J.K.Rwling >> Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix (page 33)

'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 through it.

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 way:'

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, doesn't it?'

'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 his feet.

'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 electricity.

'No,' she said, her voice quivering with anger, 'but I will write to your mother.'

'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 hats.

'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 bag.

'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 after all.'

'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 following afternoon.

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.

Title: Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix
Author: J.K.Rwling
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