Chapter 20 – The Selection
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and eventually something from Manchester!
You're not the one I need
You're just the one that I want
Makes perfect sense to me
You're not the one I need
But you're the one that I want
Ain't no sense in love
It's not logical
That's the way I feel
It's not logical
It's heaven underneath my skin
~ Take That, Ain't No Sense In Love
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Hermione turned over in the bed and felt the empty side on her left. It was normal to find Severus already on his feet in the morning, but that morning it didn't feel quite right. She should have been up before him, on that day.
"Severus?" she called, holding out a hand toward the bed table. She grabbed the watch placed there and shrieked.
"SHIT! OH, FUCK!"
She jumped out of the bed, throwing away sheets and blankets in a graceless rumpling.
"What was that?" Severus peeped out of the bathroom, one cheek white with foam, one hand holding a razor.
"You were here! Oh, God, Severus! It's a quarter to nine! Why didn't you awake me?"
She stormed into the bathroom, passing him by, and sat on the toilet. He observed her, unimpressed.
"You forbade me to awake you."
"What? But – but that was one month ago!"
"You never lifted the order."
"Order? Which order? It was a trifle!" She looked at him and shook her head. "Good grief, Severus. Orders? You'll be killed a second time because of orders!" She flushed the toilet. "Oh, Merlin, what can I do? The selection is going to start in a few minutes!" She joined Severus at the sink and washed her hands while he resumed shaving. "I'm lost! Why didn't the alarm ring?"
"Maybe you didn't set it," he mumbled, scraping his upper lip.
"I didn't set it? I normally wake up at four, when I have an exam, without any need of alarms!" She wiped her hands, flustered. "All this training for nothing. I'm hopeless. Mr. Hullarder was right."
"If you hurry up, instead of whining, you'll be able to reach the Ministry in any case."
"I'll be late. They will never admit me to the interview. It's over," Hermione objected, frowning, and in the meanwhile, she started to get dressed. Underwear, trousers, a shirt, a cardigan quickly wrapped her body. "I can't believe you didn't rouse me, once you got up. What if I had continued sleeping past the selection time? I can't believe it," she repeated, putting on her shoes.
Severus rinsed his face and then turned to her, looking stricken. "It was in your instructions. Besides, it's in compliance with the song. 'I warn you not to awaken or stir up love until it wants to arise!' "
"What are you talking about?" She picked up her wand, her bag, snatched a handful of Floo powder. "Never mind, it's late. You'll explain me afterwards." She went up to him and kissed him lightly on his lips, getting a whiff of his aftershave. "Bye!"
Severus' "Good luck!" followed her as she disappeared into the fireplace.
Hurry up hurry up hurry up.
Without a proper shower, without the pearl beads she intended to wear, with her hair still tangled from sleep and sex, Hermione landed in the crowded hall of the Ministry. She pounced out of the fireplace and rushed through the Atrium, elbowing her way through workers and visitors up to the queue in front of the lifts. She waited to get on tapping her foot impatiently, and suffered the rise with her heart slamming in her chest. Just one floor, up from level eight to level seven, and the lift never seemed to reach it. The National Library shared a floor with the Department of Magical Games and Sports. Typical irony. When the lift arrived, Hermione galloped up to the corridor that hosted the entrance to the library.
Two rows of seats were aligned along the walls of the corridor, and there were maybe thirty-five, forty people sitting on them. A tall man in long turquoise robes stood against the large doors of the library, making notes on a clipboard.
It was six minutes past nine when Hermione reached him.
"I apologise!" she panted. "I'm mortified!"
"Hermione Granger, I presume," said the wizard, lifting his head from the clipboard. "We haven't started processing yet. Please, take a seat and wait until we call your name." He eyed her, clearly disapproving her Muggle attire.
"Oh. Thanks." Giving a sigh of relief, Hermione took a seat. A sweat drop trickled down her back.
She looked around. Of all the people waiting, she knew but few faces. There was a young man who once worked with her in Mr. Hullarder's shop. She acknowledged him with a nod, but didn't go to greet him. He was a nice guy, as far as she remembered, but they were rivals at that moment.
A couple more people arrived, apologising, and the wizard in turquoise finished checking his clipboard. He cleared his throat and announced, "All the candidates are here, now. We will now start to call you inside, in alphabetical order. A commission presided by Mrs. Vand will judge your titles and suitability for the library's requirements. Once your interview is over, you are not to divulge its details to the other candidates. A Silencing charm will apply, if that were the case. You are to carry only your wand inside. The commission has already been provided with your submission forms. Good luck." He paused to control his list. "We will start with Aberer, Julianne."
"I'm here," said a woman, young still but with greying hair, standing up and trotting to the door. It closed behind her while the wizard remained on the threshold, watching the candidates.
There were thirty-seven people waiting and eight places available on the Mrs. Vand's staff. So she had a twenty-one point six percent probability of being selected. The candidates' ages ranged from youngsters who apparently had just left Hogwarts to mature wizards and witches who evidently wanted to bring their expertise to the library. Hermione tried to recompose her hair, fixing it with a hairgrip. In her bag, she found a cereal bar and began munching it. No proper shower, no proper robes, and no proper breakfast. Wonderful.
Mrs. Aberer's interview lasted half an hour. So, if I'm more or less halfway through the list - let's say there are twelve-fifteen people up to G, and if every interview last half an hour, I'll have to wait some six hours before my turn. But possibly not all the interview will last the same.
The second candidate (Ackerley, Steward; a Ravenclaw, if she remembered correctly) was out in fifteen minutes.
Still, I'll have to wait at least four hours. It's better if I revise my knowledge.
Hermione knew that the National Wizarding Library had been founded in 1694, two years after the passing of the International Code of Secrecy. The first items to be kept there were documents from the International Confederations of Wizards. The library had quickly expanded through donations and legacies. The first important collection consisted of the volumes donated by Lord Stoddard Whiters.
Nowadays, the library owned (according to the most recent survey):
five hundred forty-seven thousand six hundred and eighty-eight volumes;
four thousand nine hundred and fifty-one manuscripts;
six thousand seven hundred and seventy-three incunabula;
seven thousand four hundred and twenty-seven early prints;
two thousand eight hundred and nineteen maps;
eighteen thousand prints and drawings;
forty-one thousand and thirty-six periodicals;
and a copy of all N.E.W.T.s sustained at Hogwarts since the foundation of the library.
About thirteen percent of the volumes were classified as highly dangerous, and another forty percent as moderately dangerous. Among them, the remaining copy of Toadstool Tales by Beatrix Bloxam, banned because they had caused nausea and vomiting to their readers; and many other books Hagrid would give to six-year old.
The most prized possessions of the library included the handwritten notes of Adalbert Waffling, the journal of Dorcas Wellbeloved, and a complete collection of every single edition known of The Tales of Beedle the Bard (illustrated and non-illustrated).
But those were rudiments everybody knew.
She knew the names of maybe two hundred types of paper, their properties, how they differed by touch. She could tell, and perform, the best method to patch a cut for every different kind of paper, depending on their age, their conditions, and the magic that had been cast upon them. She knew some fifty how-to-bind techniques.
But the other candidates knew them, as well.
She knew in advance the plot of Creeping Like a Lizard, even if she doubted that Magdalene bore any resemblance to her. Severus had made that up to impress her, as if he needed. Anyway.
She knew that the Minster Library in York hosted the Wicked Bible, in which a typo had omitted the 'not' in the seventh commandment, which now read, "Thou shalt commit adultery".
She knew that the deepest line in the spine of Severus' worn-out paperback of Richard III stood not in correspondence with the wooing of Lady Anne in Act I, but closer to the end, in Act V, when Richard is haunted by the ghosts of those he had killed. In fact, the book almost flipped open itself at the page printed with Richard's monologue.
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain:
Perjury, perjury, in the highest degree;
Murder, stern murder, in the direst degree;
All several sins, all us'd in each degree,
Throng to the bar, crying all, 'Guilty, guilty!'
She knew that he lied when he said that he had killed Dumbledore for vengeance, that he was trying to give a reason when there was none. He had done it because Draco's life was at stake and Harry's had been traded. She suspected that Severus' phobia of heights had nothing to do with jumping out of a window, and everything to do with the Astronomy Tower. She knew that one day, if they would talk again about that in earnest, she'd tell him that what Dumbledore asked of him was one of the most cruel prices of the war they had won, and that she cringed every time she thought about it. She would tell him that, even if he didn't sport a scar on his neck, and few on his body (the worse were the souvenirs left by Fluffy on his right leg), she knew there were scars that cut deeper than flesh, and marks that stained further than skin. She had scars as well, both inside and on the surface: the scar across her chest caused by Dolohov's curse, for which Severus had provided potions; a pale line above her left knee, made at thirteen while playing at the Burrow with Ron; the scratch under her jaw cut by Bellatrix' knife.
She knew, or supposed, that despite his statements Severus believed losing magic was an appropriate punishment, a punishment he bore with his head held high because he thought he deserved it. She imagined that the return to Muggleness acted as a sort of reconciliation with his father and other people, in payment for a debt he had incurred thirty years before and had dearly paid for, ever since.
And those were not things anybody knew.
She was maybe the only one to know that his first obsessive thoughts – he had told her – had regarded children, right after the first war. He had wondered what was the sense of having children around, then, when there was no future – sold, crushed, killed – and that finding himself at Hogwarts, surrounded by youngsters, had been a nightmare. Any solace in avoidance cut off, he had been assailed by the pox without being able to scratch. The sense of children failed him – shouldn't all of them, he, Dumbledore, the rest of the Order, the world's wizarding population, be dead by then? Was it actually right for people to have children? Should people have children, when the universe was evidently going to end soon? And after the end of the world – what would happen? Where was – the sense? The meaning of surviving? The meaning, in general?
She knew that he wrote because in tales there is a sense that goes missing in real life, that she restored books in order to quell the necessity of fixing something, at least. That making sense out of the past was almost imperative for them, and that turning to a distant past made the present look more connected with the ever-flowing history. The purpose of generations, she had offered, was to remember the past, and memory was a prerogative of his kin. The task of humankind could be to witness the time passing on the earth and to preserve it. Therefore, he wrote, and she bound pages together.
She hoped that one day, when he finished his series, Severus would write about his role in the war, about his own story and memories. She'd bet that such a book would leave a mark on the wizarding world forever. She hoped that, when age would smooth any lasting resentment he might have, he would record again his own improvements to potions, and whatever other kind of magic he had invented. His own copy of Advanced Potion-Making had been burned in the Room of Requirements, that night.
She knew that it should be more complicated and was actually easier. He didn't have to live up to a set of criteria. He didn't inspire her poetry, just the exciting tingle of being a sparring partner in their wordplays. She didn't expect him to behave a certain way. Regardless of occasional misunderstandings, she appreciated anything that would randomly happen featuring the both of them. She longed for his company. She was at home with him.
I remember hating you, and then learning that you had been helping us all along, and blaming myself for my misjudging. I remember hating you for staying in my mind, dying, and the shame of being there without helping. I remember how I tried to ban yours, and the other images, from my thoughts; how I succeeded, somehow, and how the image sneaked back after that evening in the library. I know how everything was settled, once I let the images go away and let you in.
So much, she knew, and it wasn't that much. Hermione could see causes and effects, actions and consequences, but she really didn't know why everything had happened that way.
As for the past, she didn't know why Voldemort had hurled down on them all and distorted all their lives forever, why so many people had to die, why men couldn't do without war.
As for the present, she was puzzled by what had happened that morning.
He had clung to one of her idiocies as if it was a rule.
She had overslept on a day in which she had an examination.
She had forgotten to set the alarm.
It seemed that she wanted to boycott the selection as much as he did.
Not that he had tried to boycott her selection, of course. He had renounced to the US Open final (which had been delayed to Monday due to rain) to accompanying her to London and had agreed to stay at the Leaky Cauldron, to boot. And no, he wouldn't fake it all just to drag her back to the Emily Brontë and lock her in there, please. Some of the other candidates, the ones who had had time in the morning, were flipping through a copy of the Daily Prophet. Now and then, they would shoot glances at her. Was it only because she was Hermione Granger, and she had made quite the headline a few years before? Or because there was already some article about she and Severus strolling in Diagon Alley? She refused to investigate. The Daily Prophet could go to the dogs and she wouldn't care less.
You remembered such a stupid thing I said and thought it was worth obeying. What can I do with you? Oh, Severus.
I didn't want to arouse from you, because you were sleeping at my side.
You let me into your home. Hannah thought we needed a larger house, but I suppose we have already made plenty of room for each other.
She didn't know which song he was referring to. I handed him Ella Sings the Gershwin Songbook and Sarah Vaughan At Mister Kelly's (bet he prefers Billie Holiday) but I don't remember that line. Must ask him later. He listens to music I've never heard of.
As for the future, she didn't know how long the blissful bubble would last. Little, she feared, when she allowed herself to brood about it. They weren't supposed to stay together very long, the witch and the Muggle, the former Death Eater and the Mudblood, the binder and the writer who scribbled on books, the guilty and the redeemed, the obsessive with the obsessive. They would eventually irritate one another, sooner or later, and split up after a fight. They wouldn't be good for each other in the long run: they would provide unsolicited assurances for their intrusive thoughts, she would take shelter in his words and between his arms, and that wasn't the right method of dealing with obsessions. One day he would notice that she was not the ideal partner he had waited so long for, that she was tetchy, harsh, brusque, and indeed insufferable to live with, jokes aside. Besides, her hair was horrid, she lacked sex appeal and wasn't a bedroom queen. One day he would go back to Portugal to Teresa (who had to be of age, now, she had calculated), who was beautiful and sweet and loved his stories. And she would be too distressed even to send canaries after him. (Canaries to the Canaries. Ah! She had to tell him that one! But the Canaries were Spanish. Tut.)
She didn't know how the selection would go. The candidates streamed in and out the wooden doors of the library, alternatively relieved or alarmed, exhausted or excited. Letter D. Letter E. Letter F.
There were so many things she didn't know.
But, did it really matter?
She couldn't know everything. So many things were simply without an explanation, or without a definite meaning. Sometimes meanings overlapped and entwined, sometimes they went missing. Sometimes things happened without a motive, without a plan, without a purpose. They weren't always that bad, were they, the things that simply happened.
Look at the always meaningless reason of why she and Severus stood together.
In the end, possibly the only thing she was certain about was that the only Unforgivable action was to make other people suffer, and all she had to do was to avoid that. All the rest was more or less the same: doing one job or the other, teaching Potions or writing, becoming Junior Undersecretary to the Minister, or withdrawing into an archive, working for Muggles or for wizarding folk. As long as one's intentions were pure, every occupation was equally worthwhile. What had been his jibe, when he had her in tears a century before?
I see no difference.
Possibly, he didn't mean it to be a snide remark; maybe he was suggesting taking the bad with the good. To accept it and go on.
If the secret was acceptance, then she could stand whatever opinion Mrs. Vand and her commission would bestow on her and accept any result the selection would bring her. She could work either at the Emily Brontë or at the Ministry, as far as someone charged her to mend some text. Now, that she reflected about it, she bet she could even nail both jobs, if she committed herself to it. She could accept that both libraries begged for her craftsmanship on their knees. Ah ah.
Yes, better take it lightly. There is indeed no reason to fret, after all.
After all the rush in the morning, Hermione was almost preternaturally calm when her name was called, at five past one.
Del Potro won the 2009 US Open defeating Federer 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2.
He told her where the line came from.
In winters, he wore grey nightshirts, as he did at Hogwarts. He looked a bit ridiculous, didn't he, but after all every woman has to cope with the ridiculousness of her man. She gave him tickets to go to A Midsummer Night's Dream for his birthday, among other presents, and he stood up late to watch the Australian Open, complaining about the players. The windows had been provided with double-glazing, but that was only to take care of old Crookshanks' rheumatisms.
And first an hour of mournful musing
And then a gush of bitter tears
And then a dreary calm diffusing
Its deadly mist o'er joys and cares
And then a throb and then a lightening
And then a breathing from above
And then a star in heaven brightening
The star the glorious star of love
~ Emily Brontë, August 1837
Huge thanks to my alpha & beta team: Alfavia, growley464, Valady, stgulik, RobisonRocket at TPP. I think I've never vexed anyone as much as Pink Raccoon while writing this, in order to get her impression: I'm humbly grateful for the ear she lent me. Thanks to my former therapist, SC, whose advice became a big part of this fic. Thanks to all readers & reviewers for their precious feedback.
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues: Richard III, V, iii, 194-200.
Everything you recognised in this fic is (c) of their respective owners. The Potterverse belongs to JKR and associated enterprises. No money was made with this.
Dear readers, if you arrived this far, please have a look also at Snape's POV, I've Always Thought You Were Stupid, which you can find among my stories as a separate one-shot.