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Threads of Hope by Oregonian

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Dolores did not see Mr. Crouch again until the middle of January. The fuchsia satin dress was long since hung up in the very back of her closet, and the wedding announcement that had been published in the Daily Prophethad been clipped out and placed on her dresser in her flat. She vacillated between wanting to throw it out and wanting to keep it forever — it had gone into her rubbish bin a few times and then been fished out again.

She spent long periods in the evenings staring at the photograph, trying to ascertain if Mr. Crouch looked happy. In her experience he rarely smiled, but shouldn’t he have been smiling more at his wedding, for Merlin’s sake? She studied the picture of the bride, a tiny, wispy, pale thing who didn’t look as if she had the stamina to pursue a career. What in the world did he see in her?

At the office her concentration was disturbed by conflicting feelings of anger and loss. One moment she would be mentally denouncing all men and determining to advance solely on her own merit; at these times she would work hard on her letters, her filing, and her reports. At other moments she would remind herself that there were other fish in the sea and that she should be casting her net for someone else. But who? Men her own age were silly buffoons, and men who, like Mr. Crouch, were old enough to show their potential were already spoken for. Even Mr. Gordon was probably linked to that Melissa woman.

But chiefly she mourned the loss of her dreams about Mr. Crouch. She played the scenes over and over in her mind, a dramatic tragedy with herself as the heroine, a sacrificial victim dressed in fuchsia satin, with a knife plunged into her heart.

The year had gone round the winter solstice and was making its yet-imperceptible climb toward a distant spring when Dolores saw Mr. Crouch in the lunchroom again. Sitting at her table, she studied him surreptitiously from a distance. He appeared the same as ever: tall, dark, lean, handsome, serious. The only change was the gold wedding band on his ring finger, as solid as if it had been glued on. Dolores tried not to look at it.

During his absence she had agonized about what her relationship to him should be — to ignore him completely as if he didn’t exist, or to maintain a friendly communication (she could hardly bear to think of it) as before. Now that he was back, she had to decide.

“Dolores, you’re a fool,” she said to herself that evening as she ate her supper in her little flat. “You’re mooning over a married man. He made his choice, He got what he wanted.” She stabbed her fork forcefully into the potato on her plate, and a couple of peas rolled onto the tabletop. Stuffing the piece of potato into her mouth, she attacked the chop with knife and fork.

The chop was tougher than the potato and took longer to chew, affording her a little time to calm down. “On the other hand,” she mused aloud after swallowing, “there’s no point in burning my bridges completely. I’ve got nothing to lose by keeping the lines of communication open. Who knows what the future will bring?” Images began to form in her mind — Mr. Crouch introducing her to an extremely eligible bachelor wizard, praising her to him…Mr. Crouch belatedly realizing he had nothing in common with his wispy wife and seeking a divorce…

At the next monthly meeting, she decided, she would speak to him, congratulating him on his marriage and wishing him and his wife well. That would make a favorable impression.

So Dolores continued attending the monthly seminars, she volunteered to work on a couple of committees in the department (not that he would necessarily notice, but they might lead to more visible assignments) and she began saving her money again for the national conference in October. When the moment came, she wanted to be ready.

The moment came in April, although not what Dolores had expected. The lunchroom gossip crew, the older witches who liked to keep their noses in everybody’s business, were sitting at a table next to Dolores’s, swapping bits of the latest news. Dolores was eating alone, supposedly reading a textbook recommended by the librarian, but paying more attention to the revelations coming from the adjacent table than to the printed page.

“Doris told me that the young man in Litigations, you know the tall, dark fellow who got married last December,” — Dolores pricked up her ears; this was doubtless Mr. Crouch the witch was referring to — “well, he and his wife are expecting a baby. Fancy that!”

“He’s only been married, let me see, four months,” another member of the gossip crew remarked. “He certainly doesn’t waste any time.”

“How does Doris know?” another of the old ladies asked. “Did he tell her?”

“No, no,” the first witch said. “She saw it on his time card. He’s been taking time off once a month since January to take his wife to appointments at St. Mungo’s. Once a month, you get it?” she said slyly, poking her bench mate in the side with her elbow.

Dolores turned back to her book, but she wasn’t reading at all anymore. I wanted to know what he saw in her. I wanted to know what they had in common. Well, now I know what they have in common, and it’s not a love of the law! Damn, damn, damn! They’re all alike.

She gathered up her book, her bag, and the remains of her lunch and walked rapidly out of the lunchroom. By the time she reached her cubicle, she was almost running. She threw herself into her chair and put her head down on her arms, trying not to cry.

London was enjoying a rare week of clear skies in early spring, and the sun was still up when Dolores left work by Apparating to an empty space behind an old warehouse building near her neighborhood. She came out into the alleyway beside the warehouse and slowly walked out to the road, keeping her eyes on the pavement where stunted weeds were sprouting in the cracks and scattered bits of waste paper were strewn about.

Arriving at the end of the alley, she turned right into the main road and passed a block of storefronts where shopkeepers had already set out their large planter boxes for spring and some of the flowering plants in them were starting to bloom. But no sight of flowers or sunlight could elicit a smile from Dolores. She arrived at her block of flats and climbed the stairs on leaden feet until she reached her tiny flat, let herself in the door, and flopped down on the bed. Fixing food seemed like more trouble than it was worth. Misery filled her entire body, and she just wanted to go to sleep. After lying almost motionless for about an hour, she dragged herself up and made a sandwich, then sat at her little table, eating slowly.

It wasn’t fair Life wasn’t fair.

The sun had gone down and blue twilight was settling over Dolores’s street, except where the street lamps made pools of yellow light on the pavement. Dolores had not turned on the lamps in her flat; she just sat before her table in the gloom, the empty plate in front of her, and stared out her window. I’m back to square one, she thought. What do I do now? Start all over?

I’ll worry about that tomorrow, she told herself. With effort she stood up, put her plate in the sink, undressed, and went to bed.

Dolores found herself in the large meeting room at the Ministry where the monthly educational seminars were conducted. People were milling around the room, but no lecture was being given, and she wasn’t sure why she was there. Perhaps a test was about to be given, but she hadn’t studied for it. She went out the door and immediately found herself in her cubicle. There should have been a stack of letters in her inbox, but it was empty, and as she searched for them, she realized that she could no longer find the inbox either. Her surroundings changed — she was in an empty, white-walled hallway that wasn’t completely straight, it zigged and zagged around corners, and doors on either side were partially open, affording glimpses into white-walled rooms. Somehow she knew that this was St. Mungo’s Hospital, although it was oddly silent and devoid of people. Suddenly she heard the sound of sobbing, and she turned her head and saw Mr. Crouch standing close to her with his head bent and his face in his hands. Then she noticed another woman in the hallway whom she took to be a matron, and she asked, “What’s the matter with him?” The matron replied, “His wife just died but the baby survived.” Dolores turned back to Mr. Crouch, who removed his hands from his tear-stained face and said, “Oh, Dolores, I’m so glad you’re here.”

She woke with a start, her eyes popping open in the darkness of her bedsitter. It took a moment for her to realize that she was not at St. Mungo’s Hospital, but in bed at her flat, which was faintly illuminated by the weak rays of the street lamp up the street. She could make out the outlines of the doors to her closet and her kitchenette, nothing more.

What a vivid dream! She still felt the emotions of shock and dismay that a woman had died in childbirth, and joy that Mr. Crouch, in his grief, had turned to her. She hugged that memory to her — “Oh Dolores, I’m so glad you’re here,” — and replayed it in her mind repeatedly, even though she knew that it was only a dream, not an actual event, because it had given her a moment of such happiness.

She had no idea what time it was, whether midnight or near morning. She fumbled on her nightstand for her wand. Lumos! She pointed the light toward the clock: five a.m.

Dolores threw back the bedclothes and leaped to her feet. She turned on the lamp and hastened to the closet, where she opened the door, knelt down in her night dress, and tugged a heavy cardboard box out into the room. The box contained all her old Hogwarts textbooks, and she pulled them out, one by one, making stacks of books around her on the floor, until she found what she was looking for — Divination: an Introduction to Interpretation of Dreams.

Ignoring the stacks and the half-empty box, she sat at her table and eagerly opened the book — Prophetic Dreams, Revelatory Dreams, Dreams of Discovery, Significance of Place…of Persons…of Objects…of Actions…of Events… She flipped the pages from chapter to chapter, her eyes racing over the lines, searching for passages that pertained to the dream she had just experienced.

Slowly the sky grew lighter as Dolores sat at her table by the window, reading, and when she next looked at the clock, she was surprised to see that an entire hour had elapsed. Time to start getting ready for work. Reluctantly she closed the book and stood up. If only there was someone she could discuss all this with. She had never confided to anyone about her feelings for Mr. Crouch, and certainly after his marriage she couldn’t say anything. People would have laughed to hear her fantasy that he would leave his wife in favor of her. But now everything was different.

There were some points about which she was not certain. Clearly this was a prophetic dream. She would be taking an important examination in the future, for which she must be sure to be well prepared. She would be leaving her position as a Clothing Regulations Enforcement Officer, presumably for a better position somehow connected with that examination, and Mr. Crouch would become a free man upon the unfortunate death of his wife, and she, Dolores, would have an opportunity to step into that vacancy.

Mechanically she went through the motions of bathing, dressing, cooking, eating, packing her lunch, scarcely noticing what she wore or ate, so occupied was her mind with this new vision of her future. A big question in her mind, the answer to which she did not recall from her Divination classes at Hogwarts, was whether the dreams indicated things that would happen inevitably, unavoidably, or whether they just indicated things that could happen, given some positive effort on the dreamer’s part. For example, a revelatory dream could tell the dreamer the location of a lost or hidden object, but if the dreamer didn’t make the effort of going to the specified location, he still wouldn’t regain the lost object.

She applied this logic to the three prophecies of her dream as she automatically washed her breakfast dishes with her wand and replaced them in the cupboard. The better job might be gained through an unexpected offer for a position she hadn’t applied for. But it was hard to imagine that she would be taking an examination if she hadn’t first taken the steps of enrolling in and attending a class. And as for Mr. Crouch’s turning to her after his wife’s untimely death, well, it couldn’t hurt to nudge that along a little bit. No point in leaving everything to chance.

I wish I could ask someone about this, she thought. In general terms, of course. No details. Was there anyone at the Ministry who knew about prophetic dreams? Probably someone in the Department of Mysteries, but she didn’t have the foggiest notion how to contact them. Maybe she could send an owl to her old Divination professor at Hogwarts.
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