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Threads of Hope by Oregonian

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In the first few days of September, Dolores began attending the Introduction to Law class three times a week for an hour in a classroom located in the Wizengamot Administrative Services. She tried to persuade Millie to enroll also, so that they could study together, but Millie said she wasn’t interested.

“I don’t know why you want to work so hard, Dolores,” Millie said when they met in the lunchroom at noon. “You never do anything fun anymore. All summer long, you never went out with us to pubs or concerts or — anywhere. Don’t you want to get out a little, meet some men maybe?”

“I was saving my money to pay for this course,” Delores said. “And I meet men here.” She started eating her sandwich. She had paid for her class and had saved almost enough to register for the October national conference. There would be other classes in the future, but she had received a rise in pay after her first year on the job, and she could put better food in her lunch sack.

“Oh yeah, stuffy lawyer types and nose-in-the-books blokes. Are there any cute second-year interns in your class, or do you go for the older men?”

“Don’t be daft, Millie. I can’t help it if I want to make something of myself.” And I can’t do anything now but wait and see how things turn out. She had read her textbook about interpretation of dreams backwards and forwards since that appalling day in Diagon Alley, but had come no closer to finding the answer to her question: will a prophetic dream come to fulfillment automatically, or does the result depend upon the dreamer’s subsequent actions? She had seen other books in Flourish and Blotts about dreams, but she didn’t know which, if any, addressed her particular question. She had skimmed a few, but she couldn’t stand in the aisles reading them all as if the bookstore were a public library. The shop was crowded in August with students looking for textbooks, and Dolores could not have afforded to buy anything anyway.

It was time to present the baby blanket to Mr. Crouch, before the baby was born, so that he could see what a wonderful gift she had given him. It was risky for her to wait any longer; sometimes babies arrived ahead of their due date, and she wanted her kindness to be fresh in his mind when the baby was born.

In the evening she admired the exquisite pink blanket one more time before carefully folding it into a compact bundle the shape of a large loaf of bread and wrapping it in pastel paper she had bought at the stationery shop. She tied the bundle shut with a white satin ribbon, adjusting the loops and tails of the bow to make them exactly even. Then she penned a congratulatory note on an ivory-colored card, also from the stationery shop, and wrote ‘Mrs. Crouch’ on the face of the envelope. From the wedding announcement that she had clipped from the Daily Prophet she knew that the woman’s given name was Vivienne. It seemed eerie to be preparing a gift for someone who might be fated to die within a matter of days. She left the gift sitting splendidly alone in the middle of her table and went to bed.

Dolores considered carefully how she was going to present this treasure to Mr. Crouch. Not at the monthly seminar, which was coming up soon; he usually sat with his colleagues there. Not in the lunchroom — that location was too crowded, too noisy, too public, too undignified. Perhaps at his office, but not in the early morning when he would be feeling pressed to get to work. In the evening, as he was leaving, yes, that would be it. She put the gift in a bag to protect it and took it to work, where it sat under her desk in its bag all day long.

At five o’clock she took the bag, left her cubicle, and went to the Litigators’ unit. Some lawyers were leaving — she saw Colbert Gordon heading towards the lifts in the company of another wizard, conversing about business — but she didn’t see Mr. Crouch. She ducked through the door, dodging wizards going in the opposite direction, and waved her bag at the receptionist without breaking stride.

“Delivery for Mr. Crouch.”

She headed briskly down the corridor to the Litigators’ private offices, turned the corner and stopped in front of his door. It was closed She rapped tentatively, and a voice from within said, “Come in.”

She pushed the door open and took a few steps into the office.

“Hello, Mr. Crouch.” She held out the bag a little ways. “This is a gift for your wife. Well, really it’s for the baby. It’s a blanket, a baby shawl that I knitted.”

He stood up from his desk and came around the end of it. His eyes had widened a little at her speech. He looks surprised, she thought, but not displeased.

“How kind of you. That must have been a lot of work.”

“Oh, no,” she replied. “It was a labor of love. I mean, uh, I love to knit. It’s my favorite hobby. But I don’t need any more jumpers for myself, so I make things to give to other people.”

She stopped, realizing that she was starting to babble, and covered her confusion by reaching into the bag, lifting out the package, and handing it to him.

Ho took it into his hands with one of his very rare (in her experience) smiles. “Thank you so much. I will take it home to my wife and let her have the pleasure of unwrapping it. I was just leaving.”

He turned and picked up his briefcase. Dolores noticed that the coat tree in the corner behind the armchair was bare — the weather was too warm for cloaks. He started to walk towards the door, so Dolores did too, a step or two ahead of him. She looked back at him and said, “I hope she will like it.”

“I am certain it will be lovely, coming, as it does, from the hands of a skilled knitter.”

They left the office and he walked rapidly down the corridor toward the exit of the Litigators’ unit. She hung back a little and watched his retreating back. Only eighteen more days to Mrs. Crouch’s due date. Dolores was counting the days, one by one.

Later that evening, shortly before she went to bed, an owl arrived at her window bearing a message. It was a thank-you note from Mrs. Crouch on monogrammed paper – VBC – expressing her warm appreciation for the beautiful baby shawl and all the work that had gone into its making, and signed ‘Gratefully, Vivienne Crouch’. The handwriting was neat and feminine, but Dolores steeled herself not to feel sympathy for the woman who was revealed through this note. Vivienne’s fate would be what it would be.

By Friday, September twenty-eighth, Dolores still had not heard any news, and she felt like a child eagerly awaiting the arrival of Father Christmas, with all the anticipation, hopes and fears of disappointment that always accompanied that season of getting, or not getting, one’s heart’s desire.

In other matters, the 1962 National Conference of Magical Law was almost at hand. Dolores had managed to save the necessary sum to pay the registration fee, and Mrs. Comer had agreed to allow her to attend the three-day event if she was willing to count it as part of her annual vacation.

Thus it was that Dolores paid a visit on Friday morning to the Payroll Office, which shared space on level six with the Department of Magical Transportation. Here were the clerks who dealt with payrolls, timesheets, vacation requests, pensions, payments for sick leave, and terminal payouts when an employee retired. Dolores needed to file a request for paid vacation days for October tenth, eleventh, and twelfth to be included in her next pay packet. As she went down in the lift to level six, she looked forward with pride to being able to let the clerks know that she would be attending the conference. That would be impressive; it would mark her in their minds as somebody special, someone on her way to becoming important.

Once on level six, she walked rapidly past the areas of the Floo Network Authority, the Broom Regulatory Control, The Portkey Office, and the Apparition Test Centre, and down a plainer, narrower corridor to the Payroll Office. This would be such a dull area to work in. Nothing but columns of numbers. They must be bored out of their minds. She pushed the door open and entered a large room with rows of desks occupied by witches doing paperwork. Ranks of filing cabinets lined the walls.

Dolores stopped at the closest desk and asked the plump, frizzy-haired witch who was sitting there, “Excuse me, can you direct me to Mary Boyce? I’m supposed to give this paper to her.”

“Sure thing, honey,” replied the witch, using her quill as a pointer. “She’s that rather skinny lady over there, the one in the green robes.”

Dolores looked where the witch was pointing and immediately recognized the person indicated: she was one of the ‘gossip crew’ with whom Dolores was so familiar from frequent lunchroom observations, although until that very moment Dolores had never known what department those witches were from, nor their individual names.

“Thank you,” she said, and she skirted around the edge of the room until she reached Mary’s desk.

“Excuse me, I’m supposed to give you this vacation request form for the next pay period. Sorry it’s on such short notice. It’s for the National Conference of Magical Law, which is in less than two weeks. I’m going to be attending…”

Mary looked up at Dolores to take the paper from her hand, and recognition dawned on her face. “Say, you’re the intern who asked me to find out Bartemius Crouch’s wife’s due date last June. I was just thinking of you today.”

“Oh?” Dolores responded.

“Yeah, we just got a message from the gentleman himself this morning. He owled the office to say he’s going to be on leave all next week. His wife delivered her baby last night!” Mary delivered this news triumphantly, as Dolores had often overheard her speak in the lunchroom while sharing a particularly savory piece of gossip.

Dolores’s heart began to pound. “Did she deliver at St. Mungo’s?” she asked anxiously.

Mary’s smile faded and her face took on a quizzical look. “Why, I don’t know. He didn’t say. The note just said ‘Wife and son doing fine.’ ” Her face beamed again. “A little boy, isn’t that nice. Don’t you just love babies? They’re so sweet.”

Dolores was stunned. A boy! “Oh, yes,” she said after a moment’s hesitation. “I – I’ve got to get back to work now.” She turned and walked swiftly out of the payroll office and down the narrow corridor, scarcely seeing where she was going.

Her mind was in a daze. That wasn’t how it was supposed to be. The dream had prophesied that Mrs. Crouch would die in childbirth, not that she would be ‘fine’. Maybe she’ll take a sudden turn for the worse, Dolores thought, but she knew that she was grasping at increasingly unlikely straws. Dying later was not what the dream had prophesied.

A boy! An image arose in her mind of Mr. and Mrs. Crouch holding up the baby blanket and laughing at it. Her mind’s ear heard them saying, “Look at it — it’s all pink. Our son can’t wear pink. What will we do with it? We can’t use it.” Dolores was engulfed with humiliation. Everything was falling apart.

By the time she reached the lifts to go back to the Improper Use of Magic Office on level two, Dolores’s initial shock and disappointment was morphing into anger. This catastrophe was someone’s fault. Her hopes had been dashed, her efforts had been for naught, and someone was to blame.

Not Mr. Crouch, she decided. Her feelings of attraction to him still lingered. She remembered the times when he had spoken to her kindly and helpfully, although he did make the mistake of marrying that other woman, but fate had been supposed to take care of that.

Not herself, surely. She had done nothing wrong. Her intentions had always been the best. And she had tried so hard. The worthless dream book had fooled her.

And that Seer had lied to her, tricked her, stolen her money, all eight hard-earned Galleons.

The lift arrived at her level and the doors slid open. Dolores entered and raised her hand to press the button for level two, but on an instant impulse she changed her mind. She could not go back to her little cubicle at the Clothing Regulations Enforcement unit just yet and act as if nothing had happened. She pressed the button for level eight, and the lift rumbled downwards.

“Level eight. Atrium,” the disembodied voice announced as the lift stopped and the doors opened. Dolores walked out into the wide, splendid hall with its lofty ceiling. It was not overcrowded at this hour, and she found a bench of polished dark wood to sit on. None of the passersby would disturb her there.

That Seer, Madam Leogane, was an utter fraud. I should have known I couldn’t trust anyone in Knockturn Allery, she thought. They were all thieves and liars. Madam Leogane had even tried to trick her into murdering Mrs. Crouch. All that mumbo-jumbo about the hairs and the silver bowl had just been a trick to try to get more money from her. It hadn’t really meant anything. Madam Leogane had just been guessing. She couldn’t really Divine the future. Why else would she say that the baby was a girl when it was actually a boy?

That deceitful liar probably wasn’t really ‘Madam’ anybody. She had no credentials except fakery, a false title for an evil witch. Ha! She probably wasn’t even a witch. She looked like a hag, or at least a half-hag. That was it!

Dolores clenched her fist and pounded it on her thigh as she sat on the bench. No real witch would have done something like what Madam Leogane did. But what could you expect from a hag? Or a goblin, like the ones who worked at Gringotts and always looked so sinister and unfriendly? Or a giant, like that big man that worked at Hogwarts as gamekeeper when she was a student there? Come to think of it, she had never liked him.

She opened her hands and gazed mournfully at them as they lay in her lap. She had wasted a whole year. All that money spent on her Christmas party finery, money she could ill-afford. She had made a fool of herself.

And she had worked so hard knitting. She still had a callus on one finger. She would never knit anything again. Well, maybe one thing — a noose for that hag. She would love to see her swing. Hatred rose up in Dolores again — if anyone deserved to be murdered, or to go to Azkaban, it was Madam Leogane.

The Fountain of Magical Brethren, in the middle of the Atrium, was directly across from the bench where Dolores was sitting. She stared across the Atrium at it — the tall golden statues of the noble-looking wizard and witch. She imagined that they were statues of herself and…and somebody Not Mr. Crouch, she knew now, but some other pureblood wizard, important and well-respected.

And clustered below the golden witch and wizard were the statues of the non-human beings, the centaur, the goblin, and the house-elf. There were other non-human creatures that could have been included in the grouping, she reflected — hags, werewolves, vampires, giants… who were all dangerous to real witches and wizards such as herself. Even worse than Muggles, such as her long-vanished mother. A feeling of revulsion ran through her at the thought of how closely she had been associated with Muggles on her mother’s side. No more.

Dolores had been slumping on the bench, but now she sat up erect, steel in her spine. Her mind was made up, and for the first time she saw her way clearly.

None of these inferior creatures would ever harm her again.
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