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2. THE LIST
“Blubber,” Hermione said confidently. The stone gargoyle moved aside and she stepped onto the spiraling staircase. Professor McGonagall had likely been meditating on her predecessor's sense of humor to come up with this series of passwords. Last week’s had been “Nitwit.”
She entered the Headmaster's—no, Headmistress's--office, which certainly needed tidying. Drawers had been opened, books strewn about, some of the more delicate magical devices on display smashed way beyond anything a simple Reparo could fix. She decided she would look for the list Sirius wanted while she followed Professor McGonagall’s own itinerary, making piles of things to Scourgify, Repair, replace, file, store or Vanish.
She started with Fawkes the Phoenix’s perch. It had not been touched by the marauding band of Aurors, so it just needed to be Levitated to the door for the house-elves to remove. She put a little tag on it with the instruction the Headmistress requested: Please store in the Come and Go Room This was the house-elves' name for the Room of Requirement.
Hermione had a sudden pang of guilt. It was in that hidden room that Draco Malfoy had manufactured a portal to let the Death Eaters into Hogwarts. All that year, Harry had been sure that Draco was plotting some evil, but he had been unable to convince her or Ron, or even Dumbledore himself, of the danger. Now they would be forced to hunt down Voldemort themselves, without the Headmaster’s help, at least partly because she had pooh-poohed her friend’s instincts.
She shook off her malaise. There was no use crying over spilled potion. It was like lamenting all the times she'd treated Ron badly. It didn't do anyone any good. I'm not going to think about Harry. Or Ron. I have a job to do. She started putting away the books that Scrimgeour's bullies had dumped onto the floor, but she ran into trouble immediately trying to figure out what shelves to put them on. The ones that were still in place seemed to be in no particular order. They weren't alphabetized by author or title. They weren't grouped by topic either. Transfiguration tomes were mixed in with bowling manuals and recipe collections. There's a pattern here—there's got to be. But she couldn't see it.
It reminded her of one time when she was playing wizard chess with Harry. Ron had come up behind her and breathed into her hair: "Don’t you see it Hermione? He's going to fork your queen." And she had seen it, as soon as he gave her the hint. She hadn't thanked him of course. She had been uncomfortably conscious of his sudden closeness and simultaneously irritated at realizing once again that he was infinitely better than her at this so cerebral game. But why shouldn't he be? Why shouldn't he have something he excels in? Why do I feel I always have to be the best in everything?
“Trying to figure out his system?” It was Professor McGonagall at the door.
It took Hermione an embarrassed moment to realize that it was Dumbledore she was talking about.
“Don't bother," the headmistress continued, striding to the desk. "Last week he had his favorites at eye level, the boring-but-necessary books on the bottom shelves, and the impressive-looking-but-useless ones up top. The week before that he arranged them by color. And before that, by the year he acquired them." She surveyed the shelves with her quirky smile, fondly, as if she saw her old, dear friend there once more, squinting at a particularly engrossing page. "Just put them up anywhere for now. We’ll be sending quite a few to the library upstairs according to the dictates of his will, though what the students will do with a book on twin-needle crocheting, I do not know.”
She swung a small satchel up onto the desk. “Bag of Holding,” she said. "For the items going to his brother, including some of those.” She gestured at the delicate magical devices on display.
Hermione was surprised and looked it.
“We needn't worry about their size. They’ll fit all right.”
But it wasn’t the satchel's capacity that took Hermione aback. She knew a Bag of Holding had almost infinite space inside, but she never expected that Dumbledore would give some of his most valuable and sensitive equipment to his brother, Aberforth, who she had heard was an irresponsible type, and quite possibly illiterate.
Professor McGonagall, for all her mistrust of Divination, seemed to have read her student's mind. “For much of his life, Aberforth Dumbledore was an adventurer—a treasure-hunter if you will. In his travels, he discovered and brought back many of the artefacts you see here. They were actually on permanent loan to Alb—to his brother.” She gave a little grunt, as if speaking his name winded her.
She loved him very much, and not just as a colleague, Hermione thought in wonderment. How do such things come about? When do friends come to realize they are more than 'friends'? Have we—Ron and I-- started to turn towards each other in that way? Or is it just the circumstances--Dumbledore's death and Harry's predicament binding us to each other?
Teacher and student, they cleaned the room together. Hermione tried to keep her thoughts in the here-and-now, not wanting to wander to the there-and-then, where that freckley, loose-limbed red-head with the lazy smile lodged. She found some distraction in amazement at how much the Bag of Holding could absorb.
And then there was the Pensieve. "Help me with this, will you, dear?" Professor McGonagall had opened a closet and Hermione could see a sparkling white light flowing out of it. "Do you know what it is?"
Hermione nodded. Harry had told her about the device that allowed Dumbledore to eavesdrop on other people's memories. And there it was, the large stone basin on a pedestal, filled with a silver liquid, mercury-like, but light and motile. What would Ron's musings look like if they could be captured like this? Would there be any thoughts of her? Would they be as fond as McGonagall's thoughts of her martyred colleague? Or would they hold bemusement? Or even--accusation?
"What nonsense," she muttered under her breath. Minerva McGonagall gave her a look. "Oh, no, Professor, sorry. I was thinking of something else."
"Quite. I think if I do an Enlarging Spell on the Bag's mouth, while you Levitate the Pensieve, we should be able to get it inside quite easily."
Hermione performed her part of the spell with bated breath. She really was with child to know more about the workings of this magnificent device, but she waited until it had disappeared safely into the Bag before she asked: "Wherever did he find it?"
"I've no idea." Professor McGonagall apparently had no interest in pursuing the subject of Aberforth, so her student bowed her head and went back to work.
They bundled up papers meant for Order of the Phoenix Headquarters, filed away school records that Scrimgeour's minions had scattered about, and packed mementoes for storage or shipment. Hermione, concentrating now on her promise to Sirius, worried that Professor McGonagall would find Dumbledore's list before she did, and that she'd have to try and put something over on this redoubtable woman. She thought she could bring herself to say, “Oh, Professor, I think that’s mine,” if it were somewhere on the floor, but what if it was discovered inside a drawer or something?
She took what chances she could to sneak sidelong glances at her Transfiguration teacher. Professor McGonagall looked older now, and her movements were not precise and commanding as she remembered in her classes, but hesitant or meandering at times. Perhaps it would not be so difficult to fool her now. It was actually a rather sad thought that this hardy Scot, pre-eminent in the field of Transfiguration, could be failing physically or in spirit.
Fortunately, about an hour into their chores, Professor McGonagall excused herself. “I have to go to a meeting now,” she said, picking up the documents meant for the Order of the Phoenix. “I'm going to put your name in for full membership, if you don’t mind.”
“Oh, yes, please.”
“And Harry’s too, of course, when he comes of age.”
“What about Ron?”
“Ron? You mean Ronald Weasley?”
“Yes—yes, of course.”
“Is he interested?”
“Oh, very. And he is of age, as of March first.”
“Hmmph…I heard he failed his Apparition Test.”
“Well, yes, but only by an eyebrow.” She giggled, remembering the absurdity of Ron’s missing out on his Apparition license because he had left behind a few curly red hairs.
Professor McGonagall was not amused. “So long as he knows it’s not just some lark.”
"I'll be frank with you, Miss Granger. I disagreed with the Headmaster when he chose Weasley to be a prefect. I understood that he wanted to give Potter a breather. But Dean Thomas would have been much the better choice to my way of thinking. And I have to tell you that Ronald's behavior this year did little to win me over. He was a rather reluctant leader if I do say so. And a bit overly distracted by his dalliances, if you take my meaning."
Hermione blushed at her teacher's Victorian euphemism for Ron and Lavender's carryings-on.
The Professor scanned her with a beady eye. "Admit it: you did most of the work this year—didn't you?" Without waiting for a reply, she shouldered her bag and took a bit of Floo Powder from the chamber pot on the mantel.
This unprovoked and marginally unprofessional outburst left Hermione stunned as she watched her teacher disappear in the fireplace. She wanted to shout, "What gives you the right to judge him like that?" Wait--why didn't you defend him when you had the chance? Hermione chided herself. Oh—you stupid fool, it's because you just can't resist a compliment, can you? She slumped down onto the big chair behind the desk and tried to argue away her guilt. It's true I had to remind him to do his patrolling a few times, and he did want to use his power of office to get back at the Slytherins, but he sacrificed just as much time as I did, and he didn't ask for much help with his homework--nothing like as much as he used to--and he had all those Quidditch practices and the pressure...he stuck with being a Keeper, even when he felt down about it. No one appreciates his analytical mind, his resiliency, the way he cares about his family and his faithfulness to his friends. Well, yes, there was Lavender…but he didn't know—I mean, really know—how I felt about it. Discouraged and guilt-ridden, she returned to her work.
She had finished most of McGonagall's chores, so she was left to opening drawers and looking under things for the list. She did this as unobtrusively as she could because she knew that the old Heads were sitting above her in their portraits on the walls. Dumbledore’s was up there too. She had gotten a good long look at it when she first came in. He was sleeping—still. Harry had had occasion to visit the office the day after his death. He was sleeping then, and no one since had reported him opening his eyes.
Now a new worry assailed her. What if the Aurors had found the list already? Sirius had said it was important that it not fall into the wrong hands. Did he even know Scrimgeour had broken into the office?
Somewhere overhead, a voice cleared itself and spoke. “Looking for something, Miss Granger?”
Hermione turned about. Former headmaster Armando Dippet was on his feet looking down at her from his portrait behind Dumbledore’s desk. "Uh, Headmaster, how are you?" she called up to him. "I—erm—I'm just cleaning up a bit—for the Headmistress--"
"A job you finished some time ago." A new voice, sharp with accusation came from behind her. She whirled around and recognized Dilys Derwent, whose picture she'd seen once enshrined at St. Mungo's Hospital.
Hermione blushed. She admired Headmistress Derwent greatly. She had distinguished herself in Wizard-dom not only as Head of Hogwarts, but before that as a Healer at St. Mungo's.
Healer Derwent continued, "You're looking for something, aren't you? What is it?"
"I can't tell you. Sirius—I mean—I promised someone--"
"Someone named Sirius," said Dilys.
"Surely not Sirius Black," opined Armando Dippet, who had settled himself back in his chair. "I hear he passed over last year."
"Not precisely," said a third voice. It belonged to a clever-looking wizard with a pointed beard and robes of Slytherin green. Hermione recognized Phineas Nigellus, Sirius's great-great-grandfather. He also had a portrait he could visit at Grimmauld Place, the ancestral home of the Black family, where the Order of the Phoenix held their meetings. "My dear, young, reckless offspring died, but he has not yet been allowed into the Beyond."
"What?" said Hermione in spite of herself. "Did he decide to stay on after all—as a ghost?" That would make Harry very happy. He missed his godfather terribly.
"And perhaps organize a few practical jokes with Peeves the Poltergeist or sneak a peek up a few witches' robes while he's at it?" Phineas Nigellus chuckled nastily. "It would be like him, but no. He was too eager to pass over to the Other Side and be with his—er—friends who preceded him. But I have it from Lord Death himself that Sirius Black died before his time, and you know what that means."
"No, I don't."
"My dear girl, I thought you were up on these things, your Muggle antecedents notwithstanding. Have you never read The Magicosmical Book of the Dead?"
Hermione shook her head.
"You should. I had a hand in writing the eighty-fifth revision. Quite good, if I do say so."
"Get on with it, Phineas," said Dilys, with an exasperated sigh. "Tell the girl why this person—your great-great-grand-whatever—cannot pass over into the Beyond, like the rest of us have. We all know you're just dying to."
"Well then, I will." He stood up and cleared his throat. "As I said, Sirius Black died too soon—by about a year. It was written in Death's appointment book that he was to pass over this summer after being garrotted with a hacksaw blade in a pick-up game of Troll Blood Ball."
Hermione remembered back to the day of Sirius's death. She had not herself witnessed it, having been felled earlier in the battle by a Death Eater's curse, but had heard about it later. His cousin, the evil Bellatrix Lestrange, had hit him with a curse, though not a lethal one. The momentum of his fall had, however, propelled him through a mysterious Veil covering an ancient stone arch in the center of the Ministry's Death Chamber, from which, it was said, no one could ever return once they passed through.
"So what does that mean?" she asked.
"He has to wait until it is his proper time. The Grim Reaper is very firm on that point."
"You mean he's an insufferable nit-picker," grumbled Dilys Derwent.
"Hush, Dilys," cautioned Armando Dippet, "you never know who might be listening."
"You mean Old Scythe-Swinger? What's he going to do, kill me?" She laughed harshly. "Anyway, he's much too busy to come to Hogwarts right now as long as Voldemort is on the loose."
"I think I see," said Hermione, who had been pondering Phineas Nigellus's last statement, and missed the collegial banter. "You're saying Sirius is dead, but he can't pass over yet, but somehow he can still appear to the living as a reflection, like in a bowl of soup."
"Is that how he came to you? How like him," said his great-great grandfather. "Always thinking about his stomach, that one. But actually that isn't the only way. His spirit can inhabit things—animate them—I mean corpses and such—"
"--but only so long as they won’t be missed, Phineas," put in Dippet, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet.
"I don't understand," said Hermione.
"Yes, yes, Armando. But the important point is that Lord Death can give him a body to walk around in—one that's no longer in use, but not too decayed, of course. One must be—er—presentable and not too odiferous, if you take my meaning."
Armando Dippet came back at him, "But he can't give him one of a person that's being prepared for burial, for example. You understand, young lady. It would naturally upset the Muggles if the body of a loved one sat right up the coffin and walked out during the viewing."
Hermione felt a bit of pique as she pondered these revelations. "Hold on. If Sirius Black could just put on a body like a coat from his closet, how come he hasn't come to visit us before this?"
"How do you know he hasn't?"
"Well, I mean, no one has come up to Harry this year and said, 'Excuse me, sonny, I know I don't look like him, but I'm really your godfather in the body of this eighty-year-old woman.'"
"Well, there's the trouble you see," said Phineas, "Most humans have relatives who care about them. They all get embalmed and viewed and buried in a trice. Mostly it's only animal bodies that are conveniently available for possession. You know, road kill and such."
"You mean Sirius may have come to us as a dog or a cat?"
"…or a hare or a toad or a squash bug…so long as their corpses were—er—serviceable."
"Hermione had a horrible thought. "You don't suppose—I mean—what if he was a fly and one of us—erm—swatted him?"
"Oh it wouldn't hurt him—much--but it is a tad inconvenient. He has to wait a while, you know—between avatars."
"Oh, right. Well that does help me to understand a little better. I mean if he were a dog, communication would be a bit difficult, wouldn't it? I mean I don't know of any spells that would let you understand dog language."
"Well, under certain circumstances, he can communicate with you telepathically, as I'm sure he did when he appeared to you in the reflection."
"Is that what he was doing? I understand now. It sounded like he was inside my head. But wait a minute. If he was able to appear to me in my soup all this time, why did he wait until now to do it?"
"Actually he shouldn't be able to. It's the House Elves' fault that he can."
"They're so distracted, they've let the protective spells lapse."
"You mean there are protective spells even on our food?"
"Only the reflective surfaces: soups and gravies and the occasional glazed ham."
Yes," said Dilys, "and the mirrors, windows, toilets, the lake, standing pools of water. They all need to be spirit-blocked."
"I don't understand."
For the first time, Headmaster Dippet entered the conversation. "My dear young lady, we don't allow just any homeless spirit to inhabit our castle. Those so-called 'reflective surfaces' are the primary way mischievous, wandering efreets and succubi make their way into ancient castles and ruins."
Hermione still looked bewildered, so he explained: "Mirrors and such are connected to the spirit world, though tenuously, you see. Sometimes, when a suitable opportunity arises, a particularly needy or energetic spirit can make the leap."
Hermione frowned at this. She had never heard of such a thing, and she'd read Hogwarts: a History from cover to cover at least a dozen times.
"Yes," said Phineas. "How do you think Peeves the Poltergeist got in here? You don't think he was invited, do you? No, it happened the last time there was a lapse in security."
"When was that?"
"If you must know, it was back in 'fifty-six when the Dark Lord visited Hogwarts and applied for the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."
"He did? What happened?"
"Dumbledore turned him down, of course. So, out of spite, he cast a spell on the position so that no one could hold it for more than one year. That required him to fool with the Space-Time continuum, and briefly opened a portal to the underworld, and in slipped our favorite little nuisance."
"Enough of this idle talk," said Dilys Derwent. "I want to know what it is you're looking for, young lady."
"Erm—it's a list."
"I suppose so, but we've cleaned everything up, and I've looked through his desk and his cupboards. I just can't find it anywhere."
"I take it that it's important."
"Sirius thinks it is. It's a list of things Professor Dumbledore needed to do."
"Oh, that sort. He was always making those. And we all know what he does with them."
"What?" Hermione asked, trying to keep any kind of emotion—excitement or trepidation--out of her voice.
Phineas Nigellus rolled his eyes. "He transforms them—usually into candy wrappers--and sticks them to the bottom of the wastebasket."
"Why would he do that?"
"He says—er—said that way it couldn't possibly be misplaced."
Hermione gave the portraits an odd look, but she went to the wastebasket and looked inside.
And indeed there was a Fizzing Whizbee wrapper stuck onto the underside of the basket with a piece of what looked like Drooble's Best Blowing Gum—cherry flavor. Hermione tapped it with her wand, saying "Reveal yourself," and it turned into a piece of parchment.
"This must be it," she said, scanning the graceful script. Thank you all."
Without further explanation or a hint of apology, she hurried off to meet Sirius Black.