Dolores was so cheerful when she arrived at the Improper Use of Magic Office that morning that she was humming a tune when she walked in.
“Isn’t it a beautiful day?” she announced to anyone and no one. “I feel good on a day like today.”
She twirled around once, and Mrs. Dinah Reed, a tall, stout, middle-aged woman who routinely made home visits to repeat offenders, stirred her tea as she stood by the counter top where the tea things were kept and said, “Ah, youth.” Mrs. Comer just regarded her with her eyebrows raised slightly.
As she applied herself to her stack of complaint letters in her not-missing-after-all inbox with an enthusiasm and industry she had scarcely felt since the night of the Christmas party, Dolores stopped briefly after every third or fourth letter to daydream about Mr. Crouch and about the specific action she should take to ensure the fruition of her dream. There were all the things she had been doing already, following the five pieces of advice she had received the previous August and making sure that Mr. Crouch was made aware of what she was doing. But now that seemed somehow inadequate.
Dolores responded to a few more letters and then took another thought break. She was beginning to perceive her deficiency. She had assumed that it would be enough just to show him how dedicated she was to the law, how eager to learn and be proficient, how focused on advancement. But now, when he would soon be reeling from the sudden loss of his wife, Dolores would need to appeal to him on an emotional level also.
Back to the letters. She continued reading, writing, notating on cards, filing, filling out the daily log and the summary report, until the inbox was almost empty. The good weather was getting people out of their houses again, both the potential offenders and the dedicated complainers like Magdala Miller, who had written another letter about witches and wizards whose names and addresses she did not even know, but whom she had seen in the street. Mrs. Miller was urging the Clothing Regulations Enforcement unit to send Enforcement Officers to walk up and down the pavement in her neighborhood, issuing citations on the spot to all oddly-dressed pedestrians. Dolores smiled to herself.It’s not going to happen, she thought, and she set that letter aside for Mrs. Comer to deal with.
What could she do, she wondered, to appeal to Mr. Crouch’s emotions, to show him she had a loving, nurturing heart, without seeming inappropriate to an already-married man. It occurred to her to turn her apparent focus from him to Mrs. Crouch and the upcoming baby. That wouldn’t raise anyone’s eyebrows — women were always holding baby showers for expectant mothers — but he wouldn’t fail to notice her kind and generous gesture.
Dolores snatched up a half-sheet of parchment and wrote a hasty note to Millie in Wizengamot Administrative Services.
Can we eat lunch together this noon? I need some advice. Thanks a heap.
She folded it in half, wrote Millie’s name on the outside, and stepped out of her cubicle. She stopped briefly to drop off Magdala Miller’s letter on Mrs. Comer’s desk.
“Here’s one that will give you a laugh. I’m taking a bit of a break.” She knew Mrs. Comer would assume she was going to the loo.
“Okay. Thanks, I could use a laugh,” Mrs. Comer replied, smiling up at Dolores. There was a stack of pale violet Interdepartmental Memo sheets on Mrs. Comer’s desk; they could be automatically flown like paper airplanes to the recipient, saving the writer a trip on foot, but Dolores did not want to ask Mrs. Comer for one. They probably weren’t supposed to be used for personal mail unrelated to work, and Dolores did not relish a scolding from her superior. She walked rapidly through the corridors to the Wizengamot Administrative Services and left the note with the receptionist.
In the lunchroom, sitting far away from the table where the wizards from the Litigations unit were eating, Dolores explained to Millie, “I want to give a baby gift to a witch who’s expecting her first baby, and I need some ideas about what would be good to give.”
“Ooh, a baby,” Millie exclaimed. “Is it anyone I know?”
“I don’t think so,” Dolores answered, laying out her lunch items on the table, a random assortment of foods she had thrown into her lunch sack that morning without much thought. “She doesn’t work here. She’s the wife of a friend, but I didn’t know her at school, so she must have been several classes ahead of us. At any rate, I thought it’d be kind to give them something, first baby and all. So what do you suggest?”
“Oh, let me see,” Millie said. She stared over Dolores’s shoulder, lost in thought. “Well, there’s always clothes. I hear you can’t have too many — they’re always peeing and pooping and spitting up on their clothes. Then there’s toys and books. They last longer, but the baby can’t use them right away.”
She directed her gaze back to Dolores’s face. “Is the family rich?”
“Rich?” said Dolores. “I don’t think so.”
“That’s good,” Millie declared. “It’s hard to get gifts for rich people. They can buy anything they want, so nothing’s special to them.”
“I want this gift to be special,” Dolores said through a mouthful of cheese and crackers.
Millie sighed. “Then you might go for something you make yourself, not something from a shop. People are always gratified when you go to the effort to make it yourself. Booties or a cap or a little sweater? Do you know how to knit?”
“Sort of,” Dolores said.
“Don’t worry,” Millie said. “The people at the knit shop can help you over the hard bits.” She opened up her cup of what looked like the previous night’s leftovers, murmured a warming charm to heat it up, and began to dig in with her fork.
“i don’t know,” Dolores reflected. “Caps and booties are sort of little.”
Millie swallowed the bite she was chewing and said, “You want to go big? Knit a blanket, a shawl. That can be as big as you want,” she stretched out her arms to indicate dimensions, “and since it’s always on the outside of the baby, it’ll show off nicely. And it can be used over again for the next baby.”
“That’s a wonderful idea. I knew I could count on you, Millie,” Dolores exclaimed, her wide mouth breaking into a smile. She picked up her apple and took a bite. It was rather mealy, being an out-of-season apple, but she didn’t mind.
“How much time do you have? That’s a big job if you want get it done before the baby comes.”
Dolores quickly counted on her fingers, remembering what the gossipmongers had said the previous day. “Four or five months, I think.”
“Oh, good,” Millie said. “Plenty of time if you get started soon.”
Early on Saturday morning Dolores walked down the smoothly worn cobblestones of Diagon Alley, looking for the yarn shop that she vaguely remembered was located there. When she was a child, her mother’s mother had taught her how to do plain knit and purl stitches, and she had knitted a doll-sized scarf, but after her family had split up, her mother and brother going back into the Muggle world, Dolores had lost all contact with her grandmother, and now she didn’t remember how to cast on or bind off. If she was going to knit a baby blanket, she had a lot to learn.
She wound her way along the street as it twisted and turned, exchanging “Good morning” greetings with the early shoppers passing by, until she came upon the little shop. The storefront was narrow, and the display window featured baskets turned on their sides with colorful skeins of yarn tumbling out of them and sample knitted garments displayed on mannequins. Over the window was a sign reading “Knitwits”.
The bell over the door tinkled as Dolores pushed the door open and entered. The proprietress was sitting on a stool behind the counter diligently knitting on a section of a jumper, using sage green yarn, but she looked up with a big smile as Dolores entered. She was young and pretty, with curly blonde hair, and Dolores felt an instant affinity with her.
“Welcome to my shop. How can I help you?” the young woman said, standing up and setting her knitting on the counter.
“Well, I want to knit a baby blanket — it’s for a gift — but I don’t exactly remember how to knit. My friend said you could help me.”
“I’m sure I can,” the yarn shop owner said cheerfully, coming out from behind the counter. “We have some excellent how-to books for beginners, and there are classes on Saturday afternoons if you want in-person instruction. And you can always drop in if you need help for a specific thing.”
“That sounds very nice.”
“Let me show you our how-to books and pattern books,” the woman said as she led Dolores to a revolving metal rack with a variety of books standing in its slots. There were a few books for teaching children to knit and more for adults. Dolores was drawn to one with lots of moving photographs to illustrate the basics. The shop owner also recommended a slightly more advanced book showing varieties of techniques for decorative motifs.
“Do you have a particular pattern already selected for your blanket?” she asked, and when Dolores shook her head, the young woman selected a few books devoted to knitting for babies. “Look through these and see if you find something you like. Take your time.”
Dolores sat on a wooden bench in a corner of the shop and turned the pages of the pattern books, carefully studying the pictures of baby clothes and blankets in soft sherbet colors. They were so cute and precious. If she could manage to knit a blanket like the ones in the books, Mr. Crouch would surely love it.
The decision was difficult, but she finally stood, up, walked over to the counter where the proprietress had resumed knitting on her jumper, and said, ”I’ve made my choice. It’s this one,” and she laid the book on the counter, open to the selected page. It was an intricate, lacy pattern with a scalloped border. “Do you think it will be too hard?” It had to be a spectacular gift, something that Mr. Crouch would not forget.
The woman looked at the picture and said, “No, I don’t think it will be too hard if you’re willing to work at it. I know it looks fancy, but it’s really just a half a dozen simple procedures done over and over. If you practice each procedure on little knitted squares, you’ll learn it quickly and then you’ll be ready to start on the real thing.”
Dolores felt her excitement growing with each passing moment. I’m really going to do this thing, she thought. She could hardly wait to get started.
“What color were you thinking of?” the woman asked, and Dolores realized she hadn’t thought of that.
“Um, I don’t know,” she said, feeling foolishly unprepared. “I haven’t really chosen a color.”
“Let me show you what we have in baby yarn. Will it be for a boy or a girl?” The woman started walking toward a wall display in which a myriad assortment of yarns in many colors were sitting in little compartments.
“Uh, I don’t know that yet either,” Dolores said.
“Well, if you want to go for a neutral choice, we have a light lemon yellow, or a soft green, or pale lavender, as well as the standard pink and blue. Here’s a nice apricot.”
Dolores just stared at all the pretty colors; there must have been a dozen different pastel shades, and she needed more time to analyze what would be the best. Something neutral? Something safe? Something unique?
“If you don’t want to choose right now, why not just buy the books and needles and a single skein of white yarn to practice on? Then, while you’re learning the stitches, you can think about the color.”
“Yes, that’s a good idea,” Dolores instantly agreed, and the woman took a skein of white yarn, selected the proper size of needles, and packed them in a bag with the books Dolores wanted. Dolores paid two Galleons twelve Sickles, thanked the woman for her help, and went out into the street.
The sun had risen higher, well above the tops of the buildings, and it filled the street with light as Dolores walked back toward the main part of Diagon Alley. The warmth of the sun felt good on her face, and she sat down on a bench facing the sun to soak in the heat. She reached into the bag, pulled out the pattern book, and opened it to the page of the blanket she was going to make. What color?
The more she thought about the shopkeeper’s suggestions, the surer she became that she did not want to settle for a safe, neutral color. That’s what everyone did. She wanted this blanket to be the right color, pink for a girl or blue for a boy.
Dolores thought back to her prophetic dream, closing her eyes and frowning. Had the matron said anything about whether it was a girl or a boy? No, the matron’s words repeated themselves in her brain: “His wife just died but the baby survived.” That was all. No clue whatsoever.
Maybe it could be Divined somehow, with tea leaves, or a crystal ball (she had never seen a crystal ball in usage except in her class at Hogwarts), or in the lines of someone’s palms? Whose? Surely not her own. She turned her hands palms upwards and looked at them, trying to recall what she had learned about palm-reading at school. Not the sex of unborn babies, that was for certain. She would try a cup of tea.
Dolores crossed the street to a tea shop, went inside, and ordered a cup of tea. After she had drunk it down to almost empty, she swirled the floating leaves in the last drops of liquid and turned the cup upside down over her saucer.
What am I looking for? she wondered as she studied the dark particles in the bottom of the cup. A letter B or G? M or F? Something that looks like genitalia? After all, that’s how we identify them when they’re born. She could see not images at all in the random placement of the leaves, and turning the cup and viewing it from different sides didn’t help. There was nothing recognizable. Finally she gave up and went back into the street.
There was only one more thing she could think of to try — a professional Seer. She started back along Diagon Alley, going all the way to the far end, down by the unpainted warehouses and seedy junk shops, and then back to the west end again, by the Leaky Cauldron, looking carefully on each side of the street, but there was no fortune-teller’s shop. Maybe in — and she shuddered to think of it — Knockturn Alley.
In all her visits to Diagon Alley, she had never looked down Knockturn Alley when she passed it, never wanted to. She had heard that it was full of establishments that dealt in the Dark Arts, that the goods for sale were gruesome and horrible, and that the people there were dangerous. There might be ogres or trolls or vampires in there.
But maybe there would be a fortune-teller, maybe close to the juncture with Diagon Alley, so that a respectable person who wanted his or her fortune told could just pop around the corner without having to go more than one door down the wretched street. She decided not to go home until she had at least peeked into Knockturn Alley, but not farther than two doors down on either side, where she would still be close to the light and air of Diagon Alley. If she didn’t see a fortune-teller’s shop, she would turn right around and go home.
Dolores took a deep breath, clutched the bag from the yarn shop even more tightly in her hand, and took a few hesitant steps into the narrow, dark street, from which the sunlight was excluded by the height of the buildings. Only at high noon in summer would the sunlight penetrate to these damp cobblestones coated with a thin layer of slime. The Alley twisted and turned out of sight; she could see only a short ways down it.
She looked to her right — the first shop. Its façade was partially revealed by light coming in from Diagon Alley, and through the unwashed glass she could see bundles of dried herbs, brown and gray, and desiccated bodies of small animals hanging by their hind feet. To her left, the first shop, obscured in deep shadow, displayed lengths of rope and chains hanging like a curtain in its window. Seemingly innocuous, utilitarian items, but in this milieu, who knew what they were enchanted to do?
She picked her way along the slick cobblestones to the distance of the second shops. On her right, the shop window held stacks of wire cages, each containing a bat hanging from its wiry ceiling. In the few seconds that she looked at the window, a few bats unfurled their wings and fluttered a little.
Dolores quickly turned her gaze to her left. The second shop on this side of the street had a narrow façade, even narrower than the yarn shop’s, and the window was entirely draped in scarves of deep hues, but against this background the letters in peeling gold paint could be read: Madam Leogane, Seer.
Dolores stopped walking and stared at the shop, torn between going up to the shop door or turning and fleeing. While she stood in the middle of the Alley, irresolute, two wizards dressed like businessmen entered Knockturn Alley from Diagon Alley and walked toward her, conversing normally — “…he expected me to give him the rest of the money.” “You don’t say.” They passed Dolores and continued down the street.
Their brief presence gave Dolores the courage to approach the Seer’s shop. Knockturn Alley was frighteningly dangerous in appearance, but if those wizards could walk through it unconcernedly, maybe she could also.
She pushed the creaking door open and entered. Inside the shop, all was in dimness, but she could see a small table in the center of the floor, flanked by two narrow high-backed wooden chairs and holding a crystal ball on a stand. The close-in walls were lined with shelves holding unlit candles and small items — metal bowls, statuettes, glass jars with unidentifiable black contents. The far wall of the little room was interrupted by a curtained doorway. The room was completely still.
Dolores waited for a moment, her eyes taking in the surroundings, but when nothing happened, she spoke.
“Is – ” Her voice was weak and hesitant, so she began again. “Is anyone here?” A few seconds later the curtain moved aside and a figure emerged from the back room.
It was a woman, thin, of medium height, with long dark hair shot through with gray. She was dressed in a long, narrow skirt and a long-sleeved overblouse, both garments of dark colors, but in the dimness Dolores could not discern their exact hues. Her eyes were dark and her nose was thin, with a wart on one side. One would not have called her a beldame, but Dolores recoiled a little — she might have been a hag, a young hag, to be sure, but nevertheless… Dolores had only ever seen an old hag, and that very rarely, but she was repelled by them. Hags were stupid, ugly, and full of warts. But this woman had only one wart, so Dolores was not certain.
“What is it you seek?” Madam Leogane asked, gazing levelly at Dolores.
“I want to know if an unborn baby will be a boy or a girl,” Dolores said.
“I see,” the Seer replied, looking Dolores up and down.
“Can you do that?” Dolores asked.
“How much will it cost?” Dolores hoped she had enough money in her money pouch. She had no idea what a Seer would charge.
Madam Leogane studied her for a few seconds more. “Five Galleons,” she finally said. “When is your baby due?”
“Oh, no,” Dolores stammered, “It’s … not for me. It’s for a friend.”
“I see,” Madam Leogane said, and she put her fingertips together. “It’s for a friend. That makes the process a little more difficult. Can you bring me a token of your friend, such as a strand of her hair? Her blood is related to the baby’s blood. I can reach him, or her, through that.”
A strand of Mrs. Crouch’s hair? Dolores had never laid eyes on her, much less visited her house. Dolores couldn’t imagine how she could obtain such a thing.
“Would it suffice to bring a strand of her husband’s hair? The baby is half his, so there would be a blood connection there too.”
The Seer cocked her head a little and look at Dolores out of the corner of her eye. “You cannot obtain a strand of your friend’s hair, but you can bring me a hair from her husband?”
Put so bluntly, the question seemed to lay bare all of Dolores’s motivations. She thought of her dream, how desperately she needed to facilitate the fulfillment of its prophecy. She tried to push the vision down, but it kept forcing itself into her consciousness. Not trusting her voice to speak, she merely nodded as the Seer stared into her face.
Suddenly Madam Leogane became all business-like. “That will do, a hair from the father’s head. Come back to see me when you have it, and I will give you a reading.” She turned and disappeared behind the curtain into the back room.
Dolores waited a moment, standing in the dim room by herself, but apparently the discussion was over, so she turned, left the shop, and hastened with relief back to the sunlight of Diagon Alley.