Merlin’s beard, Minna! This story deserves a rip-snorting review. I am taken aback by it.
First of all, the subject is so unusual; at least, I have never read anything about the Department of Mysteries and the work that is done there, or the employees who work there. All we know about that place is the vivid episode in The Order of the Phoenix, which was sufficiently confusing for me that I had to re-read those chapters in the book, putting special emphasis on trying to picture and memorize the physical layout of the department, to make it a little less of a surrealistic dream (or nightmare). So while your story is not a Missing Moment, it definitely takes its impetus from that one moment in the Harry Potter saga.
Interestingly, your story depicted the DoM workers as not mystical-minded but scientific-minded, which was a surprising choice for such a weird place, and yet it makes perfect sense, if one can just get beyond the impression that “This place is really weird.” The implication is that many very mysterious things (time, death, the human brain, etc) are being studied there in stringent fashion. The description of Millicent’s office brings to mind the little, ordinary office that was mentioned in OotP as being located off the Time Room.
I admire how you kept this story from being soppy or even extremely angsty. You depict Millicent as the consummate researcher, approaching the question of deciphering the whisperings from beyond the veil with a scientist’s curiosity but objective self-control. The “breathless wonder” and “goosebumps breaking out on her arms” are signs of scientific excitement, but not loss of control. But she subsequently discovers, as scientists often do, that the research isn’t leading anywhere very fast, but the slowness of the progress does not bother her; she says “That’s what this job is.”
You draw distinct differences in your characterizations of Millicent and Justin, and make it clear in the couple of expository sentences describing the two possible fates of DoM employees, either losing themselves in the pursuit of mysteries or abandoning the profession altogether. Apparently there is a third alternative, a striking of a balance such as what Croaker has achieved, and at first that is what Millicent seems to be aiming for. She thinks that with sensible precautions (the chained chair) she can deal with the possibly more revealing results that can be obtained by listening to the whispers of departed spirits on Hallowe’en night. A sensible, scientifically reasonable hypothesis.
She is not really prepared for how she reacts when, probably beyond her actual expectations of success for this particular experiment, the attempt actually works and she does manage to converse with Justin a little bit. It was interesting that you chose to have her emotions be anger at his having left her and his friends, not longing for him or a momentary impulse to join him; your choice was completely appropriate, both for her character and for what may be a common reaction when a person deliberately ends his or her own life. And it is appropriate that she ends the conversation then; what else was there to say?
So while “..she didn’t much like [the] idea,” she takes a break, maybe only temporary, because she rationally knows she needs some time off to deal with what she has been through.
You have kept Millicent very much in character throughout this story. Nice job there. The story is well structured; the flashbacks alternating with present-time narrative work well. My only comment is about the phrase “…her mind wandering again to the past.” It’s perfectly clear, and I have used that kind of phrase myself, but it seems like a stock phrase for signaling the reader that a flashback is coming up, and I wish we had a fresher way of saying that.
I am glad that you did not obscure the focus of the story by filling it up with descriptive details (we can read OotP for that) or excessive rumination about Millicent’s every thought; these things can clog up the storytelling, and in the end the storytelling is our reason for being here, in my opinion.
Very, very nice job.
That was interesting and sad. I never thought of the veil as sitting in a room as an actual thing. I thought it was like passing away--going through the veil--more of a saying than an actual thing. It's too bad Justin couldn't communicate back what the afterlife was like. This was a good story.
Author's Response: Afraid I can't take credit for the veil sitting in a room - that's taken straight from Order of the Phoenix. :) Thanks for reading; I'm glad you enjoyed.
Very imaginative little story.
Author's Response: Thank you. :) Hope you enjoyed.