So I was working on a completely different fic for this competition. I was still just setting up the characters when I realized I was over the 3000 word limit by about 2000 words and that to finish it in the two hours I had left would be impossible. So I ended up frying my brain and starting a whole new fic: this one. I'm not super satisfied, and I'll likely take it down after the competition is over, but I am impressed that any of it is coherent. I drew mostly on my own experience of Italy for this, so there are a few inaccuracies. Neptune's thighs are actually quite shapely.
The Death House
Hermione's parents were dentists, which means that they got excellent benefits, including things called timeshares and vacation hours. It all sounded dull to her, but it meant long plane rides to exciting places, which meant new books, so she was quite satisfied. This time they were in Rome. They'd gone to see all the places she had read about. The Trevi Fountain, with its great marble gods, seemed almost alive to her. And the Coliseum hummed with history. She loved Italy, and, like most children in foreign places, was simultaneously afraid of it and convinced she would move there when she was older.
Unlike most children, however, she had climbed nearly to the top of the Coliseum. She had also rearranged the Trevi Fountain so that Neptune's robe covered a little more marble flesh. Both these actions were considered quite indecent in the ancient city; however, fortunately no one had noticed her scaling the maeniana, and her parents had gotten her down before an international incident had erupted. At the Fountain no one had noticed the seven-year-old girl furrowing her brow in concentration as the stone rippled and shifted. And although the classical art world was scandalized by the remodeling, the classical art world is rarely not scandalized, so few people took much notice. Anyways, Neptune's thighs were not much to look at.
Hermione wasn't quite sure what she had done wrong. All she had wanted to do was study the difference between the Doric and Ionic pillars, which had been emphasized in her book. And that was impossible to do from the ground. And as for Neptune, she had thought her parents would be pleased; they had certainly been upset enough when one of the many homeless vagabonds wandering Rome had suddenly decided to take off all his clothes in broad daylight. But they were not pleased and seemed distracted, as if they were no longer enjoying the beauty of the ancient city.
But she knew what would regain their interest. "Mum," she said loudly, "I want to go see the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini." It took her a while to get all the words out, but at last she did, and she was very proud of herself.
"Bless you," said her father.
"Dad, it's an important historical landmark," she complained. She used her intellectual voice, because that always impressed her parents. "Mentioned twice in my book. It's from1626 and it was commissioned by the pope – "
"If we can tear Mum away from the gelato then we can go," said her dad fondly. He really did love her dearly, even if she imitated Spiderman far too well for a seven year old girl.
In a half hour they stood before the church. "It looks like just another church," teased her Mum. But Hermione refused to rise to the bait. It certainly wasn't just another church, which anyone who read anything about Rome would know. But it would certainly get her parents' attention.
After reading the sign, which was translated into English for the many tourists, her parents looked notably less enthused. "A crypt," said her dad.
"Yes," said Hermione. "Three hundred cartloads of dead monks – "
"Lovely, dear," muttered her mother. "Why don't we go back to the Forum, that was nice..."
"That sounds nice. Look, it just closed for the night anyways," agreed her father, glancing at the dark entrance to the crypt unenthusiastically as a man began shutting the large doors. Together her parents began walking away, without a second glance back. Hermione looked uncertainly between them and the crypt. Three hundred cartloads of dead monks, not to mention the Tomb of the Papal Zouaves, was simply not something you could find in Britain. They kept walking, not even noticing that she hadn't followed. So she walked up to the deserted church and opened one of the doors. They were heavy, and also locked tight, but that didn't bother her. She entered the crypt.
The defining characteristic of the Capuchin Crypt is its design. It is composed of six total rooms, all fairly small, with intricate patterns on the walls. And it is made of human bones. Skulls, femurs, and pelvises adorn almost every inch. The classical art world has surprisingly little to say about this macabre, strangely beautiful architecture. It likely scares them. It scares everyone, which is why it is so popular.
Hermione was alone in a room full of bones and she was scared, but not so scared that she couldn't appreciate the immense history she was looking at. It must have taken an inordinate amount of time, she thought, to put this all together, and to preserve it. She pulled out one of her books and flipped to the section on the crypt, glancing up to study the designs in closer detail.
The huge black holes all stared back at her blankly, but it didn't bother her. She didn't believe in ghosts, and without a person in them, she knew the skulls were just bones. She wished her parents had come to explain the teeth to her. They did know a lot about teeth, although she wasn't sure how much they knew about the teeth of four hundred year old friars, and she wanted to know why they hadn't fallen out. The empty eye sockets kept staring. She kept reading.
Gradually Hermione became aware of someone's eyes on her. The back of her neck tingled, and her palms began to sweat. She glanced suspiciously at the skulls, but they kept grinning vacuously. "Hello?" she called and was proud her voice was steady. Although she would never admit it, the dead eyes were beginning to unsettle her. There was no answer.
Suddenly the tiny dim lightbulb began to flicker and she jumped. Cold air brushed the back of her neck and she spun around quickly, raising the book defensively. There was nothing behind her. "Is someone there?" Her voice trembled.
The light went completely out and Hermione squeaked, terrified. She shut her eyes and reached out a hand, flinching when she touched icy bone. She started groping along the morbid wall. Finally, after agonizing minutes of poking her fingers into cadaverous holes, she felt the door. She breathed a sigh of relief and belatedly thought of her parents. She had no idea how much time she had spent in the crypt. It was like being in Neverland, minus the childlike joy and innocence (it wasn't that she enjoyed being thoroughly creeped out, but she did enjoy witnessing the timelessness of history. Also, it made her feel superior to the girl in her class who had gone to her grandfather's funeral and who hadn't shut up about his cold hands for days.). She hoped her parents were all right and that they hadn't panicked when their daughter had disappeared in a foreign city. She turned the knob. The door was locked.
Doors are never locked for me, she thought, trying to swallow down the rising fear. I can get in anywhere. I can't get out. Why can't I get out of here?
She could feel the demon eyes of the myriad skulls even in the pitch black. She swallowed. It was loud. All the dead ears seemed to hear it and magnify it, and her mouth went dry. Then she screamed.
Two red eyes hovered in front of her, furious and fiery. They came closer and closer as she screamed and frantically jogged the handle. It remained locked, and she pressed herself against it as the eyes came closer. Mad laughter drowned out her screams. It rang in her ears, louder and louder until she thought she might drop dead with the sound. And the eyes loomed closer and closer, swallowing her up in a haze of red, tearing away her sanity...
Suddenly the door opened behind her, flooding the crypt with light. She collapsed backwards onto the ground and looked up to find the anxious eyes of her parents and an Italian in an employee uniform gazing at her.
"Hermione!" exploded her mother. "It's been hours! Were you here all this time!?"
"We went to the police station," reprimanded her father. "Neither of us speak a word of Italian, they thought we were trying to find the water closet – "
Hermione sat up, ignoring them, peering into the dark reaches of the catacombs. She thought she saw two red eyes searing through the darkness and she shuddered with terror.
Both her parents reached for her concernedly. "We heard the screams and we thought the worst," whispered her mother. "The crypt, darling. How horrible."
"Most girls your age like dresses and stuffed animals," muttered her father. He was in fact mistaken, but the world of young girls terrified him almost as much as the crypt, so he was content with his limited understanding. "You couldn't have broken into the Gucci factory..."
Her mother let loose a hysterical sob of laughter, which set her father off into nervous laughter, and soon they were all caught up in embraces and relieved, raucous laughter. The crypt employee watched in confusion and silently vowed to quit this job in the morning. Hermione watched over her father's shoulder as the eyes slowly faded into the darkness.
Someday she would learn about boggarts and what they did to her. Someday she would discover firewhiskey and how it drowned out red eyes and mad laughter. She would discover that her greatest fear was not black holes in skulls or thick darkness. Hermione's greatest fear was fear.
She was in Gryffindor for a reason. Anything that couldn't be defeated with her sharp mind could be killed with a sharp sword. But the coward that hid behind darkness, that defeated reason and logic, was something to be feared. The demon that threatened to separate her from a world where everything made sense was the demon inside of her. The secret fear inside her – that her knowledge could never compensate for love and courage – was her own worst enemy.
But for now, Hermione Granger was a seven-year-old girl whose parents saved her from the monsters inside and out. So she slept on her father's shoulder as they carried her home, dreams free of fear.
I would like to dedicate this to the Roman God of sleep deprivation, Starbuckus. Review and I'll love you forever.