon,” Dr. Covelli agreed. “It’s been too long.”
“I’m afraid,” Hermione whispered.
“When you know your fears – when you can name them and know if they’re real or imagined – then it will be time to come home,” Dr. Covelli said. “I want you to relax, close your eyes, and think of your couch and your books. They belong to you.” After a pause, she told Hermione, “Open your eyes.” The shelves were full and the couch sat before a roaring fire.
“I have to go,” Luna said. “Please come home. We’ll look after you, I promise.”
“Why do you have to go?” Hermione asked. “Stay, please?”
“We’re so close to the Snorkacks, though.” Luna took a deep breath. “I can smell them. You’ll tell me what you want me to know.” She turned to Dr. Covelli. “Please send her home.”
There was a loud commotion outside the portrait hole, and Ron shouted, “Bloody hell! Someone fetch Hagrid!”
“My ride is here,” Luna said, and she drifted out of the room.
Dr. Covelli led Hermione to the couch, and sat beside her. “I want you to relax and close your eyes again. This time, think of a pensieve. Can you see the shape of the bowl, and the colour? Good. Open your eyes.” There was a pensieve on the floor between their feet and the fire.
“I have to do this, don’t I?” Hermione asked.
Dr. Covelli nodded. “It’s time to talk about Voldemort,” she said.
Hermione sighed. “And Harry,” she added. “There’s no talking about one without the other.”
McGonagall leaned forward with her elbows on the bed, hands clasped together almost as though she were praying. “This is interminable, Albus,” she muttered.
“Neither has cried out for thirty minutes or more,” Dumbledore responded. “That is a positive sign.”
“It could as easily mean that they are both lost,” McGonagall pointed out.
“They are not lost,” Dumbledore said firmly.
McGonagall’s reserve had chipped away over the hours. Mr. Granger’s series of tongue-lashings directed at both she and Dumbledore had shaken her, and she had a headache, and she wanted nothing so much as a pleasant cup of tea and a book, and to see Hermione Granger stir, and to know that Covelli hadn’t managed to kill herself with yet another audacious and foolish risk. She fixed Dumbledore with her steeliest and most fearsome glare. “Do you know they are not lost, or are you simply ordering that it be so?” she demanded to know.
“At the moment, there is no difference between conviction and reality,” Dumbledore said. He had the unmitigated gall to smile slightly, and McGonagall felt a sudden impulse to wrap her hands around his neck.
“Well… well… that’s just brilliant, isn’t it?” she snipped. “This way, when they awaken, you can claim omnipotence. If they do not, then you can shrug and claim fate!”
Dumbledore sagged; in an instant, his face changed. McGonagall thought that he looked impossibly old, as old as Hogwarts. “I have lost your trust, as well?” he asked.
McGonagall pursed her lips, and tried to answer without overthinking. “Albus… I have known you far too long to distrust you, exactly… but over the last year…” She sighed. “I supported you when you said that circumstances were too unsettled to take a stand, even as Umbridge deposed you and all but imprisoned the rest of us. I supported you when you chose to distance yourself from Mr. Potter, because you assured us that it was necessary. I supported you when you brought Order recruitment to a halt, even against my better judgment. I was still there, Albus, until they attacked Hagrid and… I was there to reap what you sowed. I admit that I was blinded to some of it; had I known that Umbridge was using a blood quill to punish students, I would have –”
Dumbledore’s eyes came to life. He released Hermione’s free hand and his hands shook. His voice was quiet and level and terribly dangerous. “Please repeat your last statement, Minerva.”
McGonagall gasped, and nearly let go of Covelli’s hand. “I… I…”
“NOW!” Dumbledore ordered.
McGonagall proceeded in the way of a first-year student hauled before the Headmaster. “Miss Granger told me that Harry Potter and other students were made to write lines using a blood quill, just before her last… episode.” She stopped for a moment, recovered some of herself, and went on, “I know that she wasn’t in her right mind, but she described the results from a blood quill in an accurate manner.”
Dumbledore’s eyes squeezed shut, and he took up Hermione’s hand again. After a lengthy silence, he said, “I failed them. I failed all of them.”
“I… of course, you did what you thought was right,” McGonagall offered nervously.
“That is not enough. In isolation, that is never enough,” Dumbledore said flatly, his eyes still closed.
“Albus, I’m not sure that I completely understand…” McGonagall began.
Dumbledore paid her no notice. His eyes were brimmed with moisture, as they opened and took in Hermione and Covelli. “A blood quill… by the grace of Merlin…” He wiped at his eyes, and his voice hardened. “I have wronged the both of you. I have wronged poor Harry, even as I have tried to protect him. Now you both lie here because of what I have wrought, and Harry has run from us –”
McGonagall instantly wanted to shout but forced herself to stay quiet. Dumbledore reached out and brushed the hair from Hermione’s eyes, and McGonagall felt a catch in her throat at the gesture. He looked every inch a grandfather, she thought.
“I am sorry, as sorry as a person can be,” Dumbledore said softly. “I have failed you. I shall not fail you again.” He squeezed Hermione’s hand tightly for a moment. McGonagall thought she saw a faint white light around his hand for a moment. She bit her lip, and wondered if it was possible that she’d seen him cast an oath.
She cleared her throat, and quickly asked the question she had held back. “Where has Harry gone?”
Dumbledore looked up blankly for a moment, but quickly returned to a demeanour more befitting of a Headmaster. “He has journeyed to the ancestral lands of Clan Black. It seems to suit him well, and for that I am glad. He has even struck up relations with a young lady from the nearby village.”
McGonagall’s lips thinned. “What sort of relations?”
“Nothing of the sort that would threaten the young lady’s virtue,” Dumbledore promised with a faint smirk, “or Mr. Potter’s virtue, for that matter –”
A low, faint groan immediately captured their attention. Covelli groaned again, then winced, and then gasped. The chain that bound Hermione’s hand to hers fell away and coiled atop the bed sheet. She brought her knees toward her chest, then rolled to one side, and coughed until her face turned violently red.
“Lucia!” McGonagall cried out. She sat on the edge of the bed and patted at Covelli’s back. There was a flutter behind her; she turned her head, to see the Dreamweaver roll itself into a thick cylinder that came to rest on Hermione’s stomach. Dumbledore appeared to be checking Hermione’s pulse in Muggle fashion.
“Oh, my God,” Covelli groaned over and over. McGonagall tried to right her, but quickly gave up the effort and used her wand instead.
McGonagall waved her hand before blank eyes. “Can you hear me?” Covelli’s eyes abruptly slammed shut and she grimaced.
Dumbledore announced, “Miss Granger is asleep, and very soundly so.”
Covelli took a deep, slow breath, shuddering all the while. “He’s horrible… you can’t imagine… he’s horrible…”
Dumbledore slowly walked around the bed. “I take it that you’ve now seen Voldemort?”
“Seen him?” Covelli laughed hysterically. “Seen him, felt him, been torn to ribbons by him!”
“You have reviewed Miss Granger’s memories?” Dumbledore asked, concerned.
Covelli shook her head without opening her eyes in the slightest. “I lived them,” she blurted out. “I had her see a pensieve in her mind. Dreadful idea… stupid…” She muttered a string of Italian, and then sighed. “It was effective, and that was blind luck.”
McGonagall summoned a quilt from across the room, and efficiently wrapped it around Covelli. “What do you mean when you say ‘it was effective’?” she asked.
Covelli pulled the quilt tighter. “Thank you,” she said dutifully, and then slowly explained, “Hermione needed to accomplish two things in order to safely leave the Dreamweaver: she needed to distinguish between dreams and reality, and she needed to see a distinction between truth and falsehood. Without these things, she was trapped by her fears. That doesn’t mean she accepts the distinctions, of course, but she needed to see them.” She inclined her head toward the sleeping girl. “It was effective, and now the real work begins.”
McGonagall’s eyebrows shot up. “The real work? What have we been watching?”
Covelli shook her head. She answered McGonagall as though talking to a seventh-year, which did not sit well. “She cannot remain here forever. She will have to function in the world, which can be difficult at times for all of us. Hermione after this experience will not be the same as Hermione prior; she cannot be the same. She can either shape the differences, or be shaped by the flow of daily life. I will give her the means to exert control.”
“You know how to do this?” Dumbledore asked.
“That is my work; that is what I have trained to do,” Covelli snapped.
Dumbledore told her, “I am impressed.” Covelli’s mouth dropped open as though to speak, then quickly closed just as he added, “How much time will this require?”
“Water?” Covelli asked. McGonagall quickly fetched a small cup, and Covelli took several small sips. She cleared her throat before she responded, “Years, perhaps. Your Voldemort, he is a monster – a horrible monster. He found every fear, every desire, everything. To break the ties… it was like cutting at a cancer that has spread. The intellect, it is there. The spirit, it has to come back.”
“It is my fervent hope that Miss Granger will be with us in the fall,” Dumbledore said, in a manner that McGonagall did not take as a request.
“That is rather unlikely,” Covelli immediately returned.
Dumbledore responded with equal speed. “I shall procure your exclusive services, if required. Suitable housing will be provided in Hogsmeade or within the castle, as you may prefer.”
Covelli blinked at Dumbledore, and then began to laugh nervously. “Do you… have you any idea how much this would cost? I rather doubt that your governing board –”
“I shall personally procure your services, Doctor Covelli,” Dumbledore clarified.
“I have teaching obligations –” Covelli advanced.
“Break them,” Dumbledore demanded.
Covelli’s right eyebrow climbed. “Why?”
Dumbledore removed his spectacles and seemed to study them intently. “I need you,” he said, “which most likely displeases you, but there you are. I have failed Miss Granger. I have failed others in the past, and I choose not to do so again. If she does not return to us, she may not fulfil her considerable potential.”
“I see,” Covelli said flatly, her arms now crossed.
“I also fear that Mr. Potter might be quite lost in her absence,” Dumbledore added.
Covelli frowned. “Your Mr. Potter is not my responsibility.”
Dumbledore returned his spectacles to their place. “I understand that Mr. Potter is not your patient, but –”
“Hermione has made some interesting observations,” Covelli cut him off. “I believe that they are subconscious or even preconscious. In either case, she is bound by them and resisting their implications.” She stared at Dumbledore pointedly. “At the moment, I have not decided whether Mr. Potter relates to the problem or the solution.” She shuddered beneath the quilt, and added, “As for the rest, I prefer to put it aside for now.”
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