“Enter,” Professor Dumbledore called out cheerfully.
The door swung open and a tall, imposing woman strode into the room. She had a look of hardened severity about her; her graying hair was pulled back into a strict bun and her mouth was set in a grim line. Her eyes were keen and penetrating, rounded up slightly at the corners like a cat’s, and framed by square black spectacles. I gulped - rather audibly, I’m afraid, because she heard and turned to survey me.
I practically felt her gaze raking through my body. I had the same unsettling sensation as when Dumbledore looked at me - I felt as if there was no hiding anything from this formidable woman.
But then she smiled, and I detected a glimmer of warmth in her eyes. “Miss Farrell, I am Professor McGonagall. I am the Deputy Headmistress and the head of Gryffindor House. I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”
I smiled back tentatively. I was still very firmly under the impression that Professor McGonagall was not a woman to be crossed, but she didn’t seem totally intimidating anymore. Not 100%, anyway. Maybe about 99.5.
Before I could respond, I heard another knock, this one much more delicate, from the direction of the doorway. Professor Dumbledore waved his hand gracefully, inviting the observer into the room. As she stepped closer, I noticed that she was a girl about my age with long, curly brown hair, lovely brown eyes, and a warm smile. She had a copy of Hogwarts, a History tucked under her left arm, and her eyes were just slightly unfocused, glazed with the look of someone who has just been seriously lost in a book. A grin spread across my face. I was fairly confident that I was going to like this girl.
“Are you reading Hogwarts, a History?” I asked before I could stop myself. “That’s one of my absolute favorite books! All the stories about this place are fascinating. I must have read the chapter about the Chamber of Secrets ten times!”
I realized, all of a sudden, that everyone in the room was looking at me. I felt my cheeks begin to burn. My wretched, damnable, disproportionately, grotesquely huge, godforsaken mouth.
The girl grinned. “You’ve read Hogwarts, a History? Thank Merlin there‘s finally someone with good taste in books at this school. And if you‘re interested in the Chamber of Secrets, I have some friends you‘d probably love to meet. We consider them our own authorities on the subject, I suppose.” She said the last part with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.
I swear I saw the headmaster wink at the girl. “Yes, yes, Miss Granger, all in due time. I’m sure you’re glad to meet a young lady who shares your rather fervent interest in reading, but may I request that you continue your conversation at a later time? We have other important topics to discuss at this particular moment.”
“Yes, sir,” the girl - Miss Granger - replied, shooting me tiny, guilty smile. I returned it carefully.
“'Miss Farrell, I'd like to introduce you to our Head Girl, Miss Hermione Granger," Professor Dumbledore continued, waving his hand at the girl beside me. "Miss Granger, this is Miss Dublin Farrell. She is just starting here at Hogwarts."
“Pleased to meet you," Hermione said, sticking out her right hand to shake mine. I grasped it firmly.
“Me, too," I murmured self-consciously. "I mean, me you. I mean-" I was hopelessly flustered.
“Yes, yes," interrupted Professor McGonagall. "We understand, Miss Farrell. You are, likewise, glad to meet Miss Granger."
“Yes, that's it," I muttered inconsequentially, groaning inwardly. I shouldn't be allowed out of bed in the morning.
“Now, back to business," the headmaster pronounced solemnly, the corners of his mouth twitching perceptibly. “There is still some time left before dinner. Miss Granger, I was hoping that you would be so kind as to show Miss Farrell around a bit – point out the important bits of our school, you know, the places you and your friends frequent. The infirmary, the library, the out of order girls restroom inhabited by our own bitter, acrimonious spirit - the highlights, of course."
I cocked my head to one side, thoroughly confused. I wasn't quite sure I wanted to visit a bathroom occupied by a malignant ghost. I scrutinized the headmaster, not sure if he was serious or not. I couldn't tell - his expression was cheerful but slightly enigmatic. There was a mysterious quality to Professor Dumbledore. Just looking at him, one could clearly see that there was more to him than was easily discerned.
But I digress.
A quick glance at the girl next to me was all that I needed to clear the matter up. Miss Granger was staring wide-eyed at the headmaster with a look of unmitigated horror on her face. I concluded decisively that the professor was teasing her.
“I will contact Mr. Ollivander to see about a wand for you, Miss Farrell, and, as I said, you will be sorted tonight, if you have no objections,” Professor Dumbledore continued, tapping the tips of his fingers together unconcernedly and resolutely ignoring Miss Granger’s shocked countenance.
I shook my head no.
“Good,” he replied. “We’re delighted to have you here, Miss Farrell. Now, if you girls will excuse us, I have urgent business to discuss with Professor McGonagall. Enjoy your tour of the castle. I will see you at dinner.” He nodded his head politely but dismissively in our direction.
“Thank you so much, Sir,” I said with a slight hitch in my voice as we rose to leave. “I’m more grateful to you than I can possibly say.”
“The pleasure is entirely mine, Miss Farrell,” the headmaster declared gravely. “I believe that Hogwarts will be just the place for you.”
As I stepped outside his office and turned to latch the door, I heard Professor McGonagall exclaim in a shocked tone a few decibels above a whisper, “No wand of her own! What on Earth . . .”
I stopped, the door open just the tiniest sliver. A brief, violent debate raged in my brain.
“Eavesdropping is wrong,” my goody-two shoes, knee sock-wearing, fresh-faced, prissy, wholesome, and nauseatingly proper half chastised.
"Oh, for God's sake," my red-nail-polish-wearing, sarcastic, baby-pinching, insulting, cheating, lying, and thoroughly reprehensible half replied scornfully. "They're talking about you, you sniveling little twit. Go ahead, listen in. It's good to know what people have to say about you. How else are you going to get ahead?"
It was a fearsome debate, to be sure, but in the end, it was no contest. The conniving, evil little devil on my right shoulder beat the moral, upright angel on my left shoulder over the head with her miniature pitchfork and the angel was forced to submit. I leaned toward the door, guiltily and breathlessly.
I heard Professor Dumbledore's low, calm voice respond to Professor McGonagall, but I couldn't quite make out all of the words.
". . . don't know for certain . . . why parents . . . sense a power . . . unlike anything . . . seen before . . ." I discerned from the muffled sounds escaping through the crack in the door.
I frowned and shook my head, trying to dislodge whatever was blocking my ear canal. I had obviously misheard. They couldn't be talking about me. I was pretty sure I was despairingly, utterly ordinary. And I was certain I was completely devoid of any special powers.
At that moment, I noticed that Miss Granger had reached the bottom of the staircase and was looking up at me. I scurried away from the door, jolted back to reality and freed from the intoxicating grip that the loathsome little shoulder-devil had on me, and, as such, horrified by what I had done. I met Hermione at the bottom. Thankfully, she didn't seem to have noticed my little bout of criminal behavior.
As I walked over to her, the door to the hallway slid open.
"Ready for your grand tour?" she asked.
"Absolutely," I replied shyly, regressing back to my timid, socially-retarded self. "That is, if you really don't mind."
"I'm happy to do it," she assured me. "It's not often I meet a girl who can keep up with me in a conversation about the anti-Apparating wards around Hogwarts. I'm dying to get to know you better. Let's start this way, shall we?" She pointed down the corridor to the left and took off at a fast clip.
I trotted down the hall after Hermione. She almost lost me a few times - I kept unconsciously stopping in the middle of the corridors to gawk at the amazing sights in the castle and tripping myself up as I spun around like a wobbly top, trying to take in everything at once.
"Down those stairs and to your left is the Slytherin dungeon," Hermione announced, wrinkling her nose, when I caught up. "Hopefully you'll never have to see the inside of their Common Room."
"Amen," I murmured, suddenly worried. I had read about the four Hogwarts houses, and I had come to the conclusion at a very young age that I would rather stick my mother's wand up my - well, you get the picture - than end up in Slytherin. I flashed back to my minor stint as an inept spy outside the headmaster's office – it was definitely a Slytherinesque moment. Maybe I had cause for concern.
"I'm sorry, Miss Granger-" I began.
"Oh, please, it's Hermione," she interrupted. "I insist."
"All right, um, Hermione," I continued, embarrassed. "I was just wondering - er, well, what exactly happens during the Sorting? I've read every book I can find on Hogwarts, and the specific ritual is never described - all I've discovered are vague allusions to some kind of ceremony conducted by - well, by a hat." I paused, uncomfortably aware of the fact that I was babbling like a moron. "And that can't be right. Can it?"
Hermione giggled. "Oh, Dublin, it's nothing to worry about. Honestly. You'll see tonight. I'm afraid I can't tell you any more than that." She swerved abruptly across the hall and disappeared behind a tapestry of a wizened old wizard brandishing a cane at an angry-looking dragon about ten times his size.
"It's all right, Dublin," I heard her call, her muffled voice echoing slightly. "It's a secret passageway. Just follow me."
I pushed the tapestry aside and did as she requested.
Hermione dragged me around the castle for about an hour, rendering me more hopelessly confused with each step. Hogwarts seemed to have millions of staircases, doors, halls, floors, passageways, and rooms - and they all could be found in at least ten different locations a piece, depending on the day, the hour, the position of the moon, the mood of the seeker, or the degree of the angle between the Earth and the sun. I've never had what you might call a good sense of direction - I was convinced that I would spend all my time in Hogwarts scuttling madly about the castle like a mouse caught in a maze, trying to find my way around.
Finally, Miss Granger - Hermione, dammit, Hermione! - stopped in front of a mammoth portrait of a - well, a mammoth woman.
"This is the Gryffindor Common Room," she explained, gesturing at the painting. "Caerphilly Catapults!"
"Pardon?" I inquired, feeling, once again, more than slightly out of the loop. It was becoming a recurring theme.
"Oh, that's just the password," Hermione informed me. "The Fat Lady's a fan."
Sure enough, the woman in the portrait nodded her head and the frame swung aside, revealing a warm, inviting room decorated in crimson and gold. "They're going to win the league this year," she pronounced haughtily. "See if I'm wrong."
My eyebrows shot up so high I thought they might fly off my head. I thought I had seen enough in my tour of the castle that nothing would faze me any more.
Well, I figured it had to happen at some point.
But apparently, I wasn't quite there yet. The pictures in our house had moved, of course, but none of them had been able to talk.
I clambered through the portrait hole after Hermione. As soon as we crossed the threshold, she took off across the room, her eyebrows knitted together and her lips pursed.
"Ronald!" she cried angrily. She zeroed in on a tall, gangly boy with flaming ginger hair who was engaged in a spirited game of catch with a boy across the room. The redheaded boy, who had been about, it seemed, to leap over an overstuffed sofa in pursuit of the projectile, froze and skidded into the couch, an immensely guilty look on his face.
"Blimey, Hermione, you made me stub my bloody toe!" he moaned, hopping up and down on his good foot and holding the other in his hand.
"Well, you deserve it, Ronald!" Hermione retorted, hands on her hips. "Honestly! Fanged Frisbees are proscribed items here - I've told you a million times at least! Hand it over!"
"Aw, come on," the boy whined. "Lighten up, Hermione! Can’t you see my toe’s about to fall right off?"
Hermione sighed, whipped her wand out of her back pocket, and trained it on the boy. "Don't move," she ordered.
He ducked behind the sofa, waving his arms frantically in the air in a gesture of surrender. "Jeez, Hermione, don't hurt me! Here, you can have the bloody thing!" He snatched the frisbee up from where it had fallen on the floor a few inches away and tossed it at her.
At that moment, I heard a low chuckle from the opposite end of the room, and the other boy, who had been playing with the one who was cowering behind the couch, stepped in.
"Why can't you two play nice?" he asked mournfully, raising his hands to the ceiling and then dropping them dramatically at his sides. "Honestly! You'd never know you're actually a couple."
Being myself, the second I heard his voice, I promptly had a minor nervous breakdown. I was barely aware of Hermione saying, "For goodness' sake, Ronald, I wasn't going to hex you, I was just going to heal your toe-" before I tripped over an abandoned textbook lying on the floor in front of me. I crashed to the floor with a tremendous thunk.
"Ow," I moaned pitifully, rubbing my elbow, the only part of my body I could easily reach.
"Oh my goodness! Dublin!" Hermione rushed over and knelt beside me. "Are you all right?"
I watched in agony - emotional as well as physical - unable to respond, as a pair of legs - the only body part I could see from my wonderful vantage point on the floor - ambled across the room toward me.
"So Dublin's your name," the voice mused. It seemed to be attached to the pair of legs that had, by that point, made their way over to me and stationed themselves next to my prone figure. A hand materialized in my field of vision. "Why is it that every time I see you, you're on the floor?"
I whimpered - in my head, of course - and took the proffered hand. I felt a strong tug, and I lurched to my feet.
"Harry, Dublin, have you met?" Hermione asked quizzically, clambering to her feet as well.
"Oh, yes," I muttered, rubbing the back of my head, about ready to die on the spot. I was practically begging any and all omnipotent deities who happened to be in an accommodating mood to strike me with lightning right then and there. It would have been a mercy killing.
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