'Mimbulus mimbletonia,' said Hermione, before the Fat Lady could ask. The
portrait swung open to reveal the hole behind it and the three of them scrambled
The common room was almost empty; nearly everyone was still down at dinner.
Crookshanks uncoiled himself from an armchair and trotted to meet them, purring
loudly, and when Harry, Ron and Hermione took their three favourite chairs at
the fireside he leapt lightly on to Hermione's lap and curled up there like
a furry ginger cushion. Harry gazed into the flames, feeling drained and exhausted.
'How can Dumbledore have let this happen?' Hermione cried suddenly, making
Harry and Ron jump; Crookshanks leapt off her, looking affronted. She pounded
the arms of her chair in fury, so that bits of stuffing leaked out of the holes.
'How can he let that terrible woman teach us? And in our OWL year, too!'
'Well, we've never had great Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers, have
we?' said Harry. 'You know what it's like, Hagrid told us, nobody wants the
job; they say it's jinxed.'
'Yes, but to employ someone who's actually refusing to let us do magic! What's
Dumbledore playing at?'
'And she's trying to get people to spy for her,' said Ron darkly.
'Remember when she said she wanted us to come and tell her if we hear anyone
saying You-Know-Who's back?'
'Of course she's here to spy on us all, that's obvious, why else would Fudge
have wanted her to come?' snapped Hermione.
'Don't start arguing again,' said Harry wearily, as Ron opened his mouth
to retaliate. 'Can't we just: let's just do that homework, get it out of the
They collected their schoolbags from a corner and returned to the chairs
by the fire. People were coming back from dinner now. Harry kept his face averted
from the portrait hole, but could still sense the stares he was attracting.
'Shall we do Snape's stuff first?' said Ron, dipping his quill into his ink.
"The properties: of moonstone: and its uses: in potion-making:'" he muttered,
writing the words across the top of his parchment as he spoke them. There.'
He underlined the title, then looked up expectantly at Hermione.
'So, what are the properties of moonstone and its uses in potion-making?'
But Hermione was not listening; she was squinting over into the far corner
of the room, where Fred, George and Lee Jordan were now sitting at the centre
of a knot of innocent-looking first-years, all of whom were chewing something
that seemed to have come out of a large paper bag that Fred was holding.
'No, I'm sorry, they've gone too far,' she said, standing up and looking
positively furious. 'Come on, Ron.'
'I - what?' said Ron, plainly playing for time. 'No - come on, Hermione -
we can't tell them off for giving out sweets.'
'You know perfectly well that those are bits of Nosebleed Nougat or - or
Puking Pastilles or -'
'Fainting Fancies?' Harry suggested quietly.
One by one, as though hit over the head with an invisible mallet, the first-years
were slumping unconscious in their seats; some slid right on to the floor, others
merely hung over the arms of their chairs, their tongues lolling out. Most of
the people watching were laughing; Hermione, however, squared her shoulders
and marched directly over to where Fred and George now stood with clipboards,
closely observing the unconscious first-years. Ron rose halfway out of his chair,
hovered uncertainly for a moment or two, then muttered to Harry, 'She's got
it under control,' before sinking as low in his chair as his lanky frame permitted.
That's enough!' Hermione said forcefully to Fred and George, both of whom
looked up in mild surprise.
'Yeah, you're right,' said George, nodding, 'this dosage looks strong enough,
'I told you this morning, you can't test your rubbish on students!'
'We're paying them!' said Fred indignantly.
'I don't care, it could be dangerous!'
'Rubbish,' said Fred.
'Calm down, Hermione, they're fine!' said Lee reassuringly as he walked from
first-year to first-year, inserting purple sweets into their open mouths.
'Yeah, look, they're coming round now,' said George.
A few of the first-years were indeed stirring. Several looked so shocked
to find themselves lying on the floor, or dangling off their chairs, that Harry
was sure Fred and George had not warned them what the sweets were going to do.
'Feel all right?' said George kindly to a small dark-haired girl lying at
'I - I think so,' she said shakily.
'Excellent,' said Fred happily, but the next second Hermione had snatched
both his clipboard and the paper bag of Fainting Fancies from his hands.
'It is NOT excellent!'
'Course it is, they're alive, aren't they?' said Fred angrily.
'You can't do this, what if you made one of them really ill?'
'We're not going to make them ill, we've already tested them all on ourselves,
this is just to see if everyone reacts the same -'
'If you don't stop doing it, I'm going to -'
'Put us in detention?' said Fred, in an I'd-like-to-see-you-try-it voice.
'Make us write lines?' said George, smirking.
Onlookers all over the room were laughing. Hermione drew herself up to her
full height; her eyes were narrowed and her bushy hair seemed to crackle with
'No,' she said, her voice quivering with anger, 'but I will write to your
'You wouldn't,' said George, horrified, taking a step back from her.
'Oh, yes, I would,' said Hermione grimly. 'I can't stop you eating the stupid
things yourselves, but you're not to give them to the first-years.'
Fred and George looked thunderstruck. It was clear that as far as they were
concerned, Hermione's threat was way below the belt. With a last threatening
look at them, she thrust Fred's clipboard and the bag of Fancies back into his
arms, and stalked back to her chair by the fire.
Ron was now so low in his seat that his nose was roughly level with his knees.
Thank you for your support, Ron,' Hermione said acidly.
'You handled it fine by yourself,' Ron mumbled.
Hermione stared down at her blank piece of parchment for a few seconds, then
said edgily, 'Oh, it's no good, I can't concentrate now. I'm going to bed.'
She wrenched her bag open; Harry thought she was about to put her books away,
but instead she pulled out two misshapen woolly objects, placed them carefully
on a table by the fireplace, covered them with a few screwed-up bits of parchment
and a broken quill and stood back to admire the effect.
'What in the name of Merlin are you doing?' said Ron, watching her as though
fearful for her sanity.
They're hats for house-elves,' she said briskly, now stuffing her books back
into her bag. 'I did them over the summer. I'm a really slow knitter without
magic but now I'm back at school I should be able to make lots more.'
'You're leaving out hats for the house-elves?' said Ron slowly. 'And you're
covering them up with rubbish first?'
'Yes,' said Hermione defiantly, swinging her bag on to her back.
That's not on,' said Ron angrily. 'You're trying to trick them into picking
up the hats. You're setting them free when they might not want to be free.'
'Of course they want to be free!' said Hermione at once, though her face
was turning pink. 'Don't you dare touch those hats, Ron!'
She turned on her heel and left. Ron waited until she had disappeared through
the door to the girls' dormitories, then cleared the rubbish off the woolly
'They should at least see what they're picking up,' he said firmly. 'Anyway:'
he rolled up the parchment on which he had written the title of Snape's essay,
'there's no point trying to finish this now, I can't do it without Hermione,
I haven't got a clue what you're supposed to do with moonstones, have you?'
Harry shook his head, noticing as he did so that the ache in his right temple
was getting worse. He thought of the long essay on giant wars and the pain stabbed
at him sharply. Knowing perfectly well that when the morning came, he would
regret not finishing his homework that night, he piled his books back into his
'I'm going to bed too.'
He passed Seamus on the way to the door leading to the dormitories, but did
not look at him. Harry had a fleeting impression that Seamus had opened his
mouth to speak, but he sped up and reached the soothing peace of the stone spiral
staircase without having to endure any more provocation.
* * *
The following day dawned just as leaden and rainy as the previous one. Hagrid
was still absent from the staff table at breakfast.
'But on the plus side, no Snape today' said Ron bracingly.
Hermione yawned widely and poured herself some coffee. She looked mildly
pleased about something, and when Ron asked her what she had to be so happy
about, she simply said, The hats have gone. Seems the house-elves do want freedom
'I wouldn't bet on it,' Ron told her cuttingly. They might not count as clothes.
They didn't look anything like hats to me, more like woolly bladders.'
Hermione did not speak to him all morning.
Double Charms was succeeded by double Transfiguration. Professor Flitwick
and Professor McGonagall both spent the first fifteen minutes of their lessons
lecturing the class on the importance of OWLs.
'What you must remember,' said little Professor Flitwick squeakily perched
as ever on a pile of books so that he could see over the top of his desk, 'is
that these examinations may influence your futures for many years to come! If
you have not already given serious thought to your careers, now is the time
to do so. And in the meantime, I'm afraid, we shall be working harder than ever
to ensure that you all do yourselves justice!'
They then spent over an hour revising Summoning Charms, which according to
Professor Flitwick were bound to come up in their OWL, and he rounded off the
lesson by setting them their largest ever amount of Charms homework.
It was the same, if not worse, in Transfiguration.
'You cannot pass an OWL,' said Professor McGonagall grimly, 'without serious
application, practice and study. I see no reason why everybody in this class
should not achieve an OWL in Transfiguration as long as they put in the work.'
Neville made a sad little disbelieving noise. 'Yes, you too, Longbottom,' said
Professor McGonagall. There's nothing wrong with your work except lack of confidence.
So: today we are starting Vanishing Spells. These are easier than Conjuring
Spells, which you would not usually attempt until NEWT level, but they are still
among the most difficult magic you will be tested on in your OWL.'
She was quite right; Harry found the Vanishing Spells horribly difficult.
By the end of a double period neither he nor Ron had managed to vanish the snails
on which they were practising, though Ron said hopefully he thought his looked
a bit paler. Hermione, on the other hand, successfully vanished her snail on
the third attempt, earning her a ten-point bonus for Gryffindor from Professor
McGonagall. She was the only person not given homework; everybody else was told
to practise the spell overnight, ready for a fresh attempt on their snails the
Now panicking slightly about the amount of homework they had to do, Harry
and Ron spent their lunch hour in the library looking up the uses of moonstones
in potion-making. Still angry about Ron's slur on her woolly hats, Hermione
did not join them. By the time they reached Care of Magical Creatures in the
afternoon, Harry's head was aching again.
The day had become cool and breezy, and as they walked down the sloping lawn
towards Hagrid's cabin on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, they felt the occasional
drop of rain on their faces. Professor Grubbly-Plank stood waiting for the class
some ten yards from Hagrid's front door, a long trestle table in front of her
laden with twigs. As Harry and Ron reached her, a loud shout of laughter sounded
behind them; turning, they saw Draco Malfoy striding towards them, surrounded
by his usual gang of Slytherin cronies. He had clearly just said something highly
amusing, because Crabbe, Goyle, Pansy Parkinson and the rest continued to snigger
heartily as they gathered around the trestle table and, judging by the way they
all kept looking over at Harry, he was able to guess the subject of the joke
without too much difficulty.
'Everyone here?' barked Professor Grubbly-Plank, once all the Slytherins
and Gryffindors had arrived. 'Let's crack on then. Who can tell me what these
things are called?'
She indicated the heap of twigs in front of her. Hermione's hand shot into
the air. Behind her back, Malfoy did a buck-toothed imitation of her jumping
up and down in eagerness to answer a question. Pansy Parkinson gave a shriek
of laughter that turned almost at once into a scream, as the twigs on the table
leapt into the air and revealed themselves to be what looked like tiny pixie-ish
creatures made of wood, each with knobbly brown arms and legs, two twiglike
fingers at the end of each hand and a funny flat, barklike face in which a pair
of beetle-brown eyes glittered.
'Oooooh!' said Parvati and Lavender, thoroughly irritating Harry. Anyone
would have thought Hagrid had never shown them impressive creatures; admittedly,
the Flobberworms had been a bit dull, but the Salamanders and Hippogriffs had
been interesting enough, and the Blast-Ended Skrewts perhaps too much so.