After a detention spent putting up Hallowe'en decorations with Filch, Harry got back to the dorm to find that his pillow was under Dean's head, as the griffin had disemboweled Dean's. Rolling up his school robes for a substitute, Harry attempted to get some sleep in between being pounced on and cries of, "Oi! Get off!" and, "Ouch!" from his roommates.
He eventually fell asleep and dreamed uneasily about having to serve a detention in a kitchen, making an endless series of wedding cakes. They were all decorated with little tombstones, except for one that had a Snitch theme. Harry rather liked that one.
"Mmm?" said Neville.
The pitter-patter of little griffin feet, although noisy, was infinitely more restful than the prickle of little griffin claws, so Harry continued to sleep lightly until the galloping went across his chest.
"Aggghkk!" he said, sitting up and grabbing for his glasses.
Neville said groggily, "She's playing with something. We'd better take it away or none of us will get any sleep."
The griffin pounced and shook her head fiercely in the dim moonlight, growling.
Harry slowly rolled out of bed and crept toward the griffin. "Here, give me that now," he said, reaching out.
The griffin twisted and tore at the thing with her front claws. Harry got hold of one end, then dropped it immediately. "Neville! She's caught a snake!"
"What?" Neville sat bolt upright in bed. "What's a snake doing in our dorm?"
Seamus rolled over and said, with irritation, "Being kept awake by people talking."
"Is it dead?" Ron asked sleepily.
Harry eyed the griffin, who was apparently attempting to eat it, tail first. "I... hope so."
"Yuuuucck," Neville said, shuddering. "She dragged it over me. I thought it was a shoelace or something."
"I just hope it wasn't someone's pet," said Harry.
"It'd be a Slytherin's anyway," Dean muttered. "So who cares if it was?"
"Throw the bloody thing out the window, Harry," Seamus said, pulling his pillow over his head.
"She probably shouldn't eat it," Ron said.
"Oh. Right," said Harry, and then engaged in a squeamish game of tug-of-war with the griffin. She was far more interested in winning the tug-of-war than in eating the snake, fortunately. Harry finally got the snake free, mostly intact, and threw it out the window.
The griffin retired to Neville's pillow to clean her paws and groom her tail.
When Ginny and the concealed Hermione arrived at the Three Broomsticks on the next Hogsmeade day, Percy's ginger head was already visible at a corner table. Ginny picked her way over to him and sat down. She studied her brother, noting the thinness of his face and the dark circles under his eyes. After they'd stared at each other across the table for a few moments, Ginny said, "Mum would skin you alive if she saw you looking this bad."
"Well, hello to you too," Percy sniffed.
Ginny glanced around. "No butterbeer for your sister?"
Percy sighed explosively, got up, and strode briskly to the bar.
"I'm right here," Hermione whispered in her ear.
"Good," Ginny said quietly to the tabletop, hoping this all wasn't a terrible idea.
Percy returned with a butterbeer for Ginny and a glass of water for himself. "Drinking is bad for you, Ginevra," he said unctuously, passing the bottle over to her. "Dulls the mind. You're taking your OWLs this year. Can't be too careful."
"Thanks, Percy," she replied after taking a drink. "Now what were you so very fired up about?"
Her brother leaned across the table and whispered, "I've been told that you've.... you've married Harry Potter."
Ginny laughed aloud, virtually in Percy's face, despite the sudden cold feeling at the base of her spine. She covered her mouth with one hand and continued to giggle for a few moments before she appeared to master herself. "Oh, Percy," she said pityingly. "Where did you hear such a thing?"
Percy looked affronted, and insisted, indignantly, "My source was very reliable."
"Like Mr. Crouch?" Ginny asked in a low voice. "Whose son was a Death Eater? Or maybe Minister Fudge, who loved his power too much to see the truth until it was shoved up his nose?"
Percy shifted uncomfortably. "Reliable," he repeated. "And respectable."
"Percy," she said sadly, "why did you ask me here today?"
"I wanted the truth," he said through gritted teeth.
Ginny gave him an appraising look, took a long drink of butterbeer, and said, "I don't see why I should give you any information about the family, true or false, seeing as you haven't bothered to apologize to Mum and Dad yet." She stood up. "I'd better go. I'm probably not respectable enough to be seen with you."
Percy opened his mouth, then, seeing the look on her face, closed it again and scowled down into his water. Ginny waited a few seconds to see if he would say anything else, then made her way out of the pub.
"We could start training her!" Ron said excitedly.
"Train her to do what?" Harry asked. "Hunt and shred more pillows?" His neck hurt from sleeping on his rolled-up robes.
"Come on, Harry, just the little harness?" Ron pleaded. "And you know we're going to need a leash."
Harry sighed and rubbed his face. "I wonder how fast she's going to grow in another two weeks. She seems bigger already. Her wings have more feathers."
Ron stared at Harry. "You don't think she's going to start flying, do you?"
Harry stared back at Ron, his eyes widening in horror. Then he turned to the shopkeeper. "The strongest harness you have, please. And the long red leash."
"And that box of treats over there," said Ron. When Harry turned a disbelieving look on him, Ron said, "What? Uh, she'll like them. And it'll help us train her."
Harry said, "You have a point."
Ron added, "These treats don't drip, either."
"Right." Harry nodded to the shopkeeper, who added them to their small pile of items, which included a tough dragonhide toy.
As they left the store with their bag, Harry said, "I just wish I knew where she'd found that snake."
"And the second one last night," Ron added.
"I've never seen snakes wandering the castle," Harry said. "Nor heard them either."
Ron eyed him sideways.
"Well, except that one time," Harry admitted, "but that was different."
"If she catches another one," Ron said, "we should probably try to get it before she kills it. And then you could ask it."
Harry stared at Ron, startled. "I... didn't think of that."
Ron looked proud of himself. "Next thing y'know, I'll think of something before Hermione does."
Ginny walked down an alleyway near Honeydukes, then stopped and leaned against the wall.
"He was pretty determined not to tell you where he heard it," Hermione said, appearing next to her.
"I wonder if he even knows," Ginny said. "Percy drops more names than Malfoy. He's usually happy to tell everyone around him exactly who deigns to talk to him at the Ministry."
"Point," Hermione said, carefully folding the cloak. "I wonder what he thought of your reaction."
"He'll take it at face value, of course," Ginny said, rubbing her eyes tiredly. "He's not very imaginative, our Percy. And he believes me all the time."
Ginny grinned at Hermione. "Because I'm not Fred or George. Somehow, he got it into his head that I'm just as responsible as him or Bill."
Hermione rolled her eyes. Then she looked hard down the alleyway. There were stealthy crunching sounds around the back of Honeydukes, moving slowly, getting louder. "Ginny," she whispered, "I think someone's coming this way."
Ginny looked back that way and hissed, "Hide!" She ducked behind a trash bin. When she glanced around, she saw no sign of Hermione.
A man in a hooded cloak strode into view and paused to survey the alley. After a moment, he smiled, his teeth glinting from the shadows. "Come out, come out, little girl," he said in a quiet voice that nevertheless carried.
Ginny gritted her teeth and slid her wand out of her jacket. Yet another cretin who called her "little."
He began to walk toward her, and she saw his wand in his hand. "You might as well come out," he said in a reasonable tone, "because you won't get away from me."
She glanced up and down the alley. At least he seemed to be the only one. All right, maybe this "little" thing worked for her insofar as her enemies seemed to be determined to underestimate her.
He reached her trash bin and stopped. She could hear his boots on the gravel as he shifted to look around. Then he leaned over the bin suddenly, thrusting his wand into view. She leaped to the side as the green flash of an Unforgivable blew several boxes to splinters.
She twisted and came up to her feet, spitting, "Stupefy!" The man--a Death Eater, she presumed--blew end over end down the alley, stiff as a board. She realized that Hermione had cast a full body bind on him at the same moment. "Thanks," she said.
"No problem," Hermione replied, emerging from the cloak and tucking her wand away.
"Let's get back to the school," Ginny said, feeling very much done with Hogsmeade suddenly.
"You read my mind."
"Think we should tell Dumbledore?"
"Think he doesn't know already?" Hermione asked, raising both eyebrows.
"Well, someone's going to be alarmed," Ginny commented. "He's standing on his head with his heels propped against that ventilation pipe back there."
Ron and Harry were heading toward Honeydukes when Ron called out, "Oi, Hermione! Ginny! Wait up!"
Hermione appeared to be hurriedly buttoning up her jacket as they approached, and Harry thought Ginny looked oddly flustered. "What's up?" he asked.
Ginny and Hermione exchanged looks. "Nothing much," Hermione said.
"Nope," Ginny said.
"Hey, look, we just got this for the griffin!" Ron said, displaying the harness and leash proudly. "The harness has brass bits, see? So the griffin'll be all in red and gold!"
"Ah," Hermione said. "Great, Ron. That's great."
"It'll be adorable," Ginny said sincerely.
Harry eyed the two of them for a moment. "You're... sure nothing's up?"
Ginny looked at Harry. "Oh, come on. What could we possibly get up to in Hogsmeade?"
"We should go," Hermione said abruptly. "All of us. Now."
"What?" Ron said. "We haven't... I wanted to pick up some... Honeydukes... Zonko's..."
Hermione had given Ginny a significant look, and the two of them had taken Ron and Harry firmly by the elbows and started to lead them back to the castle.
"What's going on?" Harry said, attempting to free himself from Ginny's surprisingly powerful grasp.
"We'll discuss it back at Hogwarts," Hermione said, towing Ron along at a brisk pace.
It was a good thing Harry was already sitting down, Ginny thought, because given the look on his face, he really needed to be sitting down right now. He looked from Ginny to Hermione, speechless.
Ron was less so. "Percy?" he said, his voice hitting registers usually reserved for cheering at Cannons games. "Percy sold you out to the Death--"
"Shhh!" Ginny clapped a hand over his mouth. "Ron! Not so loud!"
Hermione opened the dorm door and peeked out. No one was there, not even a ghost. She shut it and sat down on Harry's bed again. "Ron, I don't think Percy did that. I think he was just a catspaw."
Ron nodded, the flush on his face dying down. "A catspaw. Right. That explains everything. Of course he's a catspaw. What the bloody hell is a catspaw?"
"It's when a more powerful person uses a less powerful one to do their dirty--" Hermione began.
"Like what Tom Riddle did with me," Ginny snapped.
"D'you think he was under Imperius?" asked Harry, turning pale.
Ginny looked at Hermione, who shook her head, agreeing. Ginny said, "No. I just think he's kind of stupid."
"That isn't news," said Ron, flopping on his belly across the bed.
"No, but this is. Percy's 'sources' told him that Harry and I were married," Ginny said grimly.
"And of course he'd have to come and check out something like that," Ron said slowly.
Ginny glanced at Harry, who'd turned yet paler. She and Harry and Hermione spent a moment or two looking at one another before Hermione cleared her throat and said, "To state the obvious, no, the leak wasn't one of us."
Harry said, "It couldn't be Rita Skeeter, could it?"
"You would not believe the number of Insect-Repelling Charms I have cast around Gryffindor," said Hermione, a touch acidly. "And something tells me that Dumbledore has done something similar."
"Besides," said Ginny, "If it were Skeeter, she wouldn't content herself with just telling someone at the Ministry..."
"Snape!" said Ron. They all turned to look at him. "Well, he knows, doesn't he? And he's a Death Eater, isn't he? So maybe he told--"
Hermione opened her mouth, but Harry cut her off impatiently. "Yes, yes, Dumbledore trusts him. McGonagall trusts him. How many times do we go over this, Ron? Every time something happens, you cry Snape."
"Well, he is a right bastard," muttered Ron.
"Yes," shot back Harry, "but if he wanted this spell-thing to fail he wouldn't be a bastard to me about how I'm treating Ginny, now would he?" Then he turned bright red.
Ginny stared at him, then looked at Hermione, who shrugged with one shoulder, looked ceilingward, and said, "Talk about a raven in a box at the bottom of a well at midnight calling a slightly smudged copper kettle black."
Ginny snorted. After a moment, everyone was laughing.
Harry had not quite finished blushing over his inadvertent confession when Ginny said, "Right, now that we're all up to date, we've got to go talk to Professor McGonagall."
"What for?" asked Ron, honestly puzzled.
Hermione said, "Um, to report the Death Eater attack on Ginny?"
Harry sat up directly, feeling as though a pitcher of icewater had just been dumped over him. "Ginny, no! You can't tell her!"
Ginny leaned over and placed her palms on the bed, her long hair sweeping forward off her shoulders. "Harry. There is a Death Eater standing on his head in that alleyway. Quite apart from the fact that it's bad for his brain, he's going to be angry as hell when the Body-Bind wears off. Someone's got to be informed."
"Um," Harry said. "I guess you have a point."
"But they'll keep us from going to Hogsmeade!" protested Ron. "They might cancel Hogsmeade weekends altogether!"
"Yes," said Hermione patiently. "Ron, if there are Death Eaters in Hogsmeade, it's probably not just Harry and Ginny that are in danger."
"The original attack, brother mine," Ginny said, "was designed to be on all Hogwarts, if you'll recall? That means they'd really rather like to kill everyone, and that's what this whole--" she paused a moment, grasping for words "--farce was supposed to prevent!"
Harry opened his mouth to say something and discovered that his voice had vanished. While he expected that there had always been Death Eaters prowling Hogsmeade, having them attempt to kill someone in broad daylight, when the town was crowded with students, was another thing altogether. And if Percy had been told about the marriage by someone, and that someone wasn't a Weasley or a Hogwarts teacher, then that, with the appearance of the Death Eater, suggested that...
"Besides," Ginny continued, "this just... confirms my guess that You-Know-Who knows."
Hermione and Ginny were already getting up to leave the dorm. Harry stood up to follow them, thought, Farce, and sat down again.
As they got to the door, Hermione looked around. "Harry? Ron? Aren't you coming?"
Ginny said, without looking around, "I think Professor McGonagall will want to talk to you too."
Harry stood back up. With all three of them looking at him, Ron finally climbed heavily to his feet. "All right," he said, "let's go get it all over with then. Goodbye, Honeydukes." He sniffled theatrically.
Ginny had been dreading this moment ever since she realized that the whole story of visiting Percy would have to come out.
"Borrowed my Invisibility Cloak?" Harry hissed angrily once they got out of McGonagall's office. "Borrowed?"
Hermione looked like she was in pain, and Ron looked, as ever, bewildered. Ginny said in a low voice, "Look, Harry, we..."
"NO," he bellowed, "you look here. I don't CARE what -- What?"
Ginny, irritated, latched onto his elbow and towed him along. He tried to break free of her grasp, as before, but he again failed to reckon with a girl who'd grown up with six brothers. Her fingers tightened and she hurried her step.
Up the stairs and up some more stairs and down a hallway. Hermione and Ron followed silently, and Harry kept attempting to protest. She shushed him wrathfully.
When they stood before the door, he looked up at it, then back at her. She opened the door of the Room of Requirement and dragged him in after her. Hermione shut the door after she and Ron had also passed over the threshold.
The room was small and silent, heavy with dark wooden paneling. A fire was lit in the grate, and four solid chairs, padded in Gryffindor colors, were set before it. A sideboard held a few decanters of things, tumblers, cups, and a steaming tea service.
Ginny released him in the center of the room. He stood there, looking around and rubbing his arm. "Now you can shout if you like," she said, hands on hips.
Harry looked perplexed. "Why here?" he asked sullenly.
"Because," she said reasonably, "there was a group of Slytherins sliding closer. And you were starting to shout."
"Was not," he said, still rubbing his arm.
"You were," she said in repressive tones more than a little reminiscent of her mother. "So, here we are. You want to rant and scream? Do it here." She pointed to herself. "Right here. It was my idea, and there's no cause to be shooting dirty looks at Hermione."
Harry looked at her for a long moment, started to say something, then looked down at the floor. "Well," he said finally, "you could have asked me."
"Oh, yes," Ginny said acidly, "in all those convenient moments of close friendship and confidential conversation we've been having. I quite forgot. Silly me."
"Yeah, well at least I didn't steal something from you," he snarled.
Ron sat down in a chair and said, sotto voce to Hermione, "Is this their first fight?"
Hermione, who never looked away from Ginny and Harry, nodded and said, "Uh-huh."
"Should we, you know," Ron said, "break it up a little?"
Hermione shook her head. "No. Hush."
Ginny nodded. "Right. That's right. You didn't steal anything from me. And I should've asked your permission. I'll agree with both those things."
Harry stopped rubbing his arm, still looking at the floor. "It's all right, isn't it?" he asked after a moment.
Ginny sighed. "Yes, Harry. Like Hermione or I would let something happen to your cloak? If you think that, you're a bigger idiot than I thought."
"Right." Harry shuffled one foot against the thick pile of the carpet. "Look, everyone's been telling me I... was treating you badly."
Ginny raised an eyebrow at him. "Like Snape?"
"Yeah," he said awkwardly. "The last person I would've expected to hear it from."
"Frankly the last person I would have too," she said.
"Yeah," he said again. "So I, um, I'm sorry." He looked up at her finally, cautiously.
One corner of Ginny's mouth quirked up, then she nodded. "I'm sorry about the cloak."
He nodded. "Friends?" he suggested, holding out one hand.
Ginny eyed him shrewdly, then she smiled and took his hand. "Friends. Until you start freezing me out again, Potter, and then I'll get mean."
Harry laughed, still awkward, and said, "You and the rest of Hogwarts, I think."
"All right then," Hermione said in her best parody of her own bossy manner, carrying the tea service over to a nearby table, "sit down the both of you and let's have tea. There's biscuits and everything."
The four settled into the large, surprisingly comfortable chairs with their teacups and biscuits.
Harry said, offhandedly, "So, can I have it back then?"
"What?" Ginny asked.
"Oh, I should think so," she said, airily waving her teaspoon about. "But I'll have it back the next time I decide to kite off to Hogsmeade to try my hand at dueling Death Eaters."
The griffin was assiduously peering under cabinets, chairs, and tables in the common room. The was a crowd of girls in the common room this evening, all of them seemingly much entertained by the griffin's antics. Padma, visiting her sister Parvati, was particularly enchanted, although her new pet raven was not.
Harry eyed the griffin worriedly. "She's really taken to this snake-hunting thing."
"How many snakes did you say she'd found?" Hermione asked.
"She's up to six now," Ron said morosely. "All of 'em were pretty small, and she killed them so quick Harry didn't have a chance to talk to them."
"Efficient," Hermione said.
"That she is," Seamus said on his way past. "Lovely, too. Adorable. Want to keep her for a night?"
"Or forever?" Dean intoned from across the room.
The griffin paused in her perambulations to sit up and chatter excitedly at Rolor, the raven, which was perched grumpily on the very top of the stone molding over one of the windows. It hunched its shoulders and disdained to reply.
"Ah, no thanks," Hermione said, a little too quickly.
"Alas," Seamus said, flashing what he evidently thought was his most charming grin, "but she's utterly harm-- What's she got there?" His grin froze with horror. "That's not..."
"That is," Ron said, peering past him.
Seamus bore down on the griffin, waving his hands. "No! No! Bad griffin!"
"We'll have to name her if Hagrid doesn't get back soon," Harry said, snickering. "She's going to think her name is 'Bad Griffin.'"
"What's she got?" Hermione asked, puzzled and trying to see what Seamus was wrestling away from the griffin. The griffin, for her part, had dug in and was growling like a small buzzsaw.
"His lucky underpants," Harry explained.
Seamus managed to triumph by throwing himself onto his pants and crowding the griffin off. Ron gave Seamus the thumbs-up, and explained to Hermione's perplexed frown, "He wore them for OWLs and did so well he's saving them for NEWTs."
"Really," Hermione remarked, not without amusement. "At our age one would think we'd place more faith in studying than in underwear."
Seamus retreated up the stairs with his prize, to the accompaniment of mad giggling. Meanwhile, the griffin wandered over to peek hopefully under Dennis Creevey's robe.
Parvati turned to Padma and said in a voice that carried clear across the room, "What if the griffin is just finding snakes that have been here all along? And we wouldn't have known about them but for her?"
"Eugh," Ron said. "What a thought."
Ginny was not so much sitting at one of the tables in the Common Room as barricading herself at one when Hermione sat down opposite her. "Mind if I take up a few square feet?"
"Not at all, especially since you did your Arithmancy OWL last year," Ginny replied, looking up hopefully. "I'm trying to study, but it's difficult with yet another Potions essay hanging over my head." She shoved aside Unlikely Ingredients From Unlikely Places and The Encyclopedia of Uncommon Materials, with Cross-References.
Hermione moved a stack of notes. "We can study together for a bit, and then I'll help you with your essay, if you like."
Ginny smiled beatifically at her rescuer. "Do you have any interest in a redheaded firstborn?"
Hermione grinned. "Not at the moment, but I'll check back in a few years."
Ginny flipped to a new chapter in her Arithmancy text and consulted her notes. She was just about to ask whether Hermione would possibly consider loaning her notes from last year (what with the firstborn thing and all) when Hermione sighed and poked her quill angrily at the parchment. "Really, what's the use of setting word problems in Arithmancy? This would be so much easier if I understood poker a little better."
Ginny looked up. "You need to learn how to play poker?"
Hermione flicked a charm at an ink spot and it vanished from her homework. "Well, it would make this assignment much easier."
Ginny grinned. "This, my friend, is the grin of a poker shark. There should be a pack in the cupboard over there. It's not that difficult to learn."
Hermione wavered. "Will it take very much time? You've got that essay to do."
"Oh, it goes very quick," said Ginny, fetching the cards. "Let's start with one of the simpler variations, like Salem Stud. There's lots more complex games, like Bon Sour One Frank and Wands At The Door. But we'll start with the basics."
"The basics, huh," said Hermione challengingly, leaning on one hand and watching Ginny.
"Yep," said Ginny, tapping the deck with her wand and saying, "Shuffle." One corner of her mouth curled up.
The cards, much bent, very faded, and somewhat greasy in appearance, shuffled themselves slowly and carefully.
"Now, a lot of the strategy in poker has to do with betting," Ginny said, "but before you get to the betting strategy, you have to learn what's a winning hand. These cards are so old, they'll practically tell you." She tapped the deck and said, "Salem Stud. Deck dealer."
The deck slowly dealt out five cards to each of them. Hermione said, "Shouldn't there be chips or something?"
Ginny shook her head. "No, you never put money on the table in wizard poker. It's considered extremely bad luck, ever since there was that Incident in Madrid. No one ever puts money on the table when they're playing cards. The deck keeps track for you."
"Oh," Hermione said, picking up her cards. "So why is it called 'Salem Stud'?"
"Mum learned it from some visiting witches from the Salem Institute," Ginny said, studying her cards. "They brought dragon pox over with them too, and all of Gryffindor and Hufflepuff went down with it before the teachers could quarantine everyone. Mum and her friends didn't have anything to do for weeks except play cards. Which was bad, since they were playing for chocolate, and they weren't supposed to have any chocolate. It made them flame more."
Hermione giggled. "I was wondering why we have so many very old fireproofing charms around the tower."
"Mum said her trunk smelled of smoke for years after," Ginny said. "Now, these are the winning hands..."
"Come back here, Dora!" shouted Dean, chasing after the griffin, who was romping cheerfully away with a shoe in her beak.
"...Dora?" Harry said, bewildered, having just entered the room.
Ron moved in front of the griffin, and Dean closed in behind her. The griffin, for her part, crouched over her acquisition, rear and tail high in the air, wiggling excitedly. As they both dove for her, she somehow slipped between them, leaving Dean's head to collide with Ron's chin. The pair reeled back in a daze.
Seamus watched from the safety of the bed. "She needed a name, Harry. She really needed a name."
"Why Dora?" Harry asked, watching Ron and Dean stagger to their respective beds. The griffin watched them too, from her perch atop Neville's bed.
Seamus grinned at him. "C'mon, Harry. Think about it."
Harry's brow creased with puzzlement. He felt a bit like everyone else was dancing around his idle wits, pointing and laughing. Then it hit him. "Urggggh," he said, closing his eyes tightly and pinching the bridge of his nose. "Why didn't you just wait for Hagrid to name her?"
"Oh, come on, Harry," Dean said. "Hagrid would just name her... Fluffy or something."
"He's already got a Fluffy," Ron said from his position, sprawled backwards over his bed. The griffin romped across his belly, producing a number of surprising sounds from him.
"It was Neville's fault, actually," said Seamus. "He's a devil for puns."
"Neville?" Harry said incredulously, turning to look at Neville, who was engaged in trying to wrestle something--socks?--away from the overexcited griffin.
"Um?" Neville said, caught mid-wrestle and staring up at Harry innocently.
"Oh, all right," Harry said, pressing the heel of his hand to his forehead. "It makes sense to name her, I suppose. We can't keep calling her 'the griffin'."
The griffin launched herself at Neville in a flurry of flapping wings and happy trills. He keeled over and landed with a thump on his back. Dora performed a triumphal dance on his chest for several moments before curling up and dropping off to sleep with astonishing speed. Neville whimpered.
"Guess you're the most comfortable," Seamus said.
"Yeah," Dean commented. "She likes sleeping on you. When she's on you, she stays out for hours."
"I have detention tonight," Neville said despairingly, lifting his head to peer at the snoozing griffin.
Harry regarded Ron, who seemed to be taking his horizontal opportunity for a nap. "Maybe we can... I dunno, shift her over to Ron without waking her."
"What's the cushiest bit of Ron?" Seamus said, studying their roommate critically.
"He's pretty bony all over," Dean said.
"Try his head," Neville groaned.
"Hey," Ron objected. "I'm not asleep."
"You look it," Harry said. "Besides, you're the next best thing to Neville right now."
"You're squishier than I am," Ron said, shooting a look at Harry.
"Really?" Seamus said curiously, rising from his seat to peer at Harry more closely. "I suppose I hadn't really noticed, Harry, but he's right. You've got a bit round about the middle."
"Have not!" Harry said, looking down at himself.
Dean nodded sadly. "The Gryffindor Seeker's gone all soft."
Harry was indignant. "I'm just as fit as ever!"
Ron sat up and stretched. "Oh, come on, Harry, give it up. You already said your trousers were tight, just a few weeks ago in the locker room."
Harry's mouth opened and closed. "I'm a teenager. Teenagers grow!"
"All directions, it seems," Seamus said, clicking his tongue and drifting toward the door. "Well, I'm for dinner. Anyone else?"
"Harry shouldn't have anything more to eat than a stick of celery," Dean said, following.
"Yeah," Ron said. "Mum'll feed him till he bursts at hols anyway. You have to slim down, mate, or Malfoy'll beat you to the Snitch in the next game."
Harry was last out, staring at his roommates, appalled. "I can't not eat! I'm starving!"
"Yeah, yeah," Seamus said, "that's what they all say."
"You should have a chat with the girls sometime," Dean said. "They've got a lot of good diets."
Seamus shot a grin over his shoulder at Harry. "That's all right, it looks good on you, mate. No need to reduce."
Harry was about to answer when he heard Neville's distant voice saying, "Fellows? Hello? Dinner? Detention? Hello?"
At the scream, Ginny was out of bed, on her feet, wand in hand. She looked around wildly for the source of the noise, but it had cut off sharply at her appearance.
"Um," Prudence said, staring wide-eyed down the length of Ginny's lit wand. Letty, equally large-eyed, was standing just behind her.
"Oh, sorry," Ginny said, casually lowering the wand and internally cursing her brother-born reflexes. "What's wrong?"
"There's a snake in here!" Letty wailed. "I saw it when I went to put on my slippers."
"Where'd it go?" Ginny asked.
Marian Fairlie, a quiet, practical girl that Ginny quite liked, pointed at Letty's nightstand. "It just slipped behind there. It's not very big."
Ginny dove for the floor just in time to glimpse a small snake moving off under Evelina's bed. "Petrificus totalus!" she barked, then pulled the paralyzed snake out.
All the other girls had seemingly Apparated to the other side of the room. Ginny raised an eyebrow at them, but said, "I'll just go take care of this, shall I?" She held her wand in her teeth and grabbed her dressing gown as she left the room.
Where to go? She stuck her head into the bathroom. No signs of any other girls. She slid in and, around a corner, released the full-body bind on the snake.
Thank you, it said. That was rather uncomfortable.
"Sorry," she replied. "I was afraid they'd hurt you. What're you doing here anyway?"
I was told to look around, the snake said, regarding her stolidly.
"By whom?" Ginny asked.
Some fellow, the snake replied. Then there was the business with the box, and the horrible joggling journey, and I'm still rather ill from that. I'd really just like to find someplace warm right about now.
"Well," she said, "you're not a biting sort of snake, are you?"
No, said the snake, sounding offended. Constrictor, that's me.
Ginny approximated its length at about a foot and a half. She wasn't too worried. "I'll see if I can't find you someplace warm and safe. Meanwhile, er, would you like to curl up in my sleeve?"
Oh, how delightful! the snake exclaimed as she offered it her sleeve. It slithered in and wound itself around her upper arm, where she was the warmest. An odd sensation, but certainly not unpleasant.
Ginny let the snake settle in while she considered what to do next. It took her all of ten seconds before she was treading softly up the stairs to Hermione's room.
Harry was dreaming that someone was serving him a platter of dancing sausages when the mashed potatoes began to whisper his name urgently. Somehow, this dragged him up to consciousness, and he discovered that the potatoes were, in fact, Hermione. Or, at least, the voice was hers.
"Huh?" he said intelligently, mind racing and wondering where his fork-tipped wand had gone.
"Get up," Hermione said from the door. "I need to talk to you."
"Right," he whispered, managing to locate his glasses and staggering into the stairwell. "What?"
"Ginny caught a snake," she said.
"Ginny?" he said, confusedly thinking that the griffin's name had been changed.
"Yes," Hermione said. "She put it in a body-bind and brought it to me."
"Well," he said, part of his mind observing dryly that he was obviously not as awake as he thought he was.
"Come talk to it?"
"Oh," he said. "Right. Sure. Let me grab..."
"Your dressing gown?" Ron said, emerging from the door, holding the garment out to him.
Harry peered at Ron. "What're you doing up?"
Ron grinned lopsidedly and yawned. "My Harry's-up-to-something alarm went off. Almost as good as Mum's clock."
After deciding against the boys' bathroom ("Neville always has to pee in the middle of the night") and the girls' bathroom ("I'm not going in there!" "You had no trouble with Myrtle's bathroom!" "Myrtle's bathroom didn't have girls in it!" "He's just scared of scented shampoo. It's the twins' fault, don't ask."), Harry went back and fetched the Invisibility Cloak, and they sneaked out to the Room of Requirement.
"It's kind of tame now," said Ginny as they snuck along the corridor. "All we have to worry about is Filch."
"Er," said Harry, "and any other professors who..."
"... stalk the night fantastic?" said Hermione.
"I was going to say, have insomnia," said Harry, sounding a little bewildered.
"Ow," muttered Ron. "Quit stepping on my foot, Gin."
"I wouldn't step on it if it weren't bigger than the squid."
"Are you saying there's something wrong with my extremities?" demanded Ron.
"Well, you have got big hands and feet," said Ginny.
"It means you're going to be tall," interrupted Harry placatingly. "Now be quiet! I can't see the map properly under here and you wouldn't want Mrs. Norris finding us."
"It's the door," Hermione said, popping out from under the cloak to open it with an air of relief.
Ron muttered to himself, "Nothing wrong with my hands and feet."
The Room of Requirement was decorated much the same as before, with the addition of two large, well-appointed snake tanks. The four of them crowded through the door and hurriedly shut it behind them.
"Whew," said Ron, throwing himself into the chair closest to the fire. "I like you all, but not so much that I'd do that every night."
Harry folded up the Invisibility Cloak and sat down, looking expectantly at Hermione and Ginny. "So?"
Ginny flashed a grin at Hermione and... reached a hand into the fold of her robe and drew the little snake out of her well-covered bosom. "He didn't look like the biting type, just a little garter snake," she explained, "so..." She stopped when she saw the expressions on Harry and Ron's faces. "What?"
Ron said, wide-eyed, "Better you than me, Gin."
Harry had turned a brilliant scarlet color. Hermione was making dignified snorting noises and had turned her face slightly away from the boys.
"Look," Ginny snapped, "snakes like warmth, right? It was perfectly logical." She thrust the snake, which was now wrapped companionably around her wrist, at Harry. "Talk," she commanded.
Harry unfortunately just turned redder and seemed to have nothing at all to say to the snake, which raised its head and gave him a mildly interested gaze from little black eyes.
"Oh, for heaven's sake," muttered Ginny. "Afraid it's going to tell you my bra size?"
Harry's mouth opened and shut like a fish. Now it was Ron's turn to start snorting. He didn't manage to be dignified about it.
Ron's amusement snapped Harry out of his trance of embarrassment. "Don't you start," he said to Ron. Then he cleared his throat and focused on the snake.
Ginny could tell from Ron and Hermione's wide-eyed expressions that all they heard was incoherent hissing, but she understood every word.
"Um, hello," said Harry.
Hello, said the snake lazily.
"Er, I was wondering if you could tell us how you got here? In the castle?"
There was a moment of consideration, and then the snake said, A ruddy cramped box.
"Who put you in the box?"
Some fellow. Biggish, coldish, less smelly than the rest of you mammals. Several of us got stuck in together.
Harry turned pale. "This... person. Could he talk to you?"
Well, yes. Odd accent. More a viper person, I should say.
Harry blinked at this revelation. "What... did he say to you?"
The snake swayed back and forth gently, flickering its tongue out at Harry. To have a look around. Told us there were plenty of mice here. Doesn't do me much good, I say. Do I look like I could eat a mouse? Good thing I found the kitchens.
"What have you been eating?" asked Harry, distracted.
The snake gave him what Ginny could only interpret as a jaded look. Bugs and such. Down in the kitchens, like I said.
Ginny ruminated queasily on that for a moment, wishing he hadn't asked. She suspected Harry regretted asking as well.
"Ah," said Harry, who slowly reached out. The snake twined itself around his fingers. "If you're supposed to look around," he began, "isn't he planning to talk to you again? Are you supposed to go and meet him somewhere?"
You know, said the snake, that's a funny thing. I wondered that, but he never said a word about how we were to meet up with him again. Bit barmy, if you ask me.
"Well," said Harry finally, "if you don't mind staying in this tank for a bit, it's well-heated, and seems to be full of... crickets."
Oh, today's my lucky, lucky day, enthused the snake. Nothing's tastier than a bit of cricket. Would you like to share a snack?
"Um, not just at the moment, thanks," said Harry politely, letting the snake down into the tank.
"Well?" said Hermione, her patience at an end.
"There's good news... no, there's just bad news," said Harry.
"So," Ron said, mouth full of scrambled egg, "if they're coming in a box, d'you suppose they're coming by post?"
"Ugh, Ron, what a thought," said Ginny. "And very clever of you too." She reached for some toast.
"Seems a bit bold," said Hermione, "just to send a box full of snakes to somebody by owl."
"Seems to me the question is, who's getting them?" said Harry, a little woozily. He hadn't slept properly after the night's adventures, and had had uncomfortably vivid dreams about trying to find a snake he knew was hiding in his bed. Normally this would have very little effect on him, but for some reason today, he was having trouble waking up.
Ron opened his mouth, and both Hermione and Ginny said, "No, Ron. It's not Snape."
"But it could be him!" said Ron. "I mean --"
"I think the other professors would notice if he suddenly started getting a lot of mail. I mean, seriously, Ron, have you ever seen him get anything more than a newspaper?" Hermione inquired.
"Owls," said Ginny shortly, and all conversation stopped as everyone peered upward, looking for large boxes.
The flurry of wings and messages and parcels descended all at once upon the room. Letters dropped in front of Ginny and Ron, a heavyish package in front of Hermione, and a few other things fell for their fellow Gryffindors.
All four of them, however, had their eyes on the great eagle owl that swooped down upon the Slytherin table and the deposit of the daily large package in front of Draco Malfoy.
"Why didn't we think of it sooner?" said Harry. "You said it yourself, Hermione. Who's bolder than Malfoy, even if his father is locked up in Azkaban?"
"He gets one every day," Ron said. "Has for years."
"It would be so easy to slip some snakes into the sweets," said Hermione, unwrapping her package of Honeydukes chocolate. "Too bad they're not poisonous."
"This at least explains why they're not poisonous," muttered Ginny.
"Mmm," said Harry to his plate. "He'd just bite them back."
Hermione pushed three-quarters of her latest acquisition over to Ginny. The pair exchanged sheepish grins.
"What's all that for?" said Ron. "It's not Ginny's birthday."
"Payment," said Hermione, blushing unaccountably. "For tutoring."
Harry looked back and forth between them. "Shouldn't it be the other way, then?" he asked.
"Shows what you know, Potter," said Ginny in satisfied tones.
"So," said Ginny, tapping the deck to start it shuffling again, "what do we do now?"
Hermione paged lazily through Ginny's latest Potions essay resource, Lead to Gold: Where Potion Laboratories Meet Transfigurational Studies. "Other than me losing all my Honeydukes acquisitions to you? I don't know."
"Well, we felt pretty sure that Malfoy is the source of the snakes," Ginny said, picking up her cards. "Do we... follow him? Confront him? Break into Slytherin and search his trunk?"
Hermione picked up her own cards. "I really don't know. As a Prefect, he has a lot of opportunity to let the snakes out in unusual places. If we could find where that's happening, maybe we'd get more proof."
Ginny put down three cards and tapped the deck. The deck, for its part, slowly and sloppily dealt out four cards, as if too tired to care. One card flipped over, revealing the Jack of Hearts. "Oh, bother," Ginny snarled, and shoved the four cards back into a random spot in the deck, ignoring the cries of protest from the elderly Jack. She snatched three cards off the top.
"Oh, Ginny, don't get impatient," Hermione said with a sigh. "You know it'll stop behaving if you do. Just like--" the deck riffled itself irritably in Ginny's face, cards flying all around her "--last time." Hermione bit her lip in a way that suggested very powerfully that she was trying not to laugh.
Ginny spat out a card that had managed to get into her mouth. "Dusty antiques," she snapped.
The door opened and footsteps tromped in behind Ginny. "What's up?" Harry asked.
Hermione leaned across the table and removed a card from Ginny's collar. "We're playing poker," she explained. "Ginny's teaching me."
Harry looked back and forth between them, eyebrows raised. "I... see. It looks a bit like the time I tried to teach Dudley to play Go Fish."
"Looks more like a broken deck t'me," Ron said. "Deal us in if I find another deck? We've got something to tell you about."
"Sure," Ginny said, gathering the cards together roughly and dropping them on the table. "You sort yourselves together or I'm burning the lot of you," she informed the cards. Grumbling, they began to assemble into a neat deck again.
Ron returned with another deck of cards, hardly less ancient, but at least more inclined to behave.
Ginny looked at the pack and said, "Hermione, I've been wanting to teach you a more complicated game, but it's not designed for two players. We have four players now." She tapped the deck and said, "Wands at the Door. Deck dealer."
"Wooo," Ron said. "Not pulling punches, are you, Gin? You're letting her teach you to play cards, Hermione?"
"Yes," Hermione said, raising her eyebrows.
Ron shook his head. "She's a sharp, she is. Learned from Mum."
"Best person to learn from then, don't you think?" Hermione asked with dignity.
The deck dealt out the cards a little more briskly than the last pack and added a single card, face-down, on the table. Ginny pointed to it and said to Hermione, "That's the dragon's egg. If you don't like your hand, you place it face up in the center of the table, and take that card instead. You draw other cards to bring your hand up to par next round. And your cards become fairy gold and people can trade their cards for yours. If no one takes the dragon's egg this round, it hatches into the dragon and becomes wild."
"Got it," said Hermione. "I assume each round is a betting round?"
"Yep," said Ron. "We betting with beans?"
"Ante is five beans. Beans until we raise to chocolate," said Ginny. "So what's this thing you wanted to talk about?"
"We've been thinking about it," Harry said, scanning his cards. "We have an idea."
"Don't keep us in suspense," Hermione said.
"We're going to take the griffin out," Ron said in a low voice, "and look for where Malfoy's letting the snakes out. There's bound to be something he's left behind there, right?"
"And we need proof," Harry said.
Ginny stared at them over the cards. "You're just going to go out and... wander the halls, hoping to find the snakes?"
Hermione added, "With the griffin."
"Yeah!" Ron said enthusiastically. "Brilliant, isn't it?"
The girls exchanged a look. Then Hermione said, "I raise. A bar of Honeydukes."
Ron stared at her, then his cards. "I fold."
Harry peered at his cards, then pushed them together and laid them face-down. "Me too."
"Harry," Ginny said, appealing to the one she thought might be more reasonable, "you can't just walk the halls with the griffin. I call."
"Sure we can," he replied, startled.
"Harry," Hermione hissed. "Filch." She looked at Ginny. "I raise another bar."
"Hermione," Harry whispered. "Invisibility Cloak."
"You can't be serious," Ginny said. "The griffin won't stay behind the cloak. I fold too."
Hermione laid out her cards. A single pair of queens graced her hand.
Ginny grinned. "You're learning to bluff! It warms my heart." She shoved the cards together and said, "Shuffle and deal."
"We'll think of something," Ron said defensively, as he examined his cards.
"It'll work," Harry said. "We'll go out later tonight." And he traded his hand for the dragon's egg.
Harry reflected that Ginny was right, and Ron's feet were, perhaps, trying to become as large as the squid. However, he thought, Ron's shoes were certainly soled with Hagrid's rock cakes, cleats, and perhaps a sliver or two of broken glass.
"Can you try not to shift around so much?" Harry asked.
"I can't help that," Ron said. "Your back is all edges and lumps, and I can barely keep my balance."
"It's only that the footstool is starting to wobble," Harry said plaintively. "Which means the chair may go over any time. Can you reach her yet?"
"Almost," Ron said, stretching as high as he could, almost going up on tiptoe, which Harry was dreading as much as he'd dread a poke in the eye.
The griffin, for her part, was eagerly watching the precarious process, paws curled around the edge of the topmost trim of the window in the common room. When Ron's outstretched fingers brushed close, she sat up, tucking her wings in fastidiously, and watched him miss his grab for her with intense interest.
"Potter! Weasley! What have you got there?"
The sharp voice was the one that Harry had been dreading ever since they first got Dora. He didn't have a lot of room to be startled, being firmly on hands and knees on top of a footstool, which was jammed into a chair they'd wedged against the windowsill. Ron, on the other hand, had a number of options for movement, all bad.
When, eventually, Harry looked up--through glasses knocked askew--at the doorway, Professor McGonagall had her eyes closed with an expression of infinite patience. Ron groaned from somewhere nearby. Inevitably, a final item tumbled off the nearby shelf and clattered to the floor.
The griffin mewed, prancing excitedly at the edge of the window trim.
McGonagall looked at Harry and Ron's miraculously unbroken bodies, and shook her head in apparent disbelief. She produced her wand, pointed it at the griffin, and snapped, "Accio griffin!"
The griffin, with a startled squawk, flew across the room into McGonagall's hands (flying, Harry noted, with far less grace than the short flight that had taken her up to the topmost recesses of the common room).
Ron groaned again. "Why didn't we think of that?"
"I don't know, Weasley," McGonagall said, gathering the griffin into her arms and reducing the beast to a limp, purring mass with a few scratches. "It is a basic spell you learned quite some time ago. Perhaps we'd all best go to my office to discuss this." And with the confiscated griffin continuing to make motor noises, the professor turned and left the common room.
"Bloody he--" Ron began to say as he tried to get up. The footstool rolled out from under him abruptly, though, and he thwacked his head against the leg of the chair. "Ow."
"Then McGonagall said we could keep her," Harry said, "as long as we gave her to Hagrid as soon as he came back."
Ron added, "She's going to get too big to keep in the dorms, she said."
Harry said, thoughtfully, "But she really liked Dora's name. I'm going to have to tell Neville."
The griffin thought the cloak was a great idea. Fortunately, it took a very short time for everyone else to realize that the cloak was, in fact, a very bad idea indeed. Harry rescued it before it had more than a few punctures near the hem.
"We're doomed," Ron moaned.
"Keep your eyes on that map," Harry said, apparently short on patience.
The griffin squawked happily -- and loudly -- and twisted round in her harness to nibble on her leash. She regarded the leash as another new and interesting toy. Thus far it had proved ineffective in getting her to go in any one direction.
Ginny bonked her head gently against the nearest suit of armor in a fit of despair.
Ron said, "Mrs. Norris is two corridors down. I don't see Filch, though."
Hermione said something under her breath that Ginny was quite sure was not exactly polite.
"You know," Harry said suddenly, turning to Ginny. "Maybe you ought to stay behind."
Ginny stared at him, startled beyond words for a moment. Then she said, "Oh, no, you're not pulling this now."
"No, really, I think you ought to stay behind, Ginny," he said seriously. "No point all of us getting detention if something happens."
"Why not leave Ron behind, then?" she said fiercely. "And Hermione? After all, if they're caught, they might lose their badges."
"We're allowed to be out here," Ron said, as reasonably as possible. "And Harry is... well, Harry. I think he's right. You should go back."
"Look," Hermione said, "there's no point getting into this now. She's here, and she runs as much risk going back as she does going along."
Harry shot Hermione a look Ginny couldn't read, but turned back to attempting to control the griffin. Ron shrugged.
Only the griffin was cheerful about this adventure, and she cavorted along, sniffing here, poking her beak in there. The four humans were briefly cheered by her discovery of another small snake.
"See?" Ron said. "We're on the right track."
"Get it away from her!" Ginny exclaimed, making a grab for the griffin.
"It's too late," Harry said. "She's really quick."
Ginny had already heard the tiny half-exclamation as the snake died--probably what had told Harry that they were too late--and bit down on a vicious curse. Hermione glanced aside at her worriedly, but Ginny just glowered into the darkness ahead.
"Oh, hell," Ron whispered.
"What?" Harry demanded in a low voice.
"There's Filch," Ron said, pointing to a name that was moving toward them at a startling clip.
Ginny looked around. "Quick," she said, "get into that alcove. The cloak can cover us all there."
"What about Dora?" Ron asked.
Harry was wrestling with the cloak, having handed the leash to Hermione. Hermione, for her part, sighed, shook her head, and touched the griffin with her wand (Dora spun around, trying to catch the wand in her beak), quietly pronouncing, "Circumduco."
"The Avoidance charm!" Harry whispered. "Good thought!"
"Best chance we have," Hermione said with a shrug.
They all packed into the alcove hurriedly and draped the cloak in front of themselves. The griffin sat down outside the alcove, suddenly bored with everything, especially since her people had gone and vanished on her.
Ginny and Hermione watched the map over Ron's shoulder as Filch got closer and closer. Harry, in front of all three, whispered a few last sticking charms to keep the cloak in place.
"Remember," Ginny whispered, "no matter what the griffin does, stay quiet."
"Right," whispered Ron.
The griffin twisted her head around to examine the harness on her back. She made a grab for it, overbalanced, and fell on her side with a little squeak. Convinced that the harness was the cause of all her troubles, she continued to try to grab it, paddling herself around in little circles on the stone floor.
Harry started to shake with suppressed laughter. Ron snorted. Hermione hissed, "Close your eyes if you can't stand it!"
Ginny couldn't help it. She giggled. Hermione clamped a hand over her mouth.
Footsteps approached from down the corridor.
Ginny wondered why, in situations like this, you always seem to notice that something is tickling your nose. She thought it might be Hermione's hair.
The griffin, pleased that a new playmate was approaching, leaped to her feet and bounced up to Filch, who totally ignored her. Hermione's eyes closed in relief.
Dora, disappointed, pounced on Filch's foot and attempted to nibble on his shoe.
Ron exhaled something that was probably originally a swear word.
Filch absently shook his foot and continued marching down the corridor.
Dora hit the end of her leash and, abandoning her attempts to engage Filch, she tottered over, intent on grooming some ferocious itch on her belly. The footsteps died away.
There was a long, long pause after Filch left via the stairs at the end of the corridor. Then Harry drew in a long, whooping breath and burst out laughing. Slightly hysterically, but still laughing, he staggered out from behind the cloak. Ron followed him, and scooped up the griffin kitten, giggling.
Ginny, buzzing with relief, turned to Hermione and opened her mouth to congratulate her on her use of the Avoidance charm. An awkward moment ensued as she realized it's very difficult to congratulate somebody when you are literally nose-to-nose with them: apparently, Hermione had turned toward Ginny at the same moment. They hesitated there, surprised.
"Hey! Dora's found another snake!" Harry said from a little way down the hall.
Ginny hastily fled the alcove, asking, "Still alive?"
Hermione emerged a moment later, removing the sticking charms and folding the cloak over her arm.
"Nothing!" Harry said grumpily. "All that marching about in the middle of the night. Filch could have caught us, we'd have detentions until the ends of our lives..."
"I'm glad you finally noticed that," said Hermione, setting Fang's dish down and patting the big dog while he dove into it.
"And nothing!" Harry exclaimed, ignoring her comment, marching around Hagrid's hut, waving his arms. "I think there are more snakes in Gryffindor than there are out in the corridors!"
"Is that really a surprise?" Hermione asked, catching a mug that Harry knocked off the table. "It is warmer in there."
Harry collapsed onto a chair. "Do you really think the snakes are coming from Voldemort?"
Hermione poured hot water from one of Hagrid's many tea kettles into the mug she saved and another, distantly related one, on the table. "You're the one that spoke to the snake, Harry," she said. "But from what you said, it certainly sounds like it."
Harry stared into the mug in front of him, watching the tea leaves swirling around inside. "Do you think Ginny's right, and he knows about the... the wedding?"
Hermione sat down and leaned her chin on her hand, watching him across the table. "I think she has good reasons to believe it."
"She never said what those were." He turned the cup absently.
"You could ask her," she said. "She is your wife, after all."
Harry rubbed his ring finger with his thumb, feeling the weighty curve of the ring. "It's still so odd. It's been months now, and... well, I don't feel any different than I did before it happened." He remembered the variety of people who had spoken to him over the course of the past month, and he hunched his shoulders. "Well, I suppose I feel more yelled at."
Hermione smiled a little, sympathetically. "Other than that, it hasn't been that bad, has it?"
Harry stared down at the table. "I keep having bad dreams about it," he confessed.
"I'm sorry," said Hermione.
"And I dreamed about Sirius getting married."
He sensed Hermione's attention focus. "You dreamed about Sirius?"
"Yeah," he said, suddenly feeling very tired. "And... and Cedric. I wish I'd got to talk to them."
"You couldn't, in the dream?"
"Dumbledore wouldn't let me."
"Harry, I think this dream is kind of important." Hermione leaned forward over her tea. "Don't you think it might mean that you're getting... things from You-- Voldemort, again?"
"Voldemort wasn't in it," Harry said with weary patience.
"Maybe he was dreaming the same thing," said Hermione.
"That's stupid," said Harry. "Why would he dream about Sirius? And Cedric?"
"He killed Cedric, or his wand did," Hermione said slowly. "And one of his Death Eaters killed Sirius. He kills a lot of people, but those are the ones you saw, and I think maybe he's... some part of him is frightened by that. After all, he hasn't killed you yet, and you might try to avenge them. I think he's very frightened of death. Look at how hard he's tried not to die."
"It still doesn't make any sense," said Harry, feeling more frightened than he wanted to let on. "What about all that stuff about 'let the dead marry the dead'?"
Hermione's eyes widened. "Harry," she breathed, "didn't you recognize that?"
Harry shook his head blankly.
"It's a quote," she said. "Or nearly. 'Let the dead bury the dead.' It's in the Bible, I think."
Harry swallowed dryly. "What does it mean?"
"I'm not sure," Hermione said. "But I think we know how he found out."
Now that Dora had semi-official sanction, they were taking turns exercising her outdoors. Ginny had hold of her leash as the kitten leaped and swam through the season's first snow.
"She seems to like it -- mmphhh!" Ginny said as the griffin's energetic digging kicked a fountain of snow into her face.
Hermione laughed. "So much for cats not liking water."
Dora flapped energetically and flew along a short arc into a snowbank. Ginny hung onto the leash with both hands. Snow flew everywhere.
Hermione cleared the snow out of her eyes. "I swear, she has more energy every day."
"Merlin! What is that? A kneazle crossed with a pigeon?" Malfoy swaggered along the path.
"None of your business, Malfoy," said Hermione shortly.
"Couldn't you afford a bigger one?" He strolled in a circle, apparently examining the griffin, who was pouncing on pine cones. "That's Gryffindor all over. Substandard everything."
"What are you doing out without your pets?" asked Ginny, hoping to distract him.
He ignored her and continued to sneer. "I thought you're supposed to be all... lion-y. There's no lion in that mongrel. What are you going to use it for? To hunt mice?"
"Actually," said Ginny sweetly, "she's getting quite a reputation as a snake hunter."
Malfoy glared at Ginny. "One mongrel defending another. I'm not surprised, since you come from such a degenerate family yourself. How on earth can you stand being a Weasley? Is it something you were trained to do, like sleeping six to a bed?" He turned and strolled away.
Wordlessly, unable to speak for rage, Ginny shoved the leash into Hermione's hand and went after him.
On hearing that Dora was out taking the air, Harry and Ron decided to go out themselves and play with her.
"I bet she likes the snow!" said Ron.
"Ron," said Harry, "she's a kitten, she likes everything."
"But she's a lynx kitten," Ron pointed out. "Got to use those huge paws for something other than running over my face in the middle of the night."
They emerged from the castle just in time to see Malfoy approaching Ginny and Hermione.
"Oh, bugger," said Ron. Harry just hurried. By the time they reached the little scene, Hermione was standing there, helplessly holding the griffin's leash, watching Ginny march through the snow after Malfoy.
"Oh, good!" she said, and thrust the leash into Ron's hand. She ran after Ginny.
"Wha-?" said Ron. "Hey! Wait!"
Dora exploded out of her latest snow-burrow, flapping wings full of snow everywhere and chirruping excitedly. Harry spat out a mouthful of snow and tried to pick snow out from behind his glasses. Ron staggered backwards and fell over, much to the griffin's delight. To Ron's dismay, however, every enthusiastic bounce that Dora made drove him deeper into the snow. "Dora!" he shouted. "I'm trying to get up! Get off!"
"Sorry," said Harry briefly, favoring Ron with a sympathetic smile before hurrying after Hermione.
Hermione, Ginny, and Malfoy were standing next to the greenhouses.
"By dose! By dose!" Malfoy yelped, clutching his hands over his face.
"What did you go and do that for?" Ginny demanded.
Hermione stared at Ginny. "He just called you... I mean... I suppose I shouldn't have, but--"
"I can take care of myself!" Ginny shouted.
"My dose idz bleedig!" Malfoy stared, aghast, at a small red stain on his fingers.
"Um... I... I...I know you can," Hermione said, desperately groping for words. "I just... reacted, I guess."
"Well, you didn't have to!" Ginny was surprisingly red in the face.
"I'm... sorry?" Hermione offered.
"I'm bleedig to death here!" Malfoy insisted, waving his bloody fingers about. "Why are you apologizig to her?"
"Oh, do shut up," said Hermione distractedly.
"Don't tell me to shud up, you filthy little--," Malfoy snarled.
Ginny turned in a surprisingly graceful move and swung her arm from the shoulder in a way she never learned on the Quidditch pitch. Malfoy staggered backwards, missed his step, and fell down hard against the side of the greenhouse. Snow showered down.
Ron arrived just in time to see Malfoy fall down. Dora pranced happily on the end of her leash. Harry and Ron exchanged a look.
Ginny turned to Hermione. "See?" she said triumphantly, then marched off.
"Oh. Yes," said Hermione thoughtfully. Then she lifted her chin and strode firmly off in another direction.
"I'b dyig," Malfoy moaned. "I can't see out ub one eye."
"Barking mad," Ron said wonderingly. "Both of them."
"Yeah," agreed Harry.
"Blood," agreed Malfoy.
Harry wandered over, pulled a clean handkerchief from his trousers pocket, and tossed it onto Malfoy's chest.
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