Chapter 11: Midnight Conversations and Celtic Punk Bands
Before I even opened my eyes, I could tell I was back in the Hospital Wing.
It was beginning to feel a bit like home, to tell you the truth.
I cracked one eye open and immediately regretted the decision. My head was still pulsating relentlessly; it wasn't throbbing with quite of the intensity of my little wet and wild escapade in the Potions dungeon, but each beat was accompanied by a torrent of brain-shaking, nausea-inducing pain that made me gasp aloud.
I squinched my eyes firmly shut, curled up in a ball, stuck a strand of hair in my mouth and, whimpering muffledly, pulled the covers over my head, doing my best to block out every last bit of light and sound emanating from the world outside my hospital bed.
Unfortunately, my blanket-shield wasn't quite up to the job.
I heard the curtain around my bed pulled back with a head-splitting thwack.
"Ah, you're finally awake. I thought I heard you twitching about in here," Madame Pomfrey's sharp, penetrating voice rang out. Each word seemed to stab directly into my brain as if driven in by a hammer. She pulled the covers off. I swiped at them futilely, trying to pull them back over my fragile head, and moaned when the light snuck in under my eyelids. "Go 'way."
"Hmph!" she tutted. "Someone's testy this morning." She gripped me firmly about the shoulders and, with a massive heave, propped me up against the pillows. "Up you get."
A wave of dizziness hit me, cresting in rhythm with the persistent throbs of pain. "My head," I gasped. It felt heavy and fragile, as if one good knock could split it wide open.
"That's bothering you again, is it?" she queried, waving her wand over her shoulder. A familiar-looking bottle, filled halfway with the same fizzing, popping, acidic orange headache cure I was prescribed during my first stay in the hospital, floated gently over and alighted on my bedside table. Madame Pomfrey poured out a generous measure and held it out to me. My head was pounding so horrifically that I swallowed it quickly and without complaint.
Madame Pomfrey quirked one eyebrow at me but didn't comment.
"You're to have no visitors," she informed me, "until the Headmaster has seen you. Those orders come directly from Professor Dumbledore, so please, don't complain to me. You're to take your potion five times a day without argument, or I shall invite Peeves the poltergeist to practice the cymbals and his operatic scales at your bedside. Am I understood?"
I nodded meekly, wincing as the movement sent a red-hot bolt of pain shooting through my skull. She bustled officiously away, and I gently drew the covers back over my head and slept.
When I woke again, it was dark. I cautiously opened one eye and discovered, much to my pleasant surprise, that the soft moonlight radiating through the window across from my bed was nowhere near as offensive to my head as the bright light of the sun.
A steaming vial of headache cure bubbled menacingly next to my bed. I briefly considered pouring it out, but then I remembered Madame Pomfrey's dire threats and hastily choked it down.
As I sputtered and gagged, I heard a soft coo behind me. I turned around and caught a quick glimpse of vibrant red, but whatever it was disappeared in a ruffle of feathers before I could identify it.
But then, what about Hogwarts wasn't?
I assessed the feeling in my head and determined that I was well enough to get up. I swung my legs over the side of the bed, heaved myself up, and padded quietly over to a small table under the window, on which sat a pitcher of water and a glass. I poured myself a cup of water and swished it vigorously around my mouth, trying to wash away the pervasive taste of the potion. I was gargling quietly when I heard the heavy door to the Hospital Wing creak slowly open.
I swallowed hastily, slammed the cup down on the table, and jumped back into bed, barely pausing to push the curtains aside. I wasn't sure if I was allowed out of bed; getting up without Madame Pomfrey's go-ahead, I felt as if I had broken some sort of irrefragable rule of The Code of Proper Patient Conduct. You know - the invalid shall dutifully consume all medication prescribed, no matter how foul it may taste; the invalid shall scrupulously follow the healer's orders; and the invalid shall never, unless expressly permitted or ordered, leave the hospital bed. All the healers and nurses I had ever met were micromanaging little dictators - they liked to have complete and utter dominion over the feeble convalescents in their care. The consequences if one of these sacred commandments was broken were, I knew, dire. My mind flashed back to Madame Pomfery's not-so-subtle threat involving Peeves' musical endeavors; my head throbbed just thinking about it.
Or maybe it was the flying leap through the curtains into my bed at a speed of approximately 50 kilometers per hour that was responsible for the pain. Who knows?
I was cautiously laying my aching head down on my pillow when I heard a soft chuckle from the direction of the doorway. "It's quite all right, Miss Farrell. I won't tell Madame Pomfrey you were out of bed. Your secret is safe with me."
I sat up and peered guiltily towards the sound of the voice, impatiently brushing my wavy, tangled hair out of my eyes. Professor Dumbledore strode toward me and sat down in the small wooden chair positioned next to my bed. The moonlight played gently over his features, illuminating the crags of his face and obscuring the wrinkly chasms in shadow. It seemed to me that his face mirrored his life: certain aspects of his personality were conspicuous and easily discernible, like his kind disposition and his undeniable wisdom, but others remained shrouded in mystery. He leaned forward, and the light hit his inscrutable blue eyes, making them shimmer.
"How are you feeling, Miss Farrell?"
"Much better, sir, thank you," I replied.
"I'm immensely glad to hear it." He paused and looked down the tip of his long, crooked nose at me. "I'm afraid Hogwarts has been less than kind to you. You are spending far too much time in the Hospital Wing for my liking."
"Oh no, sir!" I interjected hurriedly. "You can't blame Hogwarts for that. I'm afraid it's all me. My aunt once told me that I cause more trouble than a hyperactive three year-old who's swallowed a Calamity Concoction and been set loose in Muggle London with her father's malfunctioning wand."
The headmaster chuckled. "What a frightening picture! Be that as it may, Miss Farrell, I'm afraid that I must ascribe myself some of the blame for your recent . . ."
He trailed off, uncertain, I'm sure, of how to call me a walking train wreck without seeming impolite.
"Disasters?" I filled in with a wry smile. "Accidents? Catastrophes? Messes? Tribulations? You've got a veritable slew of locutions to choose from, professor. However, I still don't see how any of my . . . misadventures . . . could possibly be your fault."
Professor Dumbledore's countenance turned grave. "You are a very special girl, Miss Farrell. A special girl with remarkable gifts and certain unique needs, as an inevitable consequence. I knew that, but I failed to foresee exactly how far those needs extended and to do my part to lessen the impact of these recent experiences on you. Your wand, your Sorting, your first spell . . . I should have predicted that these events, which are so routine and, for the most part, unexceptional for the students of my school, would be a tad more . . . dramatic, in your case."
I nervously twirled a strand of hair around my finger. "Special, special, special. I keep hearing that I'm special. I don't understand, professor." I dropped the hair from my finger and looked up. He was watching me intently with an understanding look in his eyes. "I'm miles behind everyone else in school - even the first years. I've got no clue what I'm doing, and every time I attempt the most basic task it goes horribly wrong and I end up here, drinking foul orange potion and wishing I was like Nick and I could just pull my head off my body any time I wanted so I would stop getting these wretched headaches."
Professor Dumbledore smiled indulgently. "Well, Sir Nicholas can't detach his head completely from his body, much to his chagrin, but I take your point."
"I'm a mess," I plowed on, shaking my head gingerly. "If I had to describe myself in a word, it wouldn't be special. Defective, maybe. Subnormal, certainly. Maybe even hopeless. But as far as I can see, there is nothing special about me at all, aside from my complete and utter lack of magical talent."
The headmaster captured my gaze, his eyes burning through the faint, misty light of the moon and searing into my own. He radiated such a compassionate, benevolent, yet inescapably powerful energy that I was transfixed. "Do not for one moment think that you are defective or hopeless, Miss Farrell. You have an extraordinary gift, and, I believe, an extraordinary destiny awaiting you. The moment I met you I detected a fire burning inside you with an intensity that dwarfs any I've ever seen before. Your power is virtually limitless."
He stood and, as he turned to leave, paused and swiveled to face me once more. "You've already seen some of the downside inherent in such power, Miss Farrell. I hope that, in time, you will learn of the advantages. But you must be careful. You must learn to control it, or it could destroy you." He paused once more. A cloud passed over the moon outside the window, throwing the room into deep gray shadow and obscuring his face. "It could destroy us all."
I spent three more long days that I'd rather not recount in the hospital. Let's just say that yelling, spilled potion, and an earsplitting rendition of "Angel of Music" screeched along to the clanging and banging of gigantic brass cymbals resulted in a rather unpleasant stay.
Even after my midnight talk with Professor Dumbledore, I wasn't allowed any visitors. I can't prove it, but I suspect that Madame Pomfrey somehow found out that I'd been out of bed and was punishing me. I swear, she's got eyes everywhere.
As a consequence, I had a lot of time to contemplate my supposed, unprecedented, potentially apocalyptic powers.
Right. I'm the girl who can't even cast a simple Aguamenti charm without flooding an entire dungeon and collapsing into my cauldron. Call me bonkers, but I'd think that, if I really had all this extraordinary power to draw on, I'd be able to perform one of the most basic charms in the Standard Book of Spells, Grade 6.
When it got to be too much to wrap my brain around, I cheerfully imposed one of my most trusted coping mechanism on the situation: denial.
I am a master of denial. No one can match my skills in the art of stubborn and baseless refutation of unpalatable information.
I put my conversation with the headmaster out of my mind. I locked it away in the darkest, dustiest, most unfrequented corner of my brain with all of my most embarrassing memories and the lyrics to "Somebody to Love" and refused to acknowledge its existence.
Yeah, I'm aware that's probably unhealthy and should in no way be considered even a moderately intelligent method of handling the situation. We all have our slightly deranged and ultimately fruitless modi operandi when it comes to contending with - or, in my case, obdurately refusing to contend with - formidable occurrences.
Finally, I was released on Sunday from the cloth prison of my hospital bed, after Madame Pomfrey had given me the rest of the bottle of the headache potion and extracted from me a solemn promise to take three doses a day until the foul orange sludge was gone. I pushed open the doors to the Hospital Wing and marched down the stairs to the Great Hall and out the castle doors. Ignoring the curious group of first years who were tossing a Fanged Frisbee in front of the lake, I popped the cap and poured the bottle out over a tiny purple rosebush growing next to the castle wall. The liquid steamed and hissed viciously and the rosebuds shriveled and crumbled into fine black ash.
With that task completed, I made my way gleefully back to my dormitory, stopping only to belt out a few bars of "What's Left of the Flag" for Madame Mortamyer outside the door of my room.
"Walk away, me boys, walk away, me boys, and by mooornin' we'll be freeeeeeee!" I caterwauled at the top of my lungs. She covered her ears and hastily admitted me.
Freedom. It's a beautiful thing.
I smiled happily as I took in the sight of my dormitory. I flopped down on my bed and stared up into the billowy black canopy, sinking down into the fluffy white blanket and the soft, squishy mattress until they almost swallowed me up.
I laid there for a while, dozing in the comfortable place between thoughts and dreams. Finally, I sat up with a start; the light seeping in through my window had turned into a veritable rainbow of purples and pinks and oranges and reds, saturating my room with the colors of the sunset.
I stood up and walked over to my trunk to change for dinner. As I reached down to pop open the catch, I noticed a folded piece of parchment resting on top. I opened it up and a single crimson feather fluttered slowly to the floor.
Dear Miss Farrell,
the note read in a looping, graceful script,
I was immensely pleased to hear that you were released from the Hospital Wing this morning. While you were incapacitated, I took the liberty of calling on your aunt. She graciously helped me to assemble your things and asked me to tell you that the Infernal Marquis is very pleased to hear that you've been accepted to Hogwarts and advises you to seek out the Flubbering Snapdingers in the Forbidden Forest and pay homage to their illustrious queen, Shebeba.
On a more serious note, I hope I didn't frighten you with our conversation in the hospital, but it is imperative that you learn to control your powers. They are far too great to be squandered or allowed to simmer unchecked. To this end, I've requested that our Head Boy and Girl and several of our Prefects consent to work with you by turn to bring your magic under your control. Miss Granger, Mr. Potter, Mr. Malfoy, Miss Brocklehurst, and Miss Road have all agreed. I hope that this solution will be agreeable to you.
I remain, faithfully, yours,
I read the last paragraph of the letter again and again, hoping each time that it would somehow say something different.
Oh god, I moaned inwardly, oh god, oh god. Tutored in remedial magic by Hermione, Mandy, and Harry? Plus Mr. Malfoy and Miss Road, whoever they were.
How utterly pathetic. Five of Hogwarts' best and brightest reduced to coaching a seventeen year-old magical dunce to perform the most basic spells in the books without tearing the castle down around her.
I sighed and pushed open the lid of my trunk. Inside, carefully folded and arranged next to my school uniforms, sat all the clothes I had left behind at Aunt Estrella's. Also, my books, pictures, posters, and other assorted junk - even my beat-up, faded soccer ball - had somehow been made to fit. I pulled out my tattered, well-worn copy of Hogwarts, A History, and sniffed its pages, taking in the familiar, musky scent of a favorite book. Thus calmed, I set about arranging my room. I pulled out my many tomes and stacked them on the bookshelves just so. I unfurled my precious autographed poster of Steven Gerrard and tacked it to the wall over my desk. I juggled my soccer ball a few times and then kicked it over to the corner under a chair. Finally, I set my framed photo of my mother and father on the table next to my bed. They smiled and waved happily at me from under the glass. I kissed my finger softly and touched it to each of their faces. Blinking back tears, I walked back over to my trunk. I stepped into my favorite jeans and, in the spirit of the day, pulled my shamrock-bedecked Flogging Molly concert t-shirt over my head. I coaxed my unruly hair into a messy bun and, humming "Within A Mile of Home" under my breath, grabbed a cloak and set off for the Great Hall.
Professor McGonagall directed me to the Hufflepuff table for dinner. I plunked myself down in a seat at the end of the long table and loaded my plate with food. Four days of hospital fare had left me with a vicious appetite. Between bites of chicken and slurps of Pumpkin Juice, I stole glances at the Gryffindors. Harry, Hermione, and Ronald were chatting and laughing in the middle of the table. Hermione and Ron seemed to have made up; I noticed him sling his arm around her shoulders. She leaned her head against his arm and smiled. Harry averted his gaze and turned to talk to Seamus on his right. He glanced up for a second and caught me staring. I blushed and dropped my eyes, turning quickly in my seat to face the boy next to me.
"Er, hello there," I stammered. "I'm, er, Dublin. What's your name?"
He smiled invitingly. "I'm Matt. Matt Turner. Nice to meet you, Dublin."
I returned his smile. Mine was a bit more pained than friendly, I'm afraid, but it was the best I could do, given the present circumstances.
"Likewise," I managed. I cast about frantically for something else to say.
He took pity on me. "I'm a sixth year." He pointed to the three students next to him. "These are my friends - Caille O'Leary, Joey Bishop, and Abbey Road."
"Abbey Road?" I gasped, incredulous. "No way."
"Uh huh," she replied, smiling and rolling her eyes good-humoredly. "My mom was a Muggle. She had a huge thing for Paul McCartney."
"Listen, we're all curious," Matt interjected. "If you donít mind sharing, why'd you decide to come to Hogwarts so late? You're a seventh year, right?"
I nodded. "It's - well, it's complicated."
"That's okay," he said, smiling encouragingly. "We're all witches and wizards. Our lives are complicated, too."
"OK," I responded tentatively, not quite sure how to begin. "Well, I was home schooled for, er, ten years, I think. I went to a Muggle school for a while when I was little, but once the kids who pushed me out of the line for the swings started turning pink and sprouting dodgy little tentacles on their faces, my mum and da decided to teach me themselves. I begged them to let me go to Hogwarts, but they refused. I didn't do any actual magic, but I studied theory and application and history and stuff. Earlier this year, they, um . . ."
I trailed off, still not too comfortable talking about it.
"There was an - an accident, and they both died. So I went to live with my Aunt Estrella. She's - she's a few sickles short of a galleon, if you catch my drift. No way she was going to teach me anything. And she wasn't too keen on having a house guest. It cut into her time for naked ritualistic chanting to have to cook me supper, and all. So one day she pulled me onto her broom and flew me out here. Just dumped me outside the gates to the castle and said have a good term. The gates opened, so I, er, walked in. And I met Professor Dumbledore and he said I could study here, so . . . here I am," I finished lamely.
Matt listened to my whole story with a look of utter astonishment on his face. "No magic? No magic at all?"
"And your aunt . . . she just kicked you off the broom outside the castle without making any arrangements for you?" one of the girls - Caille - asked disbelievingly.
"Aunt Estrella's not too keen on planning ahead," I replied with a grin.
"The gates just . . . opened?" Abbey inquired, a quizzical look spreading across her face. "Weird. They're not supposed to do that."
I shrugged. "I dunno. Yeah, I guess. I mean, I didn't see anybody else around, and I certainly didn't do anything."
Joey broke out in a cheeky grin. "I want to hear more about the naked chanting bit."
"Oh, bugger off," Abbey, Caille, and Matt replied in sync. They burst out laughing and, sharing a mischevious look, began to pelt Joey mercilessly with peas.
"Aaahh!" he shouted, throwing up his arms to protect his head and ducking under the table. A muffled, long-suffering moan echoed out from his hiding place. "And you vicious lot are supposed to be my friends!"
I laughed and ducked my head under the table as well. "That's what you get for asking about my aunt's naked rituals," I informed him. "But really, I think it would be more of a punishment to tell you about them . . . in gruesome detail. You'd think you got off easy with the peas."
He shuddered. "I was only joking! Honestly!"
We emerged from underneath the table and finished our dinner, talking amiably all the way through. As we stood up to leave, Abbey pulled me aside.
"Dublin, Professor Dumbledore asked me to help you with your magic a bit," she said. "He told some of the Prefects you're having a spot of trouble with, er, control."
My brain finally made the connection. Miss Road. Duh.
"Er, I guess you could call it that," I admitted ruefully. "More like I seem to have some sort of mental block keeping me from performing the most basic magical tasks without causing a catastrophe to ensue."
She laughed. "Don't worry. We'll sort you out. We're supposed to take turns, the three of us plus the Head Boy and Girl. You're to meet with one of us each of the school days. I was wondering if I could claim Thursdays. I've got Quidditch Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and Charms Club on Tuesdays."
I nodded. "Sure. Sounds good."
"Right." She clapped me on the shoulder. "See you around."
She took off after Matt, Caille, and Joey, and I started out of the hall toward my dormitory.
"Dublin! Dublin, wait!" A voice behind me arrested my momentum. I turned to find Hermione, Harry, and Ron hurrying after me.
"How are you?" Hermione panted, once they'd caught up. We started to walk up the stairs together. "We tried to visit you in the hospital, but Madame Pomfrey wouldn't let us in to see you."
"I'm feeling much better," I told her. "Well, my head is feeling better, anyway. I'm still not quite over the embarrassment of trying to turn the Potions dungeon into a water park, though."
"Don't worry," she said bracingly. "We all did things like that when we were first starting out. Right, boys?" she demanded sharply, nudging Ronald in the ribs.
"Wha . . .? Oh, yeah, loads of times," he hastily affirmed, cottoning on. "Once I spent a week spewing slugs." He shuddered. "'Course, if I hadn't been trying to curse Malfoy, it wouldn't have happened . . . slimy little git, it's all his fault."
"Malfoy?" I queried, raising an eyebrow. "I think he's one of the ones who's supposed to work with me on control, or whatever Professor Dumbledore thinks will help. You don't like him?"
"That's the understatement of the century," Harry replied darkly. "He's practically evil. His family's deep into the Dark Arts. What's Dumbledore thinking, asking him to help you?"
"He'll have his reasons," Hermione placated him. "He always does."
"Yeah, well, he'd better not give you any trouble," Harry grumbled.
"Listen," Hermione interjected quickly, "would you like to start tomorrow? All the seventh years have a free period after breakfast, we could meet up then. The sooner you get this sorted out, the better."
"The sooner you get this sorted out, the less of Malfoy you'll have to endure," Harry added, scowling.
"Sounds good to me," I said.
"Good," Hermione replied. "So I'll work with you tomorrow, and Harry, how about you do Tuesday? That way she'll have had at least a couple of lessons before she even has to see Malfoy."
"Fine," Harry agreed. "I mean, if that's all right with you, Dublin."
I nodded. I didn't trust myself to speak - my throat had tightened just at the prospect of spending time with Harry.
"Then that's settled," Hermione said brightly. We'd reached a landing with two diverging sets of stairs. "See you tomorrow, Dublin." With that, she, Ronald, and Harry took the staircase to the right, and I traipsed up the flight of steps to the left.
A squirming feeling in my stomach made me think that tomorrow was going to be a very interesting day.
A/N: Tada!!! I do believe that's the fastest I've ever updated. *bows humbly in response to thundering applause* Why, thank you. You're simply too kind.
So enjoy it - I devoted a good three days that should have been spent doing homework to this chapter. I have a feeling I'm going to fail my Western Civ midterm on Monday, plus miss my newspaper deadline. But hey, we all make sacrifices for our art :) And writing this chapter was waaaaaay more fun than defining Biology terms or writing a study guide for Macbeth.
And now, I believe I'll cut this author's note short and go jump off a building. Or start my homework. One of the two. (Most likely, it'll be the former.)
And if you liked it - or hated it - please, let me know. I'd like to hear that I killed my GPA for a chapter that people actually read :)
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