The next morning, Saturday, Harry awoke abruptly to a nasty taste in his furry mouth and the sound of someone falling over the trunk sticking out from the bottom of his four poster.
"Ow!" Neville yelped. It sounded as though he was hopping about. "Ow! Ow! OW!"
The rattle of bedhangings told Harry that Ron was awake. "S'up Nev? Oh."
Rolling onto his side, Harry saw Ron through a chink in his curtains. He was watching their dorm mate, his face creased in an amiable grin.
"Nev, that's pathetic! We have got to teach you to swear better than that!"
The curtain at the end of Harry's bed shifted, drawing his eye and then he heard Neville hobbling to the bathroom. "I know plenty of swears, Ron. I've shared a dorm with you for six years after all. My mind blanked. All I could say was 'ow'."
With Neville's uneven steps fading away, Harry watched a narrow beam of light that had invaded the enclosed bedspace. Tiny specks were circulating in the golden light, reflecting like minuscule stars twinkling in the night sky. It was so pretty; the brief flashes of colour absorbed Harry's attention until he was staring fixedly.
In the dark space, (so like the cupboard under the Dursleys stairs but much more comfortable) Harry knew an altering of his perspective; it was as though the darkness was part of him and he was looking down upon the stars … or was it up? The thought was somewhat un-nerving until he was reminded of one of the parchments that Bill hadn't been quick enough to vanish after a meeting at Grimmauld place.
Harry had 'accidentally' swept it to the floor and managed to get a good look at it while picking it up, even though the image made his cheeks burn; a naked woman with an enigmatic smile stretched the full length of the ceiling. "That's Nut," Bill had said with a grin. "You often see her on the ceilings of the tombs – Muggle ones as well – cos she's their sky goddess. They always draw her like that, with perky, um, bosoms." He flicked a glance across the room but Mrs Weasley hadn't heard. "I wonder how they know?"
Harry remembered the Cursebreaker watching for his reaction so he had hurriedly asked if the five-legged symbols surrounding her were stars. "That's what the Muggles'll tell you-" Bill leaned conspiratorially closer. "- but a very old nomadic wizard out at Deir el-Medina told me they don't always depict souls as little birds." He winked and the sheet vanished.
Surrounded in his own universe of winking multi-coloured suns – or souls – Harry allowed the patterns to drift and swirl; the effect was calming … clearing. He was almost sure he could hear someone calling his name.
Abruptly the light show ceased and Harry found Ron's freckled face was the cause.
"Harry? You awake?"
Harry decided it must have been Ron calling. He managed to grunt in response but made no effort to move. His body was too heavy.
"Come on, Potter, get your arse in the bathroom," Ron said bracingly after a long moment.
"Jus' my arse?" Harry asked thickly. He coughed to clear his throat and pulled a face when it made no difference. Ron snorted.
"No. The rest of you as well. Ginny isn't bringing you breakfast in bed." Somehow Ron managed to imply that he had forbidden her to.
Shoving himself upright rather more quickly than his brain wanted to cope with, Harry caught Seamus's joking tone as he muttered something and hard on its heels, a fervent expletive from Dean. This was quickly followed by the sound of a heavy object crashing into Seamus's bedhead and the whistling noise of the young Irishman's retaliatory missile.
Ron whipped round. "Oi! Chuck it you two!" he said, in a tone that indicated much experience of breaking up fights; then he grinned. "And with an aim that bad, Dean, I'm glad you didn't try out for the team."
Dean suggested Ron go and do something that Harry hoped was a physical impossibility, biologically speaking. Ron was still sniggering as he reached in past Harry's bedhangings to tug him upright.
They eventually made it to breakfast but only after Ron had prevented Harry from having a disaster with Neville's shaving potion – That's not toothpaste, mate – Scalding himself with too-hot wash water, - Do you want to go up to the hospital wing with burns? – Putting his underpants on back to front – Gryffindor! Harry! Pay attention! – And then trying to struggle into his school robes -It's weekend!
As Harry swung his legs over the bench at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall, Ron grumbled, "I'm not cut out to be a mother."
Hermione had opened her mouth, clearly with some riposte ready when Ginny spoke up.
"You're lacking in other assets as well, Ron. That's why Mother Nature decreed that males get to be fathers. You need a good woman with the patience of Helga Hufflepuff to show you the way."
This observation sailed right past Ron's attention as the platters of eggs, sausages, bacon and mushrooms covering the table had claimed it first. Harry felt a gentle prod on his shin and tore his eyes off the fried eggs. They couldn't be staring at him. Eggs didn't have eyes.
"Did you hear me, Harry?" Ginny was watching him closely.
Harry cleared his throat. "Er -Sorry."
"Did you sleep?"
A vague but comfortable warmth expanded out from under Harry's ribs and he fidgeted under her friendly stare. "Yeah, thanks." He took a long drink of the juice Hermione had poured and slid to him across the table, managing not to spill any of it down his front more by good luck than good judgement.
"Good." Ginny gave him a gentle smile and turned to Hermione. "Thanks for the potion. You were right, it's much better than contorting with a razor."
Harry glanced at Ron but his enthusiastic enjoyment of his breakfast had evidently turned off his alarms. "A razor?" he repeated, leaning over the table and suddenly reminded that he had forgotten to shave again. "What are you doing with a razor?"
When Ginny casually replied that she had used it to shave her legs, Ron looked up with a forkful of sausage halfway to his mouth. "What the hell for? No one's going to notice."
Ginny wore an innocent expression. "Because it feels nicer, Ron. Or hadn't you noticed?"
Harry knew his jaw had dropped because Parvati, seated on his left-hand side, reached round and closed it for him before entering the conversation. "Ooo! Which one did you use? I prefer the 'Spice and Easy' but it's so popular you have to wait ages for the owl to come," the pretty Indian witch complained, with a theatrical roll of her dark eyes.
"What d'you mean? It feels nicer!" Ron had managed to un-swallow his tongue and burst into his usual rant about Ginny's current boyfriend. "He'd better not be feeling your leg! He'd better not be feeling anything!" He twisted to direct a threatening glance at the Hufflepuff table, searching for the last boy he'd seen hanging round his sister.
While Ginny coolly asserted it was her business where her boyfriend was allowed to put his hands and not Ron's, Harry discovered something peculiar had happened to him.
His wits had dribbled out of the bottom of his skull and were congealing in the gutter that Fred had often mentioned in the Quidditch changing room. He couldn't drag his mind away from wondering what it would feel like to touch Ginny's leg...
By the time he brought his errant imagination back to his plate of bacon and sausage, Ron was savaging his toast and the conversation had moved on. He heard Ginny ask,
"Hermione, what's a 'notochord' when it's at home?"
The Head Girl looked up with a puzzled frown. "I thought you wanted help with your Transfiguration essay?" she said and added softly, "you're doing it again."
Ginny tossed her hair back at the same time as Harry looked up. He did a rapid double take and stared harder. Unbeknown to Harry, Ron was also watching where his best friend's eyes were fixed. He failed to hide his smirk.
"Ginny – your eyes!" Harry gasped.
"Shine like the stars do they, Harry?" Dean said loudly. His sour tone earned him a sharp elbow in the ribs from Parvati, seated between him and Harry. Harry heard him mutter "Pathetic!" beneath whatever the Indian witch was murmuring soothingly to him.
Ginny half stood to reach across the table and snag the marmalade for her toast. "What about them? Pillock!" she added in Dean's direction.
Harry had used her closeness to examine her eyes and could find nothing unusual about them. Uncomfortably aware of the grinning scrutiny of several sixth and seventh years along the table, he felt disinclined to say more. He shook his head, feeling his face burning.
He hunched back over his plate, remembering how Hermione had talked about hallucinations, now bothered that he was seeing things. "I thought I- nothing. It's nothing, Ginny."
Absorbed in this new worry about whether he was starting to have the promised hallucinations because of 'sleep debt' – whatever that was – and what implications this might have on his life in general, (and studies in particular) Harry missed the short silence and then conversation resuming suddenly and noisily around the group of friends.
"So, a notochord?" Harry heard Ginny ask again.
Hermione's voice, sounding more like a young professor with each passing day, patiently explained what a notochord was with words that left Harry none the wiser. "A notochord is the stiff but flexible rod that lies between the gut and the nerve chord of all embryonic and larval chordates. Of course, in vertebrates, it's replaced by the vertebral column, or spine."
"Of course," Ginny murmured. Harry wondered if Hermione noticed the dry humour in Ginny's reply. His eyes found hers and they shared a slight smile across the intervening jugs and plates.
"Does she want you to do a full listing? Start with the kingdom, then the phylum, class, superclass if there is one-" Hermione was ticking off on her fingers as she elaborated for the younger witch.
"-Then the order and so on," Ginny said with a trace of excitement in her comprehension. "I get it now! Brill! Thanks Hermione."
"I don't remember McGonagall mentioning nutter-cords last year. Or did I miss that?" Ron demanded, still a little sharp from his previous outburst.
Harry thought Hermione muttered something about that not being much of a surprise before agreeing with Ron that Professor McGonagall hadn't. Fortunately, the second bell rang at that point and Hermione muttered something else to Ginny, which was covered by the clamour.
Ginny nodded although, from her tight frown, Harry got the impression that she wasn't happy with whatever Hermione had just said. He was so busy staring at her eyes and wondering if he really had seen what he thought he'd seen that he had no idea he had been spoken to until Hermione spoke his name very sharply, in what was clearly a repetition.
Harry jumped and sent a knife clattering to the floor. "Wha's up?"
Hermione let out a long sigh and between sending him forbearingly patient looks, reminded him that if he didn't hurry up, he would be late.
Harry clambered awkwardly over the bench and swaying slightly, stood looking around at the floor. "What's first? Where's my bookbag? You coming?" He directed the last query to Ron.
Ron crammed the last forkfull of sausage into his already full mouth, making Harry glad he only nodded and gave a hasty thumbs up.
"Me too. I have a date with Valentin Barfark," Ginny said, ducking athletically under the table and then slinking with easy grace over the bench.
For once, Harry was glad of Ron's hamster-like ability where food was concerned, especially when it prevented him ranting. Ginny's statement attracted the only sound Ron could manage; a smothered grunt.
With her hands at his waist, Ginny manoeuvred Harry forward – away from Ron – and carried on talking. "Four hours of diligent study in the library, with Madame Crabby-Claws checking every five minutes to make sure I haven't brought any more chocolate into the place. I wish the next Hogsmeade weekend wasn't a month away," she added wistfully. "I could do with a break. I'm sick of having my nose stuck in a book!"
The corner of Harry's mouth lifted. "Don't let Hermione hear you," he suggested but Ginny only giggled at his back.
By now, they had reached the end of the house tables and Harry was aware that the Potion master was staring unblinkingly at him. He stared back and tried not to make it appear insolent; did he have Potions today? What passed for his brain was too foggy for him to be sure.
Ginny patted his shoulderblade as she gave him a parting grin. "Got to dash!"
Being small had its advantages, Harry thought, following her as she skirted the wall of the corridor, using every gap to her advantage. In a few seconds, or so it felt, she was gone.
Caught in the crush of students chattering their way slowly into the Entrance Hall, Harry glanced back over his shoulder just in time to see the youngest Weasley male shooting suppressive glares toward the Hufflepuff table; Harry smiled. Ron was shredding a round of toast in a suggestively threatening fashion.
"Come along now. Move along there please," Hermione called half-heartedly over the massed heads. "Before some of the first years get crushed." A few people turned back to shrug their shoulders at her but the group did move forward more quickly after this.
Harry crossed the draughty entrance hall wondering who Ginny was going out with now, (was it that Valentin Barfark she'd mentioned?) telling himself that it was none of his business and concentrating on making appropriate noises when Hermione paused in her monologue to draw breath and look enquiringly at him.
He counted the stairs again as they climbed to the first floor and nodded whenever Hermione said, "Don't you think?"
When given permission to enter the highly organised office of their Head of House, Harry was treated to some questioning to determine his level of awareness and concentration before being given his homework.
It came as no surprise to him that Hermione shepherded him straight to the Library. She settled him in a corner so bright and sunny that he charmed the lenses of his glasses darker simply so that he wouldn't be tempted to close his eyes against the light and waited.
Hermione returned, deposited what looked like half the Transfiguration section around him and said she'd be back to check on him when she'd had a word with Ginny.
Harry didn't see her bustle off; he was too busy staring in bemusement at the wall of books surrounding him. Was he really going to need all of these texts to write his essay? If so, it wasn't looking good. All the reading would be bound to make him doze off.
He found Hermione had supplied him with a quill in working order and the dregs of his last bottle of ink so he pulled over the assignment to see what concept he would have to grapple with this time.
His head felt as though it was a huge drum and someone somewhere was beating out a soft, even rhythm. He forced his eyes to follow the neat script.
Harry read the statement six times before it made sense. "Bloody hell," he grumbled. "Not again! 'Compare and contrast'… I hate these!" He dragged the topmost book towards him and wearily paged through, hoping this volume had an index.
Looking at the images of people with heads of birds and dogs, Harry wondered what this could possibly have to do with his transfiguration homework, and then he saw it.
'My heart, my mother! My heart, whereby I come into being!'
Fascinated, Harry read more.
'Let there be nothing to withstand me at my judgement; may there be no parting of thee from me! Thou art my ka, the dweller in my body! Do not tell him who is to judge us lies about me, my heart, my ka!'
Harry flipped to the title page and read The Egyptian Book of the Dead.
Harry blinked. Don't think I'm going to find anything I need in 'the Book of the Dead'.Hermione must have slipped up. Nevertheless, the images drew him in. He paged through, admiring the colours and the skill of the artists, as well as their inventiveness.
Some of these drawings reminded him of the images of splinching victims that Professor McGonagall had shown them last year when they were learning about Apparition. Or maybe that book Hermione had found the Polyjuice Potion in, Moste something-or-another... Take that one, for instance – part crocodile and lion with bits of bird chucked in for good measure. It looked like something out of a horror film.
Not something you'd want to meet down a dark alley.
But then again, neither was a Dementor and he had driven off two of them. Don't go there,Potter, he chided himself as the hole inside threatened to open up again and swallow him. He did his best, same as you did yours and no man can do more.
As a distraction from the direction his thoughts were taking, Harry concentrated on the pictures; it was almost like reading a cartoon strip. Little sideways-on figures feasting with garlands of blue flowers round their necks… little birds with human faces hovering before other figures bowing to their gods.
He had been staring at one particular image – of a man being held by a dog-headed figure while a strange bird-headed figure stood ready to record the result of what looked like a weighing – when a shadow grew over his page.
" Ah. Studying the 'Reu nu pert em hru'," said a quiet voice. "It takes a bit of getting used to in the tombs, the way the figures of the gods watch you and make all these snide comments."
Harry swivelled and returned the patient stare Bill Weasley was giving him… except Harry could think of no reason for Bill to be in the Library and so he waited for whatever his 'hallucination' was going to say next. Maybe he could get it to write his essay for him; given his state of mind, it would probably make more sense.
As he stared, his visitor acquired a falcon's head and the dark beady eyes surveyed him fiercely. Harry studied the rest of the Library… and discovered he was in the middle of the best visual effect yet. The pillars supporting the high ceiling were garlanded with blue scented flowers and some of the other students moving between the shelves had other heads, as though they were wearing Halloween masks. "I've fallen into the flamin' book," Harry mumbled.
The falcon-headed figure leaned nearer, peering into Harry's face. "Harry?" Harry could see the image of Bill faintly underneath the other outline. It reminded him of seeing his reflection in the candlelit windows in the dead of night. "You with us, mate?"
With his hand on Harry's shoulder, solid and steady, Harry understood that this really was Bill Weasley and his insides swooped. The image wavered and returned to Bill's more usual appearance. "Why are you here? Is everyone okay? Have you got any news?"
Bill looked vague for a minute and answered the questions in order of importance. "We're all well, Voldemort is quiet and I was looking for Ginny." He edged closer, checking they were not being overheard. "Mum's worried about you... Actually, she's going barmy. She's heard you're not sleeping."
"I'm coping," Harry mumbled and turned away rather than let Bill continue with his scrutiny of the ashy complexion and blood-shot eyes Harry had seen in the bathroom mirror.
"They told me you'd come out with something like that," Bill snorted with a disbelieving shake of his head. "I asked a fellow Cursebreaker to send me something – where is it? – Blast it! What did I do with it?" Bill said, shifting about to investigate the contents of his many pockets until, with a pleased smile, he pulled a packet from an inner pocket of his leather jacket.
"It's some Blue Lotus petals. Mum stitched it into a little bag for me. Put it on your pillow and the scent is supposed to help you nod off."
Harry nodded, since Bill deserved some response. "On the pillow, right," he said, having a sniff and wrinkling his nose over the faint odour of dry fruit before pushing it into the pocket of his jeans. "Thanks Bill."
"Harry, Hermione left me the wrong book. Have you got– Bill!"
Ginny had approached so silently that neither wizard had heard her. There was a loud 'Shhh!' and Ginny hurried to conceal herself on Harry's other side while greeting her brother with a fiercely whispered, "what are you doing here? Is everyone all right? Have you got news?"
"Two hearts with but a single thought," Bill muttered, wearing an uplifted expression and held up his hands when Ginny's eyes narrowed dangerously. "No news, everyone is fine and I've got something for you. Come on."
Harry tensed and even as he reached out to catch Ginny's arm, her head tipped onto one side. "Bill, where's my birthmark? S'all right, Harry, constant vigilance – I remember that one," she assured him, catching his hand and giving it a reassuring squeeze.
Bill fidgeted. "You sure you want Harry hearing that?"
Ginny stared with no compromise in her face. With a sigh, Bill leaned across the table and whispered something that made Ginny grin and Bill's ears glow. "Satisfied?"
"I'm down in the History section," Ginny said softly. "It's always quiet there."
Bill got to his feet. "I'll catch up with you later," he said to Harry and the sound of his booted feet faded into the background sounds of many pages being turned. Or was it the sound of reedbeds rustling at the river's edge? The sun was warm, making him drowsy and the House Elves must have started on lunch already because Harry could smell bread baking.
A light breeze washed pleasantly over his face, bringing with it the sweet scents from one of the greenhouses. It reminded Harry of a cross between hyacinths and bananas. Whatever it was, it was intoxicating.
He thought he heard someone call his name but dismissed it. Anything louder than the slightest hiss and Madame Pince was likely to descend on the transgressor with all the subtlety of an ACME ton weight in the cartoons his cousin enjoyed for their casual brutality.
"Harry?" Harry 'ummed' but couldn't decide if the voice was real or in his head.
"Harry?" This was right over his ear.
He jerked awake. "Uhn?"
"Can I take the book then?" Ginny asked. She was watching him closely again.
Harry pushed his glasses up to rub his eyes with the fingers of his wand hand. His eyes felt as though he'd been flying for hours into a squally wind, not sitting in the Library for five minutes. "Which one?" He gestured at the personal 'library' surrounding him.
"The Reu nu pert em hru," Ginny said, speaking with the same Arabic intonation Bill had used. "Or the Chapters of Coming Forth Day by Day, as it's known in English."
Harry flopped back in his seat, indicating that she could take it. "Why?"
"It has some old spells and things in it," she said and from the way she looked around her, Harry got the idea that she didn't want to be seen talking to him. Was the boyfriend the jealous type? He would have called her on it but she was running her finger down the spines of the books Hermione had supplied, and just for a second, Harry would have sworn she had a claw and not a fingernail. Seeing things again, Potter!
He squeezed his eyes shut tightly, promising himself he would never look at the Egyptian Book of the Dead again, if this was what it did to him. When he opened them again, Ginny had worried a slim volume from the wall and was holding it open at Chapter Six. "This was where Hermione started. There's some stuff about how you decide the order that you build up the layers of personal transfigurations."
Harry looked down. At least this text was printed. "Thanks Ginny." Her hand was right there, holding the text open for him; it looked normal enough. Ginny set the book down and smoothed the pages with her other hand but her fingers were bent under at the knuckles. She was saying something but she was either too quiet or he was too far away to make out what it was. Wanting to be sure, Harry grabbed her wrist and opened her hand, examining each of her nails in turn. No claws. He stared stupidly, relieved in one sense that he had imagined it and yet bothered underneath.
Ginny's fingers squirmed; it reminded Harry of how the Snitch had slipped through his fingers at the last practice. He held on more tightly.
"Harry." Ginny sounded as if she was in pain. "Come on, let go. You don't do Divination any more so there's no need to study my palm so closely."
Harry looked up but the sunlight behind Ginny dazzled him and he screwed up his eyes, letting her go at the same instant. Negative images stood out in stark relief on the inside of his eyes while Harry remembered to mumble an apology.
"S'okay," Ginny whispered, "it's not my Quaffle hand. If you can't find what you want in there, try asking Madame Pince for The Book of Thoth. " Then she was gone as quickly as she had arrived.
Harry tried to force his attention onto Chapter Six – which had the thrilling title of 'Division Theory: Protecting the Soul' – but to no avail. His mind wanted to think about those images from the Book of the Dead… and the way he'd imagined Ginny with a claw. She had such delicate hands, small boned and her smooth skin spattered with a few freckles…
His scar twinged and Harry immediately wiped the slate of his mind clean and kept it that way until the pain had been gone for some time and he judged it safe to think again.
The sun no longer illuminated his pages and his stomach was growling. Looking around, he saw the Library was deserted. It had to be lunchtime.
Harry left everything where it was and at the Library doors, debated with himself whether to go down four floors to the Great Hall or up three floors and find the Room of Requirement.
Going up won, by two landings and the Room lived up to its name handsomely by providing a selection of Harry's favourite foods.
Harry shivered as he retook his seat in the Library. It had been warm and cosy in the Room of Requirement and he thought he could have dozed off after his lunch but if he slept during the day, he'd never get to sleep in the night. The last thing he needed was his body clock turning around.
Giving in to a cavernous yawn, Harry lifted the book Ginny had chosen and prepared to grapple with 'Soul Protection' until he ran out of ink or Madame Pomfrey chucked him out, whichever came first.
As it happened, he ran out of ink. He'd have to remember to call in the Room of Requirement for some ink in the morning. Try and remember he amended. His head was buzzing and the continual background noise was getting on his nerves. It was rather like hearing voices in the room beyond but not being able to tell what was being said.
"Please let me sleep tonight," Harry muttered, catching the library door before it banged loudly. Okay, seventy-two stairs to the tower. Two … four … six …
The common room was quietening as the younger years were shooed up to bed by the Head Girl. Hermione was currently chivvying the third years, with some measure of success.
Harry and Ron had heard the same thing every Sunday night since September the first, and they both silently mimicked her little speech as it wafted down the stairs to where they were sitting.
"Come on now, and stop messing about! How you expect to be rested and fresh for classes tomorrow I have no idea! Hurry up and have a wash so that you can hop into bed. (A heartbeat pause) And don't forget to brush your teeth for at least two minutes… Yes, thank you, Lucy. Calling me an 'old bossy-boots' is so very original! Yes, Susan, I'm sure Sooty will stay in his basket tonight… Settle down now… Jenny, put it away please… Good night, sleep well and don't let the pixies bite."
Ron shook his head and rolled it over the back of the armchair to regard Harry, blank-faced before his Charms homework. He had barely moved since he sat there after dinner.
"Who is that Susan anyway?" Ron asked. "She's paranoid that cat is going to run away in the night."
"Susan McGyver," Harry mumbled. "Her dad's something in the American army, I think. Or is that Carter's dad? Dunno."
Ron continued to look thoughtful, perusing his Prefect's awareness of the third year girls. "She the one with the hair and the attitude?"
Harry was silent for a whole minute, staring across the common room. "No, she's the one who puked on Malfoy's shoes after the last Halloween feast."
Ron guffawed. "Oh yeah, when he waved that mangled mouse under her nose! How could I forget that! Teddy Nott told me Snape ripped a right strip off Malfoy for that. Apparently, some part of that mouse was destined for a potion His Greasiness was working on and he had to start over. Shame that," Ron added insincerely.
Harry managed to raise one side of his mouth in a weary grin and reminded himself that miracles happened even in the magical world; Ron Weasley could engage in civil conversation with a Slytherin. His book was slipping... He could feel it sliding away from his numb fingers. Oh well, he could afford the fine.
Ron leaned over and relieved his friend of the book before it fell out of his lap and walloped his toes. He allowed himself a smile of quiet satisfaction when he noticed where Harry's eyes were resting.
"Wha's wrong with Ginny tonight?" Harry asked quietly
"How d'you mean?" Ron's attention shot across the room to his sister, working with a frown on her face.
"Look at her! She can't sit still, keeps shaking her hands and rubbing her arms and legs. She's been like that since we came back from dinner." Harry turned to Ron. "Go and see what's wrong."
Ron snorted softly. "You go and see!"
"I'm too bloody tired to be any use to anyone… Go and ask her, Ron," Harry wheedled.
"Ask who what?" Hermione returned and sat down with a little sigh. "Some of those girls! I swear they do it to test my patience!"
"Harry wants you to go and see what's up with Ginny," Ron said with a bright grin.
Hermione directed a sharp glance at the last Potter. Harry watched her hopefully as she reached down into her bookbag and came up with an untouched scroll. "If he wants to know, then he should go and ask her."
Harry let out an exasperated sigh and muttering, "I'll only say something stupid and make it worse," he pushed himself out of the armchair and wove between the chairs and tables to where Ginny was working.
Turning a chair the wrong way round, Harry saw the stray Gobstone right before he sat on it. He flicked it away, sat and folded his forearms along the backrest, sliding backwards until he could prop his chin on his wrist. "Hi, Ginny."
A spasm ran through Ginny's arms and she dropped her quill. "Hi, Harry," she said, sounding as close to tears as he had ever heard her. She moved her hand over her quill arm as though trying to soothe it.
"What's wrong, Ginny? And before you try and fob me off with 'I'm fine', I've been watching you half the night and I can see you're not!"
Ginny paused with her lungs full of the breath she had taken to say exactly that and met his concerned gaze. She smiled weakly. "Now you know how we feel when you give us that garbage. My muscles are aching, that's all, Harry," she whispered.
Harry angled his head so that he could stare at her over the lenses of his glasses. Ginny met him steadily until another muscle spasm made her jerk and whimper, then she rubbed her hand over her shoulder with a shaky "damn."
"How come? We've not had Quidditch practice tonight, have we?"
Ginny tried for a smile over Harry's sudden uncertainty but it was more of a wince as another muscle spasm made her flinch. "No, you didn't miss it… I had detention with Snape and he was in a bad mood. He had me gutting something unmentionable and dipping it into a Freezing Potion, the git. It'll wear off soon," she said dismissively.
Jaw tensed, and knowing how cold it was in the dungeons without adding in a Freezing Potion Harry shot out a hand and touched her face and then her hands in turn. "You're freezing. Come and sit by the fire. The warmth will help your muscles relax."
He saw hesitation in her face and wrapped his fingers around her hand to tug her nearer to him. "Come on. Don't make me appeal to the Head Girl," he said with a smile. He could see her will to argue wilting and she finally returned his smile.
"Okay, for a bit then. I've still got loads to do and I daren't get behind."
Harry left his chair as Ginny stood up and reached for her books. The one she had been reading had the look of more advanced Transfiguration than he was studying. Curious, Harry angled the volume so that he could read it more easily and blinked when it flipped shut on his fingers.
On the cover, a witch was changing between a black goat and her female form with a cheeky smile that Harry suspected was faked on afterwards. The title read "I'm Not Changing into That!" by Hugh Jars and Rhoda Corriedale.
"Oh, leave it, I'm not in the mood. I'll read it later," Ginny said. Still with a hand on her forearm, Harry felt a ripple shudder through her. It felt like those annoying muscle tics he got when he couldn't sleep and his concern for her overcame his curiosity.
"Yeah. Come and sit by the fire." Harry took her hand and led her back to the fireplace, pushing her into the armchair where he had been sitting previously. Ginny huddled up into a tight ball and, closing her eyes, angled her face to the warmth the way Crookshanks frequently did.
Harry took the chair opposite, forgetting, until he was jabbed hard in the back of his thigh, why this seat was usually left vacant; one of the springs had 'sprung'. Maybe the pain would keep him awake.
Ron had moved across to the table where Hermione was working from two books hovering side by side before her. Their soft exchange blended into the muted background hum that characterised Gryffindor common room once the younger years were in bed.
Watching the firelight paint the redhead's face a healthier shade, Harry considered her choice of reading material. It looked like a text on Animagi. Was there was a reference in it that she needed?
Everything he had learned about Animagi lead him to believe the process was dangerous and initially painful, to say nothing of the potion work it entailed. He wondered how his dad and the others had managed to conceal what they were doing. Especially from Professor Dumbledore. Maybe that was how they had aroused Snape's juvenile suspicions; whatever else could be said of him, Snape was a Potions expert.
Ginny shivered again and Harry wondered what he could do to help her feel better. He looked around the common room and spotted the box of Bertie Botts every Flavour Beans he and Ron had been sharing over the last few days. A quick Summoning spell brought it to him and he leaned over to jiggle it under her nose. "Ginny? D'you want one?"
Ginny opened one eye. "Surprise me," she said.
Harry rooted through the box and selected three beans. Ginny took the offerings and sniffed each one like a wine taster. "Hmm… pineapple – yuk, wet dog – very funny, Harry, and… Spanish omelette – that's more like it!" She held the bean between her teeth before sucking her choice into her mouth and Harry got a sudden lump in his throat when she licked the stray sugar from her lips. He looked at her trainers instead.
"Ginny? Why are you reading about Animagi?"
"Because Professor McGonagall has a real sense of humour."
Harry managed a weary chuckle. "Can't say I noticed! When did that happen?"
Ginny's arms shuddered and she wrapped them around herself more tightly. "Between marking our last essays and today's lesson I think. I blame Luna for asking loads of involuted questions about how your magic decides what your 'animal within' would be. I think our beloved Head of House got a bit suspicious that Luna's interest might not have been purely academic." She smirked and Harry wondered what she wasn't telling him.
"And that was why she set the work?" Harry suggested, almost cracking his jaw trying to stifle a mighty yawn.
Ginny switched positions while still presenting her face to the fire. "I think so. I heard her muttering something about 'not getting caught twice' and 'having no more repetitions of previous student's intransigence' at the end of the lesson. Then she went down towards the library. There's practically nothing left about Animagi so I s'pose we're all going to get abysmal marks on this one."
Harry's brain took a second to catch up with that and then his heart leaped. Professor McGonagall had meant his dad, James, and… "Sirius," he breathed.
Ginny drew an awed breath. "Oh Gryffindor – I never connected that with them!" She leaned closer to Harry. "Fred and George have this map – did they ever –?"
Harry interrupted her. "I've got it," he said quickly. "The Marauder's Map. They gave it me in third year. How d'you know about it?" Ginny closed her eyes and leaned away again.
"They said they spent hours going over the map searching for me, you know, in my first year."
When Ron came with me to get you back, Harry thought, recalling his own desperation to find her and bring her out of that hell-hole of Salazar Slytherin's devising. This is was only the second time in their association that Ginny had ever referred to that incident. The first time had been his fifth year.
Maybe she only thinks about it in odd years, Harry thought whimsically. Gryffindor! I really need some proper kip.
"Are you all right, Ginny?" he asked quietly. Her feet twitched.
"Yeah… I've just got a lot on. You know."
"Yeah, I do." Harry agreed. This conversation seemed to be moving on many levels. Ginny said she was all right but did that mean she had come to terms with being possessed by the sixteen year old Riddle or was she merely talking about her current aches and pains?
"Harry?" Ginny began tentatively after a few minutes of peace. "D'you think something could be more important than a friendship?"
He was getting that tingling feeling in the nape of his neck again, the one that warned him when someone was watching him. Distracted, he looked around but no one was near. Harry turned back to Ginny, unaware that he was frowning with the effort of keeping his eyes open. The portrait hole banged loudly. Harry jumped.
"I suppose it depends."
"On what?" Ginny asked at once.
"Whether it breaks the trust in the friendship," Harry said, thinking of his dad, Moony, Sirius and the Rat. "You might be able to forgive someone who betrays a secret, but you'd need one hell of a big heart to have the same level of trust in them after that."
Ginny wiped at her mouth. Harry was reminded again of Crookshanks washing his face with his paw. "Hmm, I see what you mean," she said. "You'd always be second-guessing everything they said and did… Harry… Suppose it was for–"
"Ginny! There you are!"
Harry raised his head to see through his glasses and saw two girls panting at Ginny's back. They slid round her chair and ignored him completely.
"Where else would I be?" Ginny said sharply.
"Well, you're not always easy to track down you know," said the one with corn-yellow curls.
"Colin said you've got a book on Animagi-" the girl with long hair almost as dark as Harry's said and was promptly interrupted by the blonde.
"-So can we borrow it? Cos Mackie's cleared the shelves."
"Come on Ginny!"
"Be nice to your dorm mates!"
Ginny was switching her attention between each girl as they badgered her and Harry could see she was feeling harassed.
"Key, I haven't finished with it yet," Ginny protested but 'Key' rolled her dark eyes.
"Oh yeah. I can see you're working so hard, aren't you Ginny?" she said with a significant stare in Harry's direction.
"My dad and my Godfather were Animagi," Harry said, pulling himself up in the chair and finding relief from the sharp end of the spring. "We were discussing the metamorphic process," he added, clearly implying 'until you barged in'.
Ginny's dorm mates gaped at Harry for a minute and then shared a sly smile. "Course they were, Harry. I remember seeing their names in the list of registered Animagi," the one identified as 'Key' said, and then added brightly, "Well since Ginny's friends with an expert, she doesn't need the book then, does she!"
They flounced off, heads close and giggling together, to help themselves to Ginny's text.
"Who are they?" Harry demanded, glaring after them. "Bossy bloody pair!"
Ginny smiled. "Kelia and Meriel. Kelia comes from Bath and has Roman blood, or so she tells anyone who'll listen. Meriel's distantly related to our very favourite Defence teacher, but don't hold it against her," she added dryly.
Harry's attention shot straight to the blonde. "She's related to Moony?"
Ginny gave a huge fake cough in which Harry heard, "Lockhart".
Harry leaned back in the armchair with a snort and closed his eyes. "Did you see Bill? He was looking for you earlier."
When he received no reply, Harry assumed Ginny had wandered off so he opened one eye and discovered she was looking at him very oddly.
"Yeah, he found me," Ginny said. "Just another message from mum. You know, the usual thing, work hard and don't get up to any mischief. I'd like to know when she thinks I have the time to get up to mischief!" she grumbled.
Somehow, that didn't ring true with Harry and yet he couldn't say why.
"So, tell me what you know about Animagi."
Harry cleared his throat and dredged his memory. He had, for once, done more than the required reading for this topic last year. "Um… You need to be a strong witch or wizard with a clear sense of self, of who you are… It comes more easily if you have good control of impulsive behaviour as well." What else? he thought, I'm sure there was something else… what was it…?
Skilled at potions, sharp reflexes and a soul willing to risk it, the little voice at the back of his head reminded him.
"Harry? Harry? …" A sigh. "You've dozed off again." Something soft brushed his cheek. "Get some peace while you can. I've got to go back to my reading." Ginny's gently spoken words were followed by the removal of his glasses. There was a curious division of comfort in his body; the lively fire was keeping one side of him warm and yet the side away from the light was cold. Half-alive or half-dead, Harry wondered, and did it make any difference?
Two more days came and went with Harry fighting off various levels of languor where he would doze off only to be jerked awake by the chilly sensation of not being the only presence speaking in his mind. It was getting harder to blank his emotions and force the intruder out and Harry was getting sick and tired of engaging in these long-distance battles of will with Voldemort. He wanted to go on the offensive and strike back.
Not yet, a voice whispered to him. Harry thought it sounded like his dad. Not yet, just a bit longer –you can do it.
In the morning after the previous night, through which Harry had slept fitfully between larger-than-life dreams, he found himself treated to several knowing grins.
"You have a very vivid imagination, Harry, you know that, right?"
Trying to find the hole in his sock without realising that it was his scarf, Harry looked up. His dull eyes travelled from face to face, each regarding him with amusement and something more that Harry couldn't quite name.
"Mam says the quiet ones are always the worst," Seamus volunteered. Dean and Ron chuckled. Ron snagged the scarf and tossed Harry's dropped sock at him, chuckling when he flubbed the catch.
"No hope for you then, you make more noise than the Hogwarts express!" Ron sniggered in Seamus' direction while pulling on a clean robe. "I bet the girls can hear you in their side of the tower!"
Seamus did a good imitation of a freshly landed haddock. "What?" he spluttered a long minute later looking to Dean for a denial.
"Yeah, learn to 'Impeturb' your bedhangings," Dean tossed at Harry with a nudge and a wink for Seamus, who turned away to snigger afresh.
"Leave the poor bloke alone," Neville interrupted forcefully. "He's got no idea what you're talking about! Merlin! Can't he even dream in peace without you lot making more out of it!" Neville crammed his Herbology texts roughly into his bag and gave his remaining dorm mates a glare of disgust. "I'm off to breakfast. See you in Herbology, Harry."
Harry nodded as Neville exited the dorm and banged down the stairs. Seamus and Dean cleared their throats and turned back to the business of getting dressed.
"Yeah, right… Harry, what did you do with your Transfiguration notes?" Ron tried hard for a normal tone of voice.
"What?" Harry yawned and shoved his feet into his trainers.
Ron shook his head. "Never mind. Maybe you'll wake up with some food inside you. Come on."
After enduring the overpowering aroma of breakfast and forcing something down only because Ginny said he would pass out and end up in the hospital wing for sure if he didn't, Harry again counted his way up the endless flights of stairs to Transfiguration wishing for an 'escapator'.
No, you dumbo, Potter. That's not right. It's not' escapator', it's esc… esc? Oh, who bloody cares?
Professor McGonagall took one look at him and indicated a place right at the front. Harry sank down without trying to look too thankful to be seated. His leg muscles were behaving like a crate of ferrets on seeing a Hippogriff. He pulled his books out, picked up his quill and prepared to write down every word the Professor was about to deliver.
Five minutes into the lesson, his hand was cramping from the pressure of his grip on his quill and his belly growling. Now he wished he'd listened to Ginny and had more than a few mouthfuls of dry cereal washed down with some pumpkin juice. What class was Ginny in right now? What day was it? Tuesday, so that meant…
He swallowed convulsively as Professor McGonagall passed him and the swirl of air disturbed by her passage brought him cloyingly sweet scent and the sharp staleness of someone who hadn't washed for a couple of days at least. He tried breathing through his mouth instead but scents took his wandering mind back to Ginny even as his quill hand moved across the parchment.
Professor McGonagall's distinctive Scots tones couldn't hold Harry's attention, despite the enthusiasm she emanated for her subject. From more than six years of practice, Harry let her speech run through his head and down his arm to his quill without really processing it much.
"Now, the purpose of this spell diagram is to point out the similarities and differences in the metabasis of…."
There was something different about Ginny at breakfast…what was it…?
She smelled of that woody stuff Snape had me shredding by hand last detention… Perhaps that Hufflepuff bought her some perfume… S'funny, I never see her with any boyfriend yet she must have one. No bloke in the castle is that blind…
Ginny's face faded into his mind, coloured in Gryffindor tones as she offered her face to the warming kiss of the fire and he surrendered in the fight to keep his eyes open. The peaceful image of Ginny was preferable to the glare off his parchment.
“And, as you will recall from our earlier work, the Egyptian wizards identified their ka with the heart in the same way that modern culture identifies the heart with the soul. Hence the expression, ‘put your heart into it’ when the speaker means…”
In his imagination, he saw himself reach out and the tips of his fingers made contact with her cheek while she regarded him with her head on one side and that inscrutable little smile playing with her mouth. So soft… like a rose petal…
He received a ferocious nudge in the ribs and jumped, skidding his quill across the page.
"What?" he hissed at Hermione, while trying to swallow his heart.
"Harry, dip your quill at least once!" she said pityingly.
Harry stared; his blood began to swoosh loudly in his ears, he could see Hermione's mouth moving but not tell what she was saying. "Hermione! I don't want-"
"In the ink, Harry!" Hermione watched Harry turn vaguely to his notes, his eyes widen at their blankness and then back on her as though asking if somebody had played a trick on him. He was definitely more than half-asleep and a danger to himself in this lesson in her opinion.
With a little sigh, she took his quill and when Professor McGonagall wasn't looking, she Charmed it to be self-inking and handed it back. Harry made a grunt of approval and leaned over to prop his head on his hand.
Satisfied that Harry would continue taking notes and at least manage to stay awake, Hermione resumed her full concentration on the intricacies of self-Transfiguration…
"And so, if we accept this postulate to be true, we must conclude that -will whoever is making that whistling noise, please stop it at once- where was I? Miss Perks, your notes please."
Sally-Anne Perks raised her hand as she offered up her notes. "Yes, Miss Perks?"
"Professor, it's Harry. He's fallen asleep."
This quiet comment would earn poor Sally-Anne a detention as she retaliated in the corridor after the lesson to some suggestive remark about how she knew what Harry sounded like sleeping. At the time, Sally-Anne thought she was doing Harry a favour.
The Deputy Headmistress walked briskly around to Harry's desk and tapped him on the shoulder, calling his name as she did so. What happened next went round the school faster than dragon fire in a cottage.
Harry was on his feet quicker than light, wand raised. Magic flared outward, leaving a very shocked Professor McGonagall no time to defend herself as she was forced to transform.
When the blinding white glow faded Professor McGonagall stood before them, her robes so fitted they might have been shrink-wrapped to her and only the cat's head showing how their professor had tried to evade the magic. Her frozen figure glowed with inner light as the class stared at their translucent teacher, now a life-size cat-headed glass figurine, complete with fine clear whiskers.
The girls gasped, the boys breathed a reverent chorus of swears, earning themselves a severe stare from Hermione, while the perpetrator of this wild magic sank back down onto the edge of his seat, shaking, and apparently as unaware as before his Professor had woken him.
There was a sudden mad scramble to put as much space as possible between themselves and Harry and still be in the classroom.
It was left to Hermione – the only person in the room prepared go within three feet of Harry – to take charge, which she did with efficiency. "Harry? Harry, I'm taking your wand. You don't need it just now. (She did so) Ernie, will you go and get Professor Dumbledore, please. I daren't try reversing this."
If the rest of the class noticed her tapping her wand on her cheek as she surveyed their teacher from all angles and the anxious frown betraying the way her mind was running, none of them thought it prudent to say anything out loud.
Ernie McMillan left the room walking backwards, eyes fixed warily on Harry, and must have covered the distance in record time to return so promptly with the Headmaster.
After Professor Dumbledore had heard thirty muddled and overlapping accounts of what had occurred, he nodded benignly, dismissed them and suggested that Hermione accompany Harry back to his dormitory. Harry was sniggering at his desk with his glazed vision fixed on his Transfiguration teacher as though he found the whole thing wildly funny.
Professor Dumbledore ran a hand down his beard as he spoke. "Yes, indeed, his dormitory would be the best place for Harry at the moment. I feel certain he would benefit from 'piling up some zeds' as one of my American colleagues said to me recently. Such a charming description and so accurate, I feel." Hermione was aware of the ageless eyes watching her as she frowned across the classroom.
"She will, I mean… you will be able to…" Hermione trailed off.
"I do so enjoy a challenge, Miss Granger. I don't remember such an interesting occurrence since I accidentally Transfigured the Chinese member of the International Confederation of Wizards into a life-size jade figurine."
"You didn't!" Hermione blurted out, helping Harry to his feet.
"Oh indeed!" the Headmaster admitted, with a deep-seated twinkle back in his eyes. "The remaining delegates were most upset when I changed him back to flesh and blood. They felt he made a more valuable contribution as a piece of jade. Ah well!"
"Weren' y'tempted not to, Sir?" Harry asked. Clearly, the Marauder in Harry was showing; it was certainly James's wicked grin playing around his mouth. Professor Dumbledore peered over his half-moon glasses at the last Potter.
"Momentarily, Harry, I confess. But his wife is a delightful witch and I felt it unwise to upset her. A jade statue might have many attractions, but it cannot speak and they enjoyed many arguments."
Hermione wondered why the Headmaster had turned his twinkling glance on her as he spoke and decided he was wondering whether she was capable of getting Harry back to the dormitory. Harry had gained a few pounds over the summer and she was slightly built.
Hermione's glare was wasted on Harry when he started sniggering afresh for some reason. "Harry!" she hissed in a sharp undertone.
Harry grinned down at her and then noticed Professor McGonagall. "Hey, look, Herm'ony – we've got a new statue. If you screw your eyes up, looks bit like Mackie!" While Hermione was too stunned to speak, Harry pulled away from her with another snigger and lurched through the door of the classroom.
"Enjoyed many arguments!" his voice echoed back, "Ha! Y'got that right!"
Hermione flicked her attention between the door and her Transfiguration teacher worriedly, knowing that she ought to go after Harry and make sure he wasn't doing anything impractical or reckless – like sliding down the endless flights of bannisters – and yet feeling she ought to expand on her first explanation. "Professor, he didn't say anything. He just…"
Professor Dumbledore nodded. "Harry has great potential and I cannot help but feel that keeping him wearied in this fashion will backfire on Tom most spectacularly. At times, Harry appears to be in a deeply meditative state." It was Hermione's turn to nod. "I expect you have observed that despite his lack of repose, Harry has not thus far descended into paranoia."
Hermione considered, allowing her encyclopaedic memory free reign. "Ginny has told me that Harry knows Voldemort is keeping him sleepless. She thinks he's hoping that Harry will be unable to adjust to a sleep-depriving schedule, and that his judgement, reaction time, and resistance will be impaired. Harry believes that Voldemort is going to try baiting another trap, the way he did over Sirius."
Professor Dumbledore gave this some consideration. "It would fail. Harry would see through the gambit a second time."
"And go anyway," Hermione said quietly, "because that's the way he is... I'm surprised how well Harry is coping with the sleep deprivation actually."
"Indeed, Miss Granger… And what reason do you suppose there might be?"
Hermione frowned in furious concentration. "Well," she began slowly, "I've been reading a great deal about the early Egyptian wizards and the discovery of Patronuses. I was curious and when we started on Division theory, I read through the wizarding version of the Egyptian book of the Dead. It was…" Hermione had no words to describe what she had seen.
"I see you have read about the terrible 'Fate of the Second Death'." There was no twinkle in the blue eyes this time, indeed, the Headmaster looked his many years.
"It is a concept that is not well understood even now but the early Egyptian wizards had the most satisfactory explanation I feel. They believed that members of the magical community had a conjoined soul but that the two halves were independent of eachother. They argued that, even as the physical body had a soul, so did the magical aspect of the individual have a magical soul." His gaze travelled to Professor McGonagall. "It is a reason the Ministry keeps a very close eye nowadays on those attempting the Animagus transformation. The consequences of uninstructed attempts can be most grave."
"The division of the heart and the soul," Hermione whispered. "But why would anyone-"
"I recommend that you locate and encourage Harry along now, Miss Granger," the Headmaster said quickly, "before he attempts a more outrageous feat of Transfiguration."
Hermione did try to hide her scandalised expression. "What could be more outrageous than changing poor Professor McGonagall into a statue of Bastet?"
The Headmaster chuckled wheezily. "I recall his father, James, animating the suits of armour to perform a most interesting dance sequence through the castle at the beginning of his third year… The clamour that forty suits of armour make as they 'conga' after the nearest member of Slytherin house is quite astounding, Miss Granger, I assure you."
Hermione frowned uncertainly. "But how is that Transfiguration?" she asked.
"Something to consider, perhaps, as you ensure Mr Potter returns to Gryffindor Tower and rests?"
Hermione started and let out a huge gasp. "Oh no! Harry!" she called, dashing to the door of the classroom. "Harry! Wait for me!" Hermione swung around the door and popped her head back three seconds later. "Sorry sir!" she gasped and the Headmaster indicated that she ought to hurry. Mouth set determinedly, Hermione gripped both wands more securely and sprinted away.
"Ah, the resilience and energy of youth!" Professor Dumbledore remarked, turning to regard his Transfiguration teacher with a sigh. "And now, Minerva, let me assist you. You know what I must do."
It was something Hermione Granger knew she would never let Harry James bloody Potter forget – not if he lived to be two hundred!
How she had to half-carry him, staggering like a drunkard and trying to stop him from professing endless gratitude to her for all the things she had done for him over the years. She had contemplated but didn't dare try using magic on him – not while he was in this condition! Lord alone knew what Harry would turn her into, and the Headmaster had entrusted her with getting him back to Gryffindor Tower.
The only thing remotely good about the episode was that the school was at dinner so at least it would be a while before the Slytherins got to hear about it.
On the third floor, Harry had insisted that he could hear someone was calling his name and despite her protests, Hermione found herself being dragged to the door that had once kept 'Fluffy' from making three first years an afternoon snack.
"Why is it still locked?" Harry asked, turning the handle uselessly after repeated 'Alohomora' spells had produced no effect. "Apertio! Aperio! Permissus!"
Hermione dragged on Harry's arm as he invoked other spells. "What are you doing?" she begged.
Harry swayed and leaned against the door rather than Hermione. "But I can hear someone calling me," he insisted.
"And hearing voices that no one else can hear still isn't a good sign, Harry. You're hallucinating and you're either coming with me to Gryffindor Tower or you're going to the hospital wing. Which is it to be?"
Harry gave her a mutinous look but allowed himself to drawn away from the door and along the corridor. He fell up the first flight of stairs and lay sprawled where he landed, giggling, so Hermione was forced to start supporting him again.
"Will you shut up, Harry!" she hissed, as they stepped off the seventh staircase with Harry singing something tuneless about 'elevation'; at least that was what it sounded like to Hermione.
She had started out being tolerant and patient with her friend, but the Common room had never seemed so far away. Harry had exhausted her, leaning on her so heavily and she felt a bit guilty for snapping at him. "All we need is Peeves or Filch to turn up!" Harry stared at her owlishly and sniggered.
"I'm no' scared of silly lill' Peevesy!" Harry slurred. As if to prove his point, he pulled away from her, braced himself against the banister, threw his head back and roared up the stairwell. "Peevesy! You excuse ferra ghos' Come out, come out, wh'ever you ar'!"
"God's sake, Harry!" Hermione whimpered as his voice bounced back to them.
Harry held up one finger and affected a listening posture. "See! See! I'm not the only one!
Hermione closed her eyes briefly and gritted her teeth. "Those are echo's! Move! Move it right now, Potter!"
The Fat Lady was fortunately dozing when Hermione gritted out the password. (Maxime fabulosum!) She swung wide to admit them and Hermione gave up. She ducked out from under Harry's arm and let him fall in to measure his length on the polished floor. Gasping, sweaty and sore, she climbed over him and heard hastening footsteps.
"Bloody hell, Hermione! What happened to him?" Ron rolled his friend over and met Harry's drowsy gaze. He was grinning like a Weasley maniac. If he was hurt, he gave no indication of it.
"Lill' Ronniekins! I love you too!" Harry tried to pat Ron's face, missed and fell back laughing like a lunatic.
Ron stared suspiciously up at the Head Girl. "Is he pissed, or do I have to fill the git in?"
Talking as rapidly as she could, Hermione told Ron the whole thing. How Harry had 'attacked' Professor McGonagall and the nightmare trip back to the haven of the common room. By the time she had finished, the brilliance of Ron's grin could have outdone the displays in Oxford Street at Christmas.
"Just tell me again what he said?"
Hermione sighed. "He said he was going to be nice to Professor Snape from now on."
"Not that! What did he call him again?"
Hermione blushed and muttered over Ron's ear. He guffawed and looked down at his best friend, shaking his head. Hermione was reminded of the twins and knew Harry was in for a very bad day tomorrow.
"I've had enough. You get him up the stairs to bed. Here's his wand. And by the way, he’s stronger than he looks! I'll save you some dinner." Having issued her instructions, Hermione departed, massaging her painful shoulders.
Ron got his dinner late that night. Harry was convinced Ron was trying to send him up the girl's staircase and evaded him in a very determined fashion. In the end, Ron's grumbling belly made the decision for him; he left Harry lolling in an armchair, deciding that Ginny could convince his best friend to go upstairs and lie down.
When Hermione, Ginny and Ron returned after snatching a quick meal, they found the common room unusually quiet. They soon discovered the reason.
Harry was drowsing by the fire, the flames rising and falling in time to the vague motion of his outstretched hand. The other Gryffindors were crowded together around the fringes of the room, leaving an obvious dead space between them and Harry, and each year was being exceptionally careful to keep sudden movements and disturbing noise to a minimum.
Judging by the nervous looks the youngsters kept darting Harry’s way, the tale of what had taken place in the NEWT level classroom had done its rounds of Gryffindor Tower.
Ginny shook her head as she crossed the no-man's-land and crouched at Harry's knees. "Time you went up for a sleep," she said gently.
"Ginny, s'the fire dancing or 'm I halluc-sluice… seein' things?"
"The fire's dancing, Harry. Come on, up you get." She beckoned to Ron and between them, they got him up the stairs.
"I'll see to him," Ron muttered, as Harry fell untidily back on his covers.
Ginny smiled cheekily. "Oh Ronnie! Mum used to bath us together until you got all self-conscious at nine, so it's not like I'm in for a shock about the state of whatever Harry's wearing under his robes!"
Ron gasped. "I'm going to pretend you didn't just say that!" he hissed, wagging his index finger in pained emphasis.
Ginny grinned, caught his finger and tugged it hard. "Don't forget to tuck him in and kiss him goodnight, mum."
Ron's embarrassment became enlightenment in a heartbeat. "Huh! If there's gonna be any kissing, you can do it!" But he was talking to his sister's shadow; her steps echoed back as she descended the twisting stairs.
He snorted and gestured with his wand hand to shut the door. "Little madam! She's got worse, y'know Harry," he muttered, tugging at Harry's trainers without loosening the ties first. "Don't know what's got into her lately." Harry's trainers hit the floor and Ron struggled to move his friend's inert body to divest him of his school robe.
"Merlin help the poor sod who's going out with her at the moment – come on, Harry, roll over – but he'd better be behaving very respectfully or I'll set Fred and George on him." Ron paused in his puffing and grumbling; Hermione was right, Harry was heavier than he looked.
He had managed to get Harry down to his undies and socks and under the covers when the door opened revealing Neville. Ron watched curiously as the acknowledged Herbologist in their year picked something up prior to heeling the door shut.
"S'at?" Ron asked, examining the compact plants in their terracotta pots. The dense spikes of purple flowers were giving off a fragrance that made Ron want to sneeze.
"This? 'Lavandula Sinensis, Baku blue', it's Chinese Lavender," Neville expanded authoritatively. "I was lucky – it arrived the morning we came back to Hogwarts but I've only just managed to get the cuttings to a decent size."
Ron waved his hands to cut off the rest of the explanation and Neville looked up from the plant. The flower spikes were bowing to eachother, sending wafts of their distinctive scent across the dormitory. Ron's nose prickled. "Do we have to have that in here? It's getting more like the bloody greenhouses with every day that passes!" He sniffled. "And it pongs!"
Ron's nose prickled more painfully so he gave in and sneezed.
"Hey!" Neville remonstrated, shielding his beloved plants with his body. "Coughs and sneezes spread diseases, ring a bell? Don't give them your bugs!"
Ron shook his head tolerantly, watching Neville consider where to stand his newest acquisitions. His side of the room was already a mass of pots and greenery.
"Stick 'em in the middle so we all get some of it," he suggested, snuffling up noisily rather than hunt for a hankie. Neville set a plant in the deep-cut windowsills on either side of Harry's bed, muttering to them to take no notice of the insensitive git with the unhygienic habits.
"So, what does it do, this Chinese Lavender? Kung fu Harry's bad dreams into submission. Hey-ya!" Ron asked. He imitated a Kiai and could tell by Neville's stony face that he was not amused.
"Nah – come on, Nev, tell me. I'm interested, honestly," he said, making an attempt to sound placating.
Neville made a business of minutely adjusting the second pot before drawing breath to speak. "In ancient times, there was an animal – a magical animal – called the Baku that Chinese Healers used to help people who were plagued by bad dreams. If the Baku liked the person, they were assigned a Watcher. When the bad dreams started, the Watcher could summon the Baku with an incantation and it would eat the dream, converting it into good fortune for the sleeper."
Ron was frowning with concentration as he listened. "Sounds like a good thing, what happened?"
"During the last great Muggle war, Grindelwald was using powerful Dark Arts incantations to give people nightmares and ruin their sleep so he could wear the Magical world down and he ordered the Baku killed. They look fierce – a bit like a wild boar with a silky mane – but they're gentle animals and they stood no chance against his Black Robes… About twenty years ago, this plant was discovered growing in the clearing where one of the last pairs was known to have lived. It's been found to have many of the properties of the magical animal."
He drew a breath and gave Ron a defiant stare. "I sent for a cutting, thought I'd give it a go in here. We could all do with a decent nights sleep, NEWT year and so on." He studiously avoided looking in Harry's direction but Ron understood anyway.
Harry took a deeper breath at that moment and drew their eyes. For once he seemed to be sleeping restfully. "Does it need anything particular?" Ron asked.
Neville accepted his capitulation and eagerly fumbled out a tightly rolled scroll from his jeans pocket. He screwed up his eyes as he consulted the tiny print and then said, "It likes nails apparently – toenails especially-"
"-Urgh!" Ron grimaced and Neville grinned.
"-and, best of all, the scent keeps spiders away."
Ron gazed at the pots with fresh admiration. "I love it!" he said fervently.
Neville looked smug. "Thought you would."
The dormitory door opened again and Seamus entered. "What a bloody day!" he moaned, trudging across the stone floor. Halfway between the door and his four poster, he paused. "What's that awful stink?" he demanded sniffing. "Which one of you has got a new smelly?"
"It's Chinese Lavender, you ignorant bog-dweller, and its not awful and it stays! You're outvoted," Ron said quickly.
"Oh aye? Two to one?" Seamus challenged noting Neville.
"Three to one!" Neville returned. "Harry likes it." He indicated Harry's prone form, still lying under his blankets in the un-natural posture in which Ron had left him.
The Irishman looked sceptical in the extreme. "Harry likes it? Harry wouldn't notice if the bloody thing got in bed with him!"
The door opened again. "Who's got in bed with Harry?" Dean said, tripping over his own feet and measuring his length on the floor in his haste. "Bloody hell!" he said and coughed. "Nice perfume! What did she do? Marinade herself in it and knock the poor sod unconscious?"
Seamus snorted and started sniggering as he fell back across his four poster bed.
"What?" Dean said. He had risen to his knees and was wafting a hand before his nose. "Pwah! Someone fart and clear the air! That stink is enough to singe the hairs out of your nose." Then he noticed Harry sound asleep and did a double take. "Told you the smell was enough to knock anyone out."
Ron and Neville exchanged resigned expressions and with a sigh, Neville explained all over again.
Dean's face was still wrinkled as he considered while picking himself up and toeing his shoes off. "So, it'll help us all sleep? Cool! Where did you get the idea?"
Neville shrugged. "Dunno really. I remember waking up one morning and it had just popped into my head."
Ron yawned and reached back over his head to pull off his robes. "Well, I don't care if it came to you in a dream, if we get some decent nights kip out of it, I won't say another word against it."
Consensus reached, the seventh year boys prepared for bed and a cacophony of snores soon ensued.
A/N: The title of the chapter is a quotation from ‘The Floure and the Leafe’; a piece of Middle English poetry, often attributed to Chaucer and the authorship is still a subject of scholarly debate. If anyone knows differently, feel free to correct me!
The quoted passage from the ‘Book of the Dead’ is as accurate as whoever made the translation, lol, and finally, the Baku is not my invention either but is a mythical creature of oriental origin. It is also known as a Shirokina Kami.
My humble thanks goes to my trusty prebeta, Aggiebell, and my beta, Katieay, for pointing out my continuity errors and keeping me on the straight and narrow. *grin* Your comments always give me fresh inspiration! Thanks muchly!