Chapter 23 : Chapter 23- Essence of Insanity
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I have got to stop ending up in the Hospital Wing…I thought slowly and painfully. A dull throbbing pain was coursing through me. Lying down was painful and I knew that standing up would probably be even worse. But why am I even here? I asked myself, trying desperately to fall back asleep. Like lightning, the images of shattered windows, and a decimated classroom flashed violently behind my eyes. I did magic… The realization made me want to cry with joy and frustration. Now no one would believe me when I tried to explain why I was mysteriously absent for two weeks when I tried telling them the truth, but at the same time I got to have my life back! For the first time in a long time, a true smile spread painfully across my face.
“Something strange is going on here. I mean, she blew up half of the classroom!” The door to the Hospital Wing burst open and Al was making no effort to keep his voice down. And then I remembered the look of fear he had when he saw me when I woke up and I felt a dagger slip inside me. He must think I’m some kind of freak…or worse. He hates me…Biting my tongue as hard as I could, I forced myself to keep myself in that sleep like state. All I wanted to do was shout, no scream at them to believe me that I never meant for anything like this to happen.
“What were you saying earlier Willow?” An older, calmer voice asked. It was either Professor Walker or Professor Potter.
“Grace was having…difficulties with magic.” Willow sounded like she was suffering a severe head cold.
“Difficulties?” That same voice enquired curiously.
“She couldn’t even do a Summoning Charm to save her life.” Lily snapped sounding slightly exasperated and surprisingly short tempered. The only times I ever heard Lily take this tone with someone was with her brothers.
“You three should go down and get dinner. I’m going to wait here until she wakes up.” A dark chorus of muttering started but was quickly quelled. I let out an internal sigh of relief; I honestly am terrified of seeing Al, Lily, and Willow right now.
“You don’t really think that she intentionally did this do you Dad? I’m telling you, this isn’t normal for her.” Al exclaimed, making no effort to hide his frustration.
“All I know is that she performed a very powerful spell and six students are in the Hospital Wing because of her actions.” Three sets of footsteps clattered away. A small, internal sigh of relief spread through me. “And you can stop pretending your sleeping Miss Adler.” Mr. Potter added, not in an amused way. Crap…I though miserably forcing my eyes open.
“You must think I’m crazy.” I muttered to no in particular. He knew what I had told Al, Lily, and Willow. How much more he knew I could only guess.
“On the contrary, I know that you didn’t have any control on what you were doing.” I was thrown off at how calm he was about the fact that I blew up half the classroom.
“How could you possibly know that?” I blurted out, making no effort to hide the incredulity and shock that was racing through me.
“Al cast a Sleeping Hex on you. Simple yet ingenious considering the situation you found yourself in.” Mr. Potter paused, apparently absorbed in his own thoughts. I couldn’t help but notice that Al was basically a younger version of his father except for the lightning bolt scar that stood out vividly.
“You couldn’t do magic for weeks, you stopped showing up to classes that required active spell work, and only once I arrived you decided that you should return to class to try to avoid raising suspicion, yet you still needed to find a way to avoid showing that you lost your magic. Since there is no way to undo a Sleeping Hex other than to let it run its course, you had borrowed time to hide your secret.” He concluded nonchalantly. From the way he described it, the best I could hope for was outright suspension once this matter was brought up to Professor Walker and Professor McGonagall.
“Can I ask a question?” I asked hesitantly.
“You just did, but you may ask another.” He replied not unkindly.
“Do you know anything about Sorcery?” I asked boldly, throwing all caution to the wind. I seemed to have genuinely surprised him as he studied me, curiosity and something darker seemed to be flitting across his mind. Slowly his eyes x-rayed me and I tried to repress a shudder. I wonder how many times he used that look on suspects he’s interrogating…I mused.
“I will admit that I am not an expert on the subject, but I do know a fair bit about the arts. Unfortunately though, what is fact and what is myth and legend are hard, if not impossible, to separate.” His answer was highly disappointing, but the way he spoke and the way he continued to look at me gave me this curious sensation that I was missing something. Suddenly, an idea occurred to me.
“You don’t need to use Legilimency on me Professor. If you want to know the motivation for that question, I can give it to you if I could have my wand.” Part of me still wondered whether my guess on Legilimency was correct or not and this time there was no admission of shock or confusion on Mr. Potter’s face. Instead he looked completely calm, possibly giving me an appraising look, but he wasn’t going to betray anything he didn’t want to let on.
Silently he handed me my wand and immediately a warm rush flowed up my arm that coursed its way through my body. The sensation was so invigorating that I nearly dropped it in surprise. The last time I had felt that was when I was eleven years old and I was in Olivander’s wand shop. Even though he was quite old, there was something about him that made the experience quite memorable. There was another boy in there with his mother that was having a rather difficult time of finding a wand, but eventually he had his wand and it was my turn. He had noticed that I wasn’t accompanied by an adult and quickly figured out that I grew up in a Muggle Orphanage. Other than that, he didn’t talk much until he came back with a box containing a twelve inch yew wand with a dragon heart string core that was an immediate match. Olivander seemed both pleased and simultaneously disappointed. Dragging myself back to reality I conjured a flask and quickly extracted the memories of the Phantasm attack, some examples of what happened when I tried doing magic afterwards, and the bizarre dream I had that caused me to explode magic. All of my other night time horrors were going to remain my secret.
“You didn’t even try to defend your mind.” Mr. Potter pointed out to me plainly. I fought the urge to roll my eyes and explain that I really had nothing to hide.
“Occlumency really isn’t my thing. Also, I’ve only ever read books on the theory. The ideas seem simple enough but…” I blabbered on nervously.
“If you have anything else to say, now would be the time to do so. If not, then I will escort you to the Headmistresses office where Professor Walker and the other professors whose classes you skipped will be there.” Again, nothing in his tone betrayed any type of emotion or if he was going to be a prosecutor or a defender with my disciplinary hearing.
“Won’t you be there sir?” I asked hopefully. Even though I didn’t know Mr. Potter, his presence was somehow comforting. He seemed fairly level headed and willing to listen to what I had to say without judging me based solely on my now tarnished record and how I was in Hogsmade.
“Since the incident happened in my class, yes I will be there. When you’re ready we will go.” He replied simply. Letting out the smallest of sighs, I fought my way out from the layers and quickly found my shoes in front of the four poster bed. They were shoes that Lily had convinced to buy me, and despite my initial concerns, the white satin three inch pumps with a small peep-toe and the little black bow were not only cute, amazingly I didn’t feel like my ankles were being stabbed with every step. Silently we made our way over to the other side of the castle. In no time I found myself face to face with an ugly stone gargoyle.
“Password?” The ugly statue queried. Uncertain, I looked up expectantly at Professor Potter waiting for him to say something.
“Phoenix.” At once the gargoyle sprang aside revealing a spiral staircase. With uncertain ease I began walking up the stairs until I found myself face to face with a large door.
Before I could knock, Mr. Potter had already opened the door and ushered me into Professor McGonagall’s office. I had never been in here before and couldn’t help but take a close look. The room was large and round, I distinctly heard snoring and saw hundreds of portraits, all presumably of previous headmasters of Hogwarts. The largest of these was Dumbledore, who was one a few not sleeping and his blue eyes were twinkling. He was also the only headmaster buried on Hogwarts grounds. After the Second War ended, a war memorial was constructed to remember all those who died in the Battle of Hogwarts and a lavish garden was constructed. Most students didn’t like spending time there but every now and again Professors could be seen coming and going from the gardens. The most frequent visitors were Professor McGonagall and Hagrid, the only staff members who taught at Hogwarts during that turbulent time. There was quite a lovely view of the garden and the lake out of the windows, but I forced myself to draw away from the view.
“Miss Adler, please sit down.” Professor McGonagall sounded curt and pointed to a chair directly in front of her desk. Professors Walker, Saroyan, and Potter all stood silently behind me.
“There are a number of things that we need to discuss this evening,” she began gravely. I sat deadly looking at my knees awkwardly waiting for her to continue. “Until recently you were an exemplary student. However, for the past couple of weeks, certain staff members have noticed your continuous unexcused absence from their lessons. Hogwarts does not tolerate truancy. You are here for an education. How do you expect to learn when you decide to not show up to class?”
“Do you have a Pensieve, Professor?” I asked meekly. I still couldn’t look up and meet her gaze, or turn around and face the three professors who finally were forced to report my behavior.
“What is this about?” Professor Saroyan cut across sharply before I could continue.
“This.” I didn’t need to turn around to see Mr. Potter holding up the vial containing the memories. The room fell silent as they all critically examined the silvery substance that was oddly cloud-like and at times appeared to be liquid and at other times to be vapor.
“I thought it would be easier to explain if you saw things as they unfolded. Plus I’m not talented enough to create artificial memories, not that Professor Walker would teach anything like that to us in the first place…” I trailed off into an awkward silence.
Silently they walked over to where Professor McGonagall kept her Pensieve and quickly poured the contents of my memories into the basin. A ghostly pale version of me emerged standing two inches tall from the basin surface wearing a look of surprise and horror before collapsing back into the basin. Wordlessly they lowered their heads into the basin and I let out a sigh of release. I hadn’t realized that I was clenching my hands into a fist so tight that I was leaving clear marks of my nails on my palms or that I was freezing cold. Minutes later they emerged, all with similar grave looks that seemed to seal my fate.
“I’m not making any of this up, I swear!” I pleaded, not really caring how ridiculous I sounded while my heart thundered loudly in my ears.
“Why didn’t you notify your head of house or the headmistress once the problem became apparent?” Professor Saroyan asked sharply.
“I…I don’t know. I was scared that if I couldn’t do magic that I would be…thrown out. I…I don’t want to go back to the Muggle world.” I stammered nervously. Hot tears began to sting the corners of my eyes and I tried blinking them away.
“Do you believe that you would have been expelled from Hogwarts because you were unable to do magic?” Professor McGonagall asked.
“Yes.” I said simply, and thankfully, without stammering.
“What I want to know more about is this dream. Have you had others like it?” Professor Walker interjected, saving me from what probably would have been an awkward silence.
“Yes… and no.” I offered up lamely. Professor Walker gave me a stern look that needed no verbal instruction to elaborate. “I’ve had these really bizarre dreams, where I wake up speaking funny languages, but this is the first time I ever actually interacted with a dream.”
“What does it mean though?” He asked, not looking at me, but directly at Mr. Potter. Professor Saroyan was also fixing him with a piercing glare. The only one not looking at him was the Headmistress who was evaluating me critically.
“Sorcery is magic, just like anyone in this castle can do. Where it differs from normal magic is how it works, and what your limits are. You are certainly not the first person capable of sorcery, and anyone can train to become adept in it, but you seemed to have taken to it naturally, also something not unique or unheard of.” He began in a lecturing sort of tone. Professor Walker, though he didn’t say anything, seemed desperate to speed up the explanation. Catching on to his impatience, he continued.
“How it is different is simple: you can not only draw on your own power, but you can channel power from a variety of sources, including nature. This gives the benefit of being able to cast very powerful spells that are normally beyond your reach. The draw back is that you can become dependent on external sources of magic, you can diminish your own powers, and you can inadvertently channel too much magic and destroy yourself and who knows what else in the process.”
“And these dreams?” Professor Walker interrupted.
“That’s the funny aspect of Sorcery. Since you are able to channel magic from outside sources, there are times when you can channel memories from different eras, even different dimensions. Now this is pure speculation on my end, but when you conjured the Soul Shield, you accidentally incorporated memories from a different dimension whose laws of magic are different from ours, and those memories prevented your recovery. When Al cast a Sleeping Hex on you, you found the malignant memories and returned them to where they belonged. Time and space, matter and magic, the spell you cast was even more powerful than I had originally thought and what happened to my classroom was there mere aftershock.” He concluded. Professor Saroyan forgot to keep her piercing glare and Professor Walker just seemed tired. The only people who weren’t fazed by this ordeal were the Headmistress and Mr. Potter. All I wanted to do was crawl under all of the blankets I could find and sleep for about a week.
“Well I think it is clear that while you may have acted foolishly in not telling someone about what was going on, your reaction is understandable.” She paused, still giving me an appraising look. “As such, you will not be expelled from this school at this time. You will make up all of the class work you did not complete. If any staff member reports you missing class without there being just cause, the consequences will be severe. Charles, you can arrange appropriate punishment as you see fit.” She ended seriously. I nodded my head in understanding while secretly trying to hide my jubilation of not being expelled. Silently I stood up and fell in line with Professor Walker’s stride knowing full well that I was going to be in his office for a good telling off.
“Oh and one more thing, Miss Adler?” Professor McGonagall called out to us. I stopped and turned around, trying to not appear as though I was about to have a nervous brake down.
“Yes Professor?” I asked, rather curiously.
“I expect to see that ridiculous blue streak removed from your hair by Monday morning.” She said with the smallest of a smile. I blushed slightly and twirled the blue strand around on the end of my finger before tucking it behind my ear. I couldn’t help smiling at that comment.
Silently, I left the Headmistresses office with Professor Walker and we made our way down to his office. Once again, I found myself sitting on the opposite side of the desk with Professor Walker once again giving me one of those looks that I never knew what to make of. The only difference this time was that there wasn’t a menacing stack of pamphlets obscuring his view of me.
“Well Miss Adler I will say that I never thought we would be having a moment like this.” He began rather genially. The shock that must have been apparent on my face caused him to give me a genuine smile, which confused me even more. Why in the world would he be smiling about the fact that I almost went and got myself expelled? “You’ve changed over these past few weeks, and quite drastically if I do say so myself.”
“I’m so confused. Aren’t you supposed to be yelling at me and preaching about personal responsibility?” I blurted out unintentionally. Inwardly I smacked myself in the back of the head.
“Let me try to explain this in a way you will understand.” He paused, contemplating his choice of words very carefully. “Heads of Houses have particular duties like recommending candidates for Prefects, Head Boy and Head Girl, Quidditch Captains, having the roster for who can try out for the House Team, but other than those tasks it is also my duty to keep a close eye on all of the students in Ravenclaw. Do you see where I am going with this?” He asked hopefully.
“Not particularly.” I replied.
“Do you remember our meeting at the beginning of the year?” He changed tracks, this time throwing me off even more than he already had.
“What about that meeting?” I asked, trying to not sound snappish.
“I asked you if you used a large academic work load as an excuse to interact with your peers.” He reminded me calmly.
“I seem to remember avoiding answering that question.” I grimaced at the memory of it, since it was right after the first of many painfully awkward and embarrassing moments that I now call my life.
“Yes and you continue to be full of surprises. When we had that meeting I never would have imagined that you would somehow become best friends with Miss Levinson or Miss Potter, or that you would have that rather awful encounter with Mr. Nicholson, or that I would find Mr. Potter constantly badgering you. But what is most intriguing is how in a matter of weeks, you’re not recognizable from the girl who got off the train and was forced to do a career consultation meeting.” While I couldn’t bring myself to look at him, I felt his gaze fixed on me the entire time.
“What do you mean? I’m still the same old boring Grace Adler, or whoever.” I finally admitted defeat and brought my head back up trying to hide my embarrassment.
“I know you better than you think Grace. You arrived at Hogwarts an orphan not knowing a thing about the magical world. After being sorted, you found yourself completely lost in a strange world that you had tried to convince yourself was a pure fantasy. And while everyone was getting used to changes and making friends, you got left behind and over looked. Instead of being upset by it, you buried yourself away in books, learning everything you could. As time went on, you became quieter and more introverted.” As Professor Walker was talking, my mind flashed through the images like a story book. First there was the eleven year old me with the Sorting Hat on, the first student of the year to be sorted. I wanted to vomit out of fright. After that, it was mostly just memories of the first time I successfully levitated a feather, or transformed a match into a needle. He did make a point that I was too well aware of; all of those memories are solitary.
“You were worried about my well being?” I asked rather stupidly. At the same time thought I didn’t see why he would bother though. It’s not like I wasn’t doing bad in school or showing any outward signs of being overtly miserable and constantly lonely at the time.
“I would have kept an extra close eye on any student who happened to have a background like yours, but since you belonged to my house, I watched you even closer. You know, you flummoxed the staff several times.” He seemed to be remembering something rather amusing.
“Because I was so quiet?” I asked trying to keep the bitterness out of my voice.
“Anyone who reads your homework knows that you are very bright, very articulate, very thoughtful, and yet half of the staff had a hard time pegging a picture to go with the name. It struck many odd that the girl who hardly spoke a word in class or to anyone else could be the same girl who did so well on the assignments.” I felt my stomach squirm uncomfortably knowing that the fears of my early teen years were true and that I was in fact, not a memorable person.
“The only thing that has changed about me is the clothes and the hair Professor Walker.” I pointed out to him, trying hard not to smile at how ludicrous this all seemed. “I’m still the same person. I’m still socially awkward, I’m still dead clumsy, and I still don’t speak up in class.” I neglected to point that I also wasn’t in class for how long before anyone besides him noticed.
“You don’t realize how far you’ve come. I’ve kept a close eye on you for six years and this is probably the first time I’ve seen something other than you trying to hide yourself. This is also the first time I’ve seen you smile and seem happy that you are here.” He told me warmly. This time there was no way to hide my blushing, and once again I found myself smiling in the most inappropriate circumstances.
“Thank you.” I muttered out before shaking my head rapidly trying to regain composure.
“And now for the fun part! The quiet girl who seemed to be incapable of doing anything wrong has now found herself in my office for skipping class. So tell me Miss Adler, what do you think would be appropriate punishment?” Professor Walker seemed far too amused and good natured about this. Perhaps he was always like this for first time offenders, or maybe it’s just the thought that I, Miss Boring, Dull, and Predictable, broke the rules in style.
“Detention.” I muttered, strongly resisting the desire to crash my head into his desk.
“For how long?” He asked clinically. From his desk he pulled out a form and a ridiculously large, lurid pink quill that caused me to snort.
“Two weeks?” I asked doubtfully.
“Better make it three, just to make sure the lesson sticks.” He paused and filled out the form, adding extravagant flourishes just to try and make me laugh. “And before you leave, there is something else I need to address with you.”
“There is?” I asked dumbfounded.
“Yes, it would seem as though Ravenclaw needs a new seventh year Prefect. Are you interested in the job?” He asked in a perfectly conversational tone.
“What are you talking about? Adia is Prefect…” I began sputtering, trying to connect the dots. Adia is no longer Prefect!? How could THAT have happened? Does Al know? Of course he knows, he’s her bloody boyfriend and he’s a Prefect as well. Oh sweet Merlin, if I become a Prefect that means I have to patrol with him…I am so not ready for this. My mind raced through a thousand thoughts in the space of seconds. It's moments like these that I'm worried that Professor Walker is secretly an accomplished Legilimens.
“Miss McCallister is being withdrawn from Hogwarts at the end of the week. Her family is moving to France, leaving us one Prefect short. You were actually my first choice for Prefect candidate but in the end Professor McGonagall decided that Adia would have been more suitable for the job.” The news that Walker had picked me for Prefect over Adia was shocking, but the fact that I got passed over wasn’t. Adia is the picture of perfection; I was the practical essence of misanthropy.
“Would it reduce my jail sentence?” I asked sarcastically. He paused, thinking deeply before responding.
“Nope. So what do you say Miss Adler? Will you be the new Prefect for Ravenclaw?” This time he asked enthusiastically.
“Sure.” While my voice was perfectly neutral, I know that from this moment onward that my life will become the essence of insanity.