Empty Places
by Cynjen

Hermione felt dizzy. She saw spots before her eyes, red on purple, like staring at the sky and shutting your eyes tight; yellow fireworks on green and blue on lilac. Her mother took her to the doctor. Her father told the receptionist to call her patients to rebook their appointments.

He tested her for meningitis or menarche or migraine, or something. "Stick your tongue out like this," he said, and she laughed and swayed. "It's got a real purpose," he explained. "It's about your brain. Can you feel this?" He poked her in six places on her face. "Yes," she said, but she wasn't sure. He talked quickly and his accent lilted up and down in an agreeable way. She watched his lips moving behind his beard. "Follow this light with your eyes," he said. His teeth twinkled. "Clench your jaw, please. Now look to the left for me; no, don't turn your head." Afterwards, he led her back to her mother. "She's fine, Dr Granger," he said, but she saw him passing her a note on scratchy brown paper. The clock on the surgery wall read 2:30pm in flat, digital numbers.

"Hello, Hermione," the specialist said, her voice kind but guarded. "Have a seat, please." Her face wrinkled in an unnatural smile, her eyes constantly flicking down to the clipboard. "Now tell me, why have you come?"

She had got into trouble at school. Her spelling book had 10/10 in red ink on the bottom of every page before she'd even written in it. Mrs Gumling said she was a cheeky madam and sent her to the headmaster's office.

She dreamt frequently; coarse, scratchy dreams about dead things and empty places.

At dinner she felt gawkish, sitting opposite Lupin in a corner of the restaurant. She didn't think she'd like Thai food, but the curry wasn't strong and the coconut and chicken flavours melted together on her tongue. Lemongrass tickled her nose pleasantly, and she sucked on a quarter of lime while he chatted amiably about his schooldays. To start with she was only being polite, she thought, but now the chair was comfortable, the lighting was low and she felt mellow, like she was all wrapped up in cotton wool.

The snow on the path was thin, frozen crunchy, and it popped and squeaked under their hobnails like bubble wrap. Ron didn't know what bubble wrap was, and by the time Harry'd explained it, they were down at the school gates.

They went to London for her dad's fortieth and saw Starlight Express, the Saturday matinee. It was August and London smelled grimy and pollution made the hotel's flannel black when she washed her face before bed. The next day they went to Charing Cross Road, to spend the morning browsing the bookshops. She found a big hardback on Haitian Voodoo that looked interesting, but her parents' eyes met over her head and they bought her a pamphlet on Isambard Kingdom Brunel instead.

At lunchtime she was hungry and tired, but they wouldn't tell her where they were going to eat. She felt foreboding and counted the number of chewing-gum spots on the ground at her feet as her mum consulted the map. She was up to seventy-six when a man wearing a purple and silver shellsuit with a top hat stopped to ask the time. "It's a quarter to four," her father said, anxiously. It wasn't, she started to say, but the man in the hat told her parents to follow him, and they did without querying him. Her mother hushed her and when they arrived at a disused pub with boarded-up windows and rude words scratched on the chipboard, the man opened the door and they went in.

Her mother took her to the hairdresser's two days before school started. It stank of lotions and potions and sprays and gels, and her nose stung. The hairdresser sat Hermione on a tall stool in front of a mirror and she stared herself in the eye for half an hour while she listened to a commentary on her haircut. "Look how thick this is!" "I'm just going to take some of the weight out here, okay?" "What wonderful curls!" "Don't you look lovely?"

She saw Ginny's head, red pigtails swaying in the wind like the branches of a willow tree, back and forth and sighing softly. Her hair clashed with the brown, congealed blood on the pike. Hermione was sick on a carpet of daisies.

The grassy beach was packed with artists and sunbathers, their tents and leafy shelters crowding the fields inland. 'Hippies,' her dad would have said with a little snort of amusement, but her dad wasn't there and Viktor grabbed her by the hand and pulled her down below the gentle lapping waves and she screwed her eyes shut and felt him kissing her neck. In the sand he laid out a towel and lay down beside her, shading her eyes from the sun with his hand in the air while they talked about school and politics and little things until the light faded and it was too cold to just be wearing a bikini.

The moment Mr Ollivander put the wand in her hand she felt it sing to her, inside her head, like the descant soaring over the main theme. "Juniper, ten and a half inches," she heard him say.

"Is that good?" her father asked. She felt she ought to listen, but the sweet voice of the magic filled her mind, through and through and through.

"Magical Psychiatry?" the Welcome Witch asked in hushed tones. "Lower Ground Floor, ducky. That painting over there will let you through."

She knocked on the solid oak door, third on the right. "Lydwina Rosenhan's office," the door said in a friendly voice. "Do you have an appointment?"

"Yes," Hermione said. "12:15. Hermione Granger."

"Right-o. She'll be with you in a sec."

"Come in, Miss Granger," the specialist said, gently, "Sit down. Now, where would you like to begin?"


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