Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- "Krum," said Ron quietly.
"What?" said Hermione.
"Krum!" said Ron. "Viktor Krum, the Bulgarian Seeker!"
"He looks really grumpy," said Hermione, looking around at the many Krums blinking and scowling at them.
- "Muggle women wear them, Archie, not the men, they wear these," said the Ministry wizard, and he brandished the pinstriped trousers.
"I'm not putting them on," said old Archie in indignation. "I like a healthy breeze 'round my privates, thanks."
Hermione was overcome with such a strong fit of the giggles at this point that she had to duck out of the queue and only returned when Archie had collected his water and moved away.
- "Oops!" he said as he managed to light a match and promptly dropped it in surprise.
"Come here, Mr. Weasley," said Hermione kindly, taking the box from him, and showing him how to do it properly.
- Mr. Malfoy's eyes had returned to Hermione, who went slightly pink, but stared determinedly back at him.
- "What's that supposed to mean?" said Hermione defiantly.
"Granger, they're after Muggles," said Malfoy. "D'you want to be showing off your knickers in midair? Because if you do, hang around... they're moving this way, and it would give us all a laugh."
"Hermione's a witch," Harry snarled.
"Have it your own way, Potter," said Malfoy, grinning maliciously. "If you think they can't spot a Mudblood, stay where you are."
"You watch your mouth!" shouted Ron. Everybody present knew that "Mudblood" was a very offensive term for a witch or wizard of Muggle parentage.
"Never mind, Ron," said Hermione quickly, seizing Ron's arm to restrain him as he took a step toward Malfoy.
- "You know, house-elves get a very raw deal!" said Hermione indignantly. "It's slavery, that's what it is! That Mr. Crouch made her go up to the top of the stadium, and she was terrified, and he's got her bewitched so she can't even run when they start trampling tents! Why doesn't anyone do something about it?"
"Well, the elves are happy, aren't they?" Ron said. "You heard old Winky back at the match... 'House-elves is not supposed to have fun'... that's what she likes, being bossed around...."
"It's people like you, Ron," Hermione began hotly, "who prop up rotten and unjust systems, just because they're too lazy to-"
Another loud bang echoed from the edge of the wood.
"Let's just keep moving, shall we?" said Ron, and Harry saw him glance edgily at Hermione. Perhaps there was truth in what Malfoy had said; perhaps Hermione was in more danger than they were.
- "It wasn't her!" said Hermione. She looked very nervous, speaking up in front of all these Ministry wizards, yet determined all the same.
- "But she was frightened!" Hermione burst out angrily, glaring at Mr. Crouch. "Your elf's scared of heights, and those wizards in masks were levitating people! You can't blame her for wanting to get out of their way!"
- "Come on, you three," Mr. Weasley said quietly. But Hermione didn't seem to want to move; her eyes were still upon the sobbing elf. "Hermione!" Mr. Weasley said, more urgently. She turned and followed Harry and Ron out of the clearing and off through the trees.
"What's going to happen to Winky?" said Hermione, the moment they had left the clearing.
"I don't know," said Mr. Weasley.
"The way they were treating her!" said Hermione furiously. "Mr. Diggory, calling her 'elf' all the time... and Mr. Crouch! He knows she didn't do it and he's still going to sack her! He didn't care how frightened she'd been, or how upset she was - it was like she wasn't even human!"
"Well, she's not," said Ron.
Hermione rounded on him.
"That doesn't mean she hasn't got feelings, Ron. It's disgusting the way-"
"Hermione, I agree with you," said Mr. Weasley quickly, beckoning her on, "but now is not the time to discuss elf rights. I want to get back to the tent as fast we can. What happened to to the others?"
- "Well, Mr. Crouch is quite right to get rid of an elf like that!" he said. "Running away when he'd expressly told her not to... embarrassing him in front of the whole Ministry... how would that have looked, if she'd been brought up in front of the Department for the Regulation and Control-"
"She didn't do anything - she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time!" Hermione snapped at Percy, who looked very taken aback. Hermione had always got on fairly well with Percy - better, indeed, than any of the others.
"Hermione, a wizard in Mr. Crouch's position can't afford a house-elf who's going to run amok with a wand!" said Percy pompously, recovering himself.
"She didn't run amok!" shouted Hermione. "She just picked it up off the ground!"
- "If you ask me, Mr. Crouch is very lucky no one at the Daily Prophet knows how mean he is to elves!" said Hermione angrily.
"Now look here, Hermione!" said Percy. "A high-ranking Ministry official like Mr. Crouch deserves unswerving obedience from his servants-"
"His slave, you mean!" said Hermione, her voice rising passionately, "because he didn't pay Winky, did he?"
- "But Hogwarts is hidden," said Hermione, in surprise. "Everyone knows that... well, everyone who's read Hogwarts, A History anyway."
"Just you, then," said Ron.
- "Either explain what you're on about or go away, Malfoy," said Hermione testily, over the top of The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 4.
Hermione had knocked over her golden goblet. Pumpkin juice spread steadily over the tablecloth, staining several feet of white linen orange, but Hermione paid no attention.
"There are house-elves here?" she said, staring, horror-struck, at Nearly Headless Nick. "Here at Hogwarts?"
"Certainly," said Nearly Headless Nick, looking surprised at her reaction. "The largest number in any dwelling in Britain, I believe. Over a hundred."
"I've never seen one!" said Hermione.
"Well, they hardly ever leave the kitchen by day, do they?" said Nearly Headless Nick. "They come out at night to do a bit of cleaning... see to the fires and so on... I mean, you're not supposed to see them, are you? That's the mark of a good house-elf, isn't it, that you don't know it's there?"
Hermione stared at him.
"But they get paid?" she said. "They get holidays, don't they? And - and sick leave, and pensions, and everything?"
Nearly Headless Nick chortled so much that his ruff slipped and his head flopped off, dangling on the inch or so of ghostly skin and muscle that still attached it to his neck.
"Sick leave and pensions?" he said, pushing his head back onto his shoulders and securing it once more with his ruff. "House-elves don't want sick leave and pensions!"
Hermione looked down at her hardly touched plate of food, then put her knife and fork down upon it and pushed it away from her.
"Oh c'mon, 'Er-my-nee," said Ron, accidentally spraying Harry with bits of Yorkshire pudding. "Oops - sorry, 'Arry-" He swallowed. "You won't get them sick leave by starving yourself!"
"Slave labor," said Hermione, breathing hard through her nose. "That's what made this dinner. Slave labor."
And she refused to eat another bite.
- "Treacle tart, Hermione!" said Ron, deliberately wafting its smell toward her. "Spotted dick, look! Chocolate gateau!"
But Hermione gave him a look so reminiscent of Professor McGonagall that he gave up.
- "You should have given it up like me, shouldn't you?" said Hermione briskly, buttering herself some toast. Then you'd be doing something sensible like Arithmancy."
You're eating again, I notice," said Ron, watching Hermione adding liberal amounts of jam to her toast too.
"I've decided there are better ways of making a stand about elf rights," said Hermione haughtily.
"Yeah... and you were hungry," said Ron, grinning.
- "Just because they're not very pretty, it doesn't mean they're not useful," Hermione snapped. "Dragon blood's amazingly magical, but you wouldn't want a dragon for a pet, would you?"
Harry and Ron grinned at Hagrid, who gave them a furtive smile from behind his bushy beard. Hagrid would have liked nothing better than a pet dragon, as Harry, Ron, and Hermione knew only too well - he had owned one for a brief period during their first year, a vicious Norwegian Ridgeback by the name of Norbert. Hagrid simply loved monstrous creatures, the more lethal, the better.
"Well, at least the skrewts are small," said Ron as they made their way back up to the castle for lunch an hour later.
"They are now," said Hermione in an exasperated voice, "but once Hagrid's found out what they eat, I expect they'll be six feet long."
"Well, that won't matter if they turn out to cure seasickness or something, will it?" said Ron, grinning slyly at her.
"You know perfectly well I only said that to shut Malfoy up," said Hermione. "As a matter of fact I think he's right. The best thing to do would be to stamp on the lot of them before they start attacking us all."
- "Hello," she said. "I've just finished!"
"So have I!" said Ron triumphantly, throwing down his quill.
Hermione sat down, laid the things she was carrying in an empty armchair, and pulled Ron's predictions toward her.
"Not going to have a very good month, are you?" she said sardonically as Crookshanks curled up in her lap.
"Ah well, at least I'm forewarned," Ron yawned.
"You seem to be drowning twice," said Hermione.
"Oh am I?" said Ron, peering down at his predictions. "I'd better change one of them to getting trampled by a rampaging hippogriff."
"Don't you think it's a bit obvious you've made these up?" said Hermione.
"How dare you!" said Ron, in mock outrage. "We've been working like house-elves here!"
Hermione raised her eyebrows.
"It's just an expression," said Ron hastily.
Harry laid down his quill too, having just finished predicting his own death by decapitation.
"What's in the box?" he asked, pointing at it.
"Funny you should ask," said Hermione, with a nasty look at Ron. She took off the lid and showed them the contents.
Inside were about fifty badges, all of different colors, but all bearing the same letters: S.P.E.W.
"'Spew'?" said Harry, picking up a badge and looking at it. "What's this about?"
"Now spew," said Hermione impatiently. "It's S-P-E-W. Stands for the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare."
"Never heard of it," said Ron.
"Well, of course you haven't," said Hermione briskly, "I've only just started it."
"Yeah?" said Ron in mild surprise. "How many members have you got?"
"Well - if you two join - three," said Hermione.
"And you think we want to walk around wearing badges saying 'spew', do you?" said Ron.
"S-P-E-W!" saod Hermione hotly. "I was going to put Stop the Outrageous Abuse of Our Fellow Magical Creatures and Campaign for a Change in Their Legal Status - but it wouldn't fit. So that's the heading of our manifesto."
She brandished the sheaf of parchment at them.
"I've been researching it thoroughly in the library. Elf enslavement goes back centuries. I can't believe no one's done anything about it before now."
"Hermione - open your ears," said Ron loudly. "They. Like. It. They like being enslaved!"
"Our short-term aims," said Hermione, speaking even more loudly than Ron, and acting as though she hadn't heard a word, "are to secure house-elves fair wages and working conditions. Our long-term aims include changing the law about non-wand use, and trying to get an elf into the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, because they're shockingly underrepresented."
"And how do we do all this?" Harry asked.
"We start by recruiting members," said Hermione happily. "I thought two Sickles to join - that buys a badge - and the proceeds can fund our leaflet campaign. You're treasurer, Ron - I've got you a collecting tin upstairs - and Harry, you're secretary, so you might want to write down everything I'm saying now, as a record of our first meeting."
There was a pause in which Hermione beamed at the pair of them, and Harry sat, torn between exasperation at Hermione and amusement at the look on Ron's face.
- "But - but you said it's illegal, Professor," said Hermione uncertainly as Moody cleared away the desks with a sweep of his wand, leaving a large clear space in the middle of the room. "You said - to use it against another human was-"
"Dumbledore wants you taught what it feels like," said Moodly, his magical eye swiveling onto Hermione and fixing her with an eerie, unblinking stare. "If you'd rather learn the hard way - when someone's putting it on you so they can control you completely - fine by me. You're excused. Off you go."
He pointed one gnarled finger toward the door. Hermione went very pink and muttered something about not meaning that she wanted to leave. Harry and Ron grinned at each other. They knew Hermione would rather eat bubotuber pus than miss such an important lesson.
- "We don't take O.W.L.s till fifth year!" said Dean Thomas indignantly.
"Maybe not, Thomas, but believe me, you need all the preparation you can get! Miss Granger remains the only person in this class who has managed to turn a hedgehog into a satisfactory pincushion. I might remind you that your pincushion, Thomas, still curls up in fright if anyone approaches it with a pin!"
Hermione, who had turned rather pink again, seemed to be trying not to look too pleased with herself.
- "He's not an idiot. You just don't like him because he beat Gryffindor at Quidditch," said Hermione. "I've heard he's a really good student - and he's a prefect."
She spoke as though this settled the matter.
"You only like him because he's handsome," said Ron scathingly.
"Excuse me, I don't like people just because they're handsome!" said Hermione indignantly.
Ron gave a loud false cough, which sounded oddly like, "Lockhart!"
- "Well, the Heads of the participating schools are always on the panel," said Hermione, and everyone looked around at her, rather surprised, "because all three of them were injured during the Tournament of 1792 when a cockatrice the champions were supposed to be catching went on the rampage."
She noticed them all looking at her and said, with her usual air of impatience that nobody else had read all the books she had, "It's all in Hogwarts, A History. Though, of course, that book's not entirely reliable. A Revised History of Hogwarts would be a more accurate title. Or A Highly Biased and Selective History of Hogwarts, Which Glosses Over the Nastier Aspects of the School."
"What are you on about?" said Ron, though Harry thought he knew what was coming.
"House-elves!" said Hermione, her eyes flashing. "Not once, in over a thousand pages, does Hogwarts, A History mention that we are all colluding in the oppression of a hundred slaves!"
Ron now rolled his eyes at the ceiling, which was flooding them all in autumn sunlight, and Fred became extremely interested in his bacon (both twins had refused to buy a S.P.E.W. badge). George, however, leaned in toward Hermione.
"Listen, have you ever been down in the kitchens, Hermione?"
"No, of course not," said Hermione curtly, "I hardly think students are supposed to-"
"Well, we have," said George, indicating Fred, "loads of times, to nick food. And we've met them and they're happy. They think they've got the best job in the world-"
"That's because they're uneducated and brainwashed!" Hermione began hotly, but her next few words were drowned out by the sudden whooshing noise from overhead, which announced the arrival of the post owls.
- "Well, if they're any bigger than this lot, even Hagrid won't be able to handle them," said Harry. "That's if he hasn't been attacked by his skrewts. Wonder what's up with them?"
"Maybe they've escaped," said Ron hopefully.
"Oh don't say that," said Hermione with a shudder. "Imagine that lot loose on the grounds..."
- A light rain had started to fall by midafternoon; it was very cozy sitting by the fire, listening to the gentle patter of the drops on the window, watching Hagrid darning his socks and arguing with Hermione about house-elves - for he flatly refused to join S.P.E.W. when she showed him her badges.
"It'd be doin' 'em an unkindness, Hermione," he said gravely, threading a massive bone needle with thick yellow yarn. "It's in their nature to look after humans, that's what they like, see? Yeh'd be makin' 'em unhappy ter take away their work, an' insultin' 'em if yeh tried ter pay 'em."
"But Harry set Dobby free, and he was over the moon about it!" said Hermione. "And we heard he's asking for wages now!"
"Yeah, well, yeh get weirdos in every breed. I'm not sayin' there isn't the odd elf who'd take freedom, but yeh'll never persuade most of 'em ter do it - no, nothin' doin', Hermione."
Hermione looked very cross indeed and stuffed her box of badges back into her cloak pocket.
- "It's really not that difficult, Harry," Hermione tried to reassure him as they left Flitwick's class - she had been making objects zoom across the room to her al lesson, as though she were some sort of weird magnet for board dusters, wastepaper baskets, and lunascopes.
- Jets of light shot from both wands, hit each other in midair, and ricocheted off at angles - Harry's hit Goyle in the face, and Malfoy's hit Hermione. Goyle bellowed and put his hands to his nose, where great ugly boils were springing up - Hermione, whimpering in panic, was clutching her mouth.
Ron had hurried forward to see what was wrong with her; Harry turned and saw Ron dragging Hermione's hand away from her face. It wasn't a pretty sight. Hermione's front teeth - already larger than average - were now growing at an alarming rate; she was looking more and more like a beaver as her teeth elongated, past her bottom lip, toward her chin - panic-stricken, she felt them and let out a terrified cry.
"And what is all this noise about?" said a soft, deadly voice.
Snape had arrived. The Slytherins clamored to give their explanations; Snape pointed a long yellow finger at Malfoy and said, "Explain."
"Potter attacked me, sir-"
"We attacked each other at the same time!" Harry shouted.
"-and he hit Goyle - look -"
Snape examined Goyle, whose face now resembled something that would have been at home in a book on poisonous fungi.
"Hospital wing, Goyle," Snape said calmly.
"Malfoy got Hermione!" Ron said. "Look!"
He forced Hermione to show Snape her teeth - she was doing her best to hide them with her hands, though this was difficult as they had now grown down past her collar. Pansy Parkinson and the other Slytherin girls were doubled up with silent giggles, pointing at Hermione from behind Snape's back.
Snape looked coldly at Hermione, then said, "I see no difference."
Hermione let out a whimper; her eyes filled with tears, she turned on her heel and ran, ran all the way up the corridor and out of sight.
- "I didn't start this," Harry said stubbornly. "It's his problem."
"You miss him!" Hermione said impatiently. "And I know he misses you-"
"Miss him?" said Harry. "I don't miss him...."
But this was a downright lie. Harry liked Hermione very much, but she just wasn't the same as Ron. There was much less laughter and a lot more hanging around in the library when Hermione was your best friend.
- Hermione had come in for her fair share of unpleasantness too, but she hadn't yet started yelling at innocent bystanders; in fact, Harry was full of admiration for the way she was handling the situation.
"Stunningly pretty? Her?" Pansy Parkinson had shrieked the first time she had come face-to-face with Hermione after Rita's article had appeared. "What was she judging against - a chipmunk?"
"Ignore it," Hermione said in a dignified voice, holding her head in the air and stalking past the sniggering Slytherin girls as though she couldn't hear them. "Just ignore it, Harry."
- "He's not even that good-looking!" she muttered angrily, glaring at Krum's sharp profile. "They only like him because he's famous! They wouldn't look twice at him if he couldn't do that Wonky-Faint thing-"
"Wronski Feint," said Harry, through gritted teeth.
- "Well, there are Switching Spells... but what's the point of Switching it? Unless you swapped its fangs for wine-gums or something that would make it less dangerous.... The trouble is, like that book said, not much is going to get through a dragon's hide.... I'd say Transfigure it, but something that big, you really haven't got a hope, I doubt even Professor McGonagall... unless you're supposed to put the spell on yourself? Maybe to give yourself extra powers? But they're not simple spells, I mean, we haven't done any of those in class, I only know about them because I've been doing O.W.L. practice papers...."
"Hermione," Harry said, through gritted teeth, "will you shut up for a bit, please? I'm trying to concentrate."
- "Harry, you were brilliant!" Hermione said squeakily. There were fingernail marks on her face where she had been clutching it in fear. "You were amazing! You really were!"
But Harry was looking at Ron, who was very white and staring at Harry as though he were a ghost.
"Harry," he said, very seriously, "whoever put your name in that goblet - I - I reckon they're trying to do you in!"
It was as though the last few weeks had never happened - as though Harry were meeting Ron for the first time, right after he'd been made champion.
"Caught on, have you?" said Harry coldly. "Took you long enough."
Hermione stood nervously between them, looking from one to the other. Ron opened his mouth uncertainly. Harry knew Ron was about to apologize and suddenly he found he didn't need to hear it.
"It's okay," he said, before Ron could get the words out. "Forget it."
"No," said Ron, "I shouldn't've-"
"Forget it," Harry said.
Ron grinned nervously at him and Harry grinned back.
Hermione burst into tears.
"There's nothing to cry about!" Harry told her, bewildered.
"You two are so stupid!" she shouted, stamping her foot on the ground, tears splashing down her front. Then, before either of them could stop her, she had given both of them a hug and dashed away, now positively howling.
"Barking mad," said Ron, shaking his head.
- Hermione, however, leaned against the Owlery wall, folded her arms, and frowned at Ron.
"Harry's got a long way to go before he finishes this tournament," she said seriously. "If that was the first task, I hate to think what's coming next."
"Right little ray of sunshine, aren't you?" said Ron. "You and Professor Trelawney should get together sometime."
- "He's supposed to work out the clue on his own," Hermione said switfly. "It's in the tournament rules...."
"I was supposed to work out how to get past the dragon on my own too," Harry muttered, so only Hermione could hear him, and she grinned rather guiltily.
- But the Fat Lady had barely begun to swing forward when the sound of racing feet behind them announced Hermione's arrival.
"Harry!" she panted, skidding to a halt beside him (the Fat Lady stared down at her, eyebrows raised). "Harry, you've got to come - you've got to come, the most amazing thing's happened - please-"
She seized Harry's arm and started to drag him back along the corridor.
"What's the matter?" Harry said.
"I'll show you when we there - oh come on, quick-"
Harry looked around at Ron; he looked back at Harry, intrigued.
"Okay," Harry said, starting off back down the corridor with Hermione, Ron hurrying to keep up.
"Oh don't mind me!" the Fat Lady called irritably after them. "Don't apologize for bothering me! I'll just hang here, wide open, until you get back, shall I?"
"Yeah, thanks!" Ron shouted over his shoulder.
"Hermione, where are we going?" Harry asked, after she had led them down through six floors, and started down the marble staircase into the entrance hall.
"You'll see, you'll see in a minute!" said Hermione excitedly. She turned left at the bottom of the staircase and hurried toward the door through which Cedric Diggory had gone the night after the Goblet of Fire had regurgitated his and Harry's names. Harry had never been through here before. He and Ron followed Hermione down a flight of stone steps, but instead of ending up in a gloomy underground passage like the one that led to Snape's dungeon, they found themselves in a broad stone corridor, brightly lit with torches, and decorated with cheerful paintings that were mainly of food.
"Oh hang on..." said Harry slowly, halfway down the corridor. "Wait a minute, Hermione...."
"What?" She turned around to look at him, anticipation all over her face.
"I know what this is about," said Harry.
He nudged Ron and pointed to the painting just behind Hermione. It showed a gigantic silver fruit bowl.
"Hermione!" said Ron, cottoning on. "You're trying to rope us into that spew stuff again!"
"No, no, I'm not!" she said hastily. "And it's not spew, Ron-"
"Changed the name, have you?" said Ron, frowning at her. "What are we now, then, the House-Elf Liberation Front? I'm not barging into that kitchen and trying to make them stop work, I'm not doing it-"
"I'm not asking you to!" Hermione said impatiently. "I came down here just now, to talk to them all, and I found - oh come on, Harry, I want to show you!"
She seized his arm again, pulled him in front of the picture of the giant fruit bowl, stretched out her forefinger, and tickled the huge green pear. It began to squirm, chuckling, and suddenly turned into a large green door handle. Hermione seized it, pulling the door open, and pushed Harry hard in the back, forcing him inside.
- "I think this is the best thing that could have happened to those elves, you know," said Hermione, leading the way back up the marble staircase. "Dobby coming to work here, I mean. The other elves will see how happy he is, being free, and slowly it'll dawn on them that they want that too!"
"Let's hope they don't look too closely at Winky," said Harry.
"Oh she'll cheer up," said Hermione, though she sounded a bit doubtful. "Once the shock's worn off, and she's got used to Hogwarts, she'll see how much better off she is without that Crouch man."
- "We should get a move on, you know... ask someone. He's right. We don't want to end up with a pair of trolls."
Hermione let out a sputter of indignation.
"A pair of... what, excuse me?"
"Well - you know," said Ron, shrugging. "I'd rather go alone than with - with Eloise Midgen, say."
"Her acne's loads better lately - and she's really nice"
"Her nose is off-center," said Ron.
"Oh I see," Hermione said, bristling. "So basically, you're going to take the best-looking girl who'll have you, even if she's completely horrible?"
"Er - yeah, that sounds about right," said Ron.
"I'm going to bed," Hermione snapped, and she swept off toward the girls' staircase without another word.
- "This is mad, " said Ron. "We're the only ones left who haven't got anyone - well, except Neville. Hey - guess who he asked? Hermione!"
"What?" said Harry, completely distracted by this startling news.
"Yeah, I know!" said Ron, some of the color coming back into his face as he started to laugh. "He told me after Potions! Said she's always been really nice, helping him out with work and stuff - but she told him she was already going with someone. Ha! As if! She just didn't want to go with Neville... I mean, who would?"
"Don't!" said Ginny, annoyed. "Don't laugh-"
Just then Hermione climbed in through the portrait hole.
"Why weren't you two at dinner?" she said, coming over to join them.
"Because - oh shut up laughing, you two - because they've both just been turned down by girls they asked to the ball!" said Ginny.
That shut Harry and Ron up.
"Thanks a bunch, Ginny," said Ron sourly.
"All the good-looking ones taken, Ron?" said Hermione loftily. "Eloise Midgen starting to look quite pretty now, is she? Well, I'm sure you'll find someone somewhere who'll have you."
But Ron was staring at Hermione as though suddenly seeing her in a whole new light.
"Hermione, Neville's right - you are a girl...."
"Oh well spotted," she said acidly.
"Well - you can come with one of us!"
"No, I can't," snapped Hermione.
"Oh come on," he said impatiently, "we need partners, we're going to look really stupid if we haven't got any, everyone else has..."
"I can't come with you," said Hermione, now blushing, "because I'm already going with someone."
"No, you're not!" said Ron. "You just said that to get rid of Neville!"
"Oh did I?" said Hermione, and her eyes flashed dangerously. "Just because it's taken you three years to notice, Ron, doesn't mean no one else has spotted I'm a girl!"
Ron stared at her. Then he grinned again.
"Okay, okay, we know you're a girl," he said. "That do? Will you come now?"
"I've already told you!" Hermione said very angrily. "I'm going with someone else!"
And she stormed off towards the girls' dormitories again.
"She's lying," said Ron flatly, watching her go.
"She's not," said Ginny quietly.
"Who is it then?" said Ron sharply.
"I'm not telling you, it's her business," said Ginny.
- "Oooh there's a tragedy," Hermione snapped as Fleur went out into the entrance hall. "She really thinks highly of herself, that one, doesn't she?"
"Hermione - who are you going to the ball with?" said Ron.
He kept springing this question on her, hoping to startle her into a response by asking it when she least expected it. However, Hermione merely frowned and said, "I'm not telling you, you'll just make fun of me."
"You're joking, Weasley!" said Malfoy, behind them. "You're not telling me someone's asked that to the ball? Not the long-molared Mudblood?"
Harry and Ron both whipped around, but Hermione said loudly, waving to somebody over Malfoy's shoulder, "Hello, Professor Moody!"
Malfoy went pale and jumped backward, looking wildly around for Moody, but he was still up at the staff table, finishing his stew.
"Twitchy little ferret, aren't you, Malfoy?" said Hermione scathingly and she, Harry, and Ron went up the marble staircase laughing heartily.
"Hermione," said Ron, looking sideways at her, suddenly frowning, "your teeth..."
"What about them?" she said.
"Well, they're different... I've just noticed...."
"Of course they are - did you expect me to keep those fangs Malfoy gave me?"
"No, I mean, they're different to how they were before he put that hex on you.... They're all... straight and - and normal-sized."
Hermione suddenly smiled very mischievously, and Harry moticed it too: It was a very different smile from the one he remembered.
"Well... when I went to Madam Pomfrey to get them shrunk, she held up a mirror and told me to stop her when they were back to how they normally were," she said. "And I just... let her carry on a bit." She smiled even more widely. "Mum and Dad won't be too pleased. I've been trying to persuade them to let me shrink them for ages, but they wanted me to carry on with my braces. You know, they're dentists, they just don't think teeth and magic should - look! Pigwidgeon's back!"
- Krum was at the front of the party, accompanied by a pretty girl in blue robes Harry didn't know.
- Cedric and Cho were close to Harry too; he looked away from them so he wouldn't have to talk to them. His eyes fell on instead on the girl next to Krum. His jaw dropped.
It was Hermione.
But she didn't look like Hermione at all. She had done something with her hair; it was no longer bushy but sleek and shiny, and twisted up into an elegant knot at the back of her head. She was wearing robes made of a floaty, periwinkle-blue material, and she was holding herself differently, somehow - or maybe it was merely the absence of the twenty or so books she usually had slung over her back. She was also smiling - rather nervously, it was true - but the reduction in the size of her front teeth was more noticeable than ever; Harry couldn't understand how he hadn't spotted it before.
"Hi, Harry!" she said. "Hi, Parvati!"
Parvati was gazing at Hermione in unflattering disbelief. She wasn't the only one either; when the doors to the Great Hall opened, Krum's fan club from the library stalked past, throwing Hermione looks of deepest loathing. Pansy Parkinson gaped at her as she walked by with Malfoy, and even he didn't seem to be able to find an insult to throw at her. Ron, however, walked right past Hermione without looking at her.
- Hermione was now teaching Krum to say her name properly; he kept calling her "Hermy-own."
"Her-my-oh-nee," she said slowly and clearly.
"Close enough," she said, catching Harry's eye and grinning.
- Hermione came over and sat down in Parvati's empty chair. She was a bit pink in the face from dancing.
"Hi," said Harry. Ron didn't say anything.
"It's hot, isn't it?" said Hermione, fanning herself with her hand. "Viktor's just gone to get some drinks."
Ron gave her a withering look. "Viktor?" he said. "Hasn't he asked you to call him Vicky yet?"
Hermione looked at him in surprise. "What's up with you?" she said.
"If you don't know," said Ron scathingly, "I'm not going to tell you."
Hermione stared at him, then at Harry, who shrugged.
"He's from Durmstrang!" spat Ron. "He's competing against Harry! Against Hogwarts! You - you're -" Ron was obviously casting around for words strong enough to describe Hermione's crime, "fraternizing with the enemy, that's what you're doing!"
Hermione's mouth fell open.
"Don't be so stupid!" she said after a moment. "The enemy! Honestly - who was the one who was all excited when they saw him arrive? Who was the one who wanted his autograph? Who's got a model of him up in their dormitory?"
Ron chose to ignore this. "I s'pose he asked you to come with him while you were both in the library?"
"Yes, he did," said Hermione, the pink patches on her cheeks glowing more brightly. "So what?"
"What happened - trying to get him to join spew, were you?"
"No, I wasn't! If you really want to know, he - he said he'd been coming up to the library every day to try and talk to me, but he hadn't been able to pluck up the courage!"
Hermione said this very quickly, and blushed so deeply that she was the same color as Parvati's robes.
"Yeah, well - that's his story," said Ron nastily.
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"Obvious, isn't it? He's Karkaroff's student, isn't he? He knows who you hang around with.... He's just trying to get closer to Harry - get inside information on him - or get near enough to jinx him-"
Hermione looked as though Ron had slapped her. When she spoke, her voice quivered.
"For your information, he hasn't asked me one single thing about Harry, not one-"
Ron changed tack at the speed of light.
"Then he's hoping you'll help him find out what his egg means! I suppose you've been putting your heads together during those cozy little library sessions-"
"I'd never help him work out that egg!" said Hermione, looking outraged. "Never. How could you say something like that - I want Harry to win the tournament, Harry knows that, don't you, Harry?"
"You've got a funny way of showing it," sneered Ron.
"This whole tournament's supposed to be about getting to know foreign wizards and making friends with them!" said Hermione hotly.
"No it isn't!" shouted Ron. "It's about winning!"
People were starting to stare at them.
"Ron," said Harry quietly, "I haven't got a problem with Hermione coming with Krum-"
Bur Ron ignored Harry too.
"Why don't you go and find Vicky, he'll be wondering where you are," said Ron.
"Don't call him Vicky!"
Hermione jumped to her feet and stormed off across the dance floor, disappearing into the crowd. Ron watched her go with a mixture of anger and satisfaction on his face.
"Are you going to ask me to dance at all?" Padma asked him.
"No," said Ron, still glaring after Hermione.
- He climbed into the common room and found Ron and Hermione having a blazing row. Standing ten feet apart, they were bellowing at each other, each scarlet in the face.
"Well, if you don't like it, you know what the solution is, don't you?" yelled Hermione; her hair was coming down out of its elegant bun now, and her face was screwed up in anger.
"Oh yeah?" Ron yelled back. "What's that?"
"Next time there's a ball, ask me before someone else does, and not as a last resort!"
Ron mouthed soundlessly like a goldfish out of water as Hermione turned on her heel and stormed up the girls' staircase to bed. Ron turned to look at Harry.
"Well," he sputtered, looking thunderstruck, "well - that just proves - completely missed the point-"
Harry didn't say anything. He liked being back on speaking terms with Ron too much to speak his mind right now - but he somehow thought that Hermione had gotten the point much better than Ron had.
- Hermione's hair was bushy again; she confessed to Harry that she had used liberal amounts of Sleekeazy's Hair Potion on it for the ball, "but it's way too much bother to do every day," she said matter-of-factly, scratching a purring Crookshanks behind the ears.
- "We've got to go and see him," said Harry. "This evening, after Divination. Tell him we want him back... you do want him back?" he shot at Hermione.
"I - well, I'm not going to pretend it didn't make a nice change, having a proper Care of Magical Creatures lesson for once - but I do want Hagrid back, of course I do!" Hermione added hastily, quailing under Harry's furious stare.
- Hermione stood up very abruptly, her butterbeer clutched in her hand as though it were a grenade.
You horrible woman," she said, through gritted teeth, "you don't care, do you, anything for a story, and anyone will do, won't they? Even Ludo Bagman-"
"Sit down, you silly little girl, and don't talk about things you don't understand," said Rita Skeeter coldly, her eyes hardening as they fell on Hermione. "I know things about Ludo Bagman that would make your hair curl... not that it needs it-" she added, eyeing Hermione's bushy hair.
"Let's go," said Hermione, "c'mon, Harry - Ron..."
- "She'll be after you next, Hermione," said Ron in a low and worried voice as they walked quickly back up the street.
"Let her try!" said Hermione defiantly; she was shaking with rage. "I'll show her! Silly little girl, am I? Oh, I'll get her back for this. First Harry, then Hagrid..."
"You don't want to go upsetting Rita Skeeter," said Ron nervously. "I'm serious, Hermione, she'll dig up something on you-"
"My parents don't read the Daily Prophet. She can't scare me into hiding!" said Hermione, now striding along so fast that it was all Harry and Ron could do to keep up with her. The last time Harry had seen Hermione in a rage like this, she had hit Draco Malfoy around the face. "And Hagrid isn't hiding anymore! He should never have let that excuse for a human being upset him! Come on!"
- "I don't care what Moody says," Hermione went on. "Dumbledore's not stupid. He was right to trust Hagrid and Professor Lupin, even though loads of people wouldn't have given them jobs, so why shouldn't he be right about Snape, even if Snape is a bit-"
"-evil," said Ron promptly. "Come on, Hermione, why are these Dark wizard catchers searching his office, then?"
"Why has Mr. Crouch been pretending to be ill?" said Hermione, ignoring Ron. "It's a bit funny, isn't it, that he can't manage to come to the Yule Ball, but he can get up here in the middle of the night if he wants to?"
"You just don't like Crouch because of that elf, Winky," said Ron, sending a cushion soaring into the window.
"You just want to think Snape's up to something," said Hermione, sending her cushion zooming neatly into the box.
"I just want to know what Snape did with his first chance, if he's on his second one," said Harry grimly, and his cushion, to his very great surprise, flew straight across the room and landed neatly on top of Hermione's.
- "There must be something," Hermione muttered, moving a candle closer to her. Her eyes were so tired she was poring over the tiny print of Olde and Forgotten Bewitchments and Charms with her nose about an inch from the page. "They'd never have set a task that was undoable."
"They have," said Ron. "Harry, just go down to the lake tomorrow, right, stick your head in, yell at the merpeople to give back whatever they've nicked, and see if they chuck it out. Best you can do, mate."
"There's a way of doing it!" Hermione said crossly. "There just has to be!"
She seemed to be taking the library's lack of useful information on the subject as a personal insult; it had never failed her before.
"I know what I should have done," said Harry, resting, facedown, on Saucy Tricks for Tricky Sorts. "I should've learned to be an Animagus like Sirius."
An Animagus was an animal who could transform into an animal.
"Yeah, you could've turned into a goldfish any time you wanted!" said Ron.
"Or a frog," yawned Harry. He was exhausted.
"It takes years to become an Animagus, and then you have to register yourself and everything," said Hermione vaguely, now squinting down the index of Weird Wizarding Dilemmas and Their Solutions. "Professor McGonagall told us, remember... you've got to register yourself with the Improper Use of Magic office... what animal you become, and your markings, so you can't abuse it...."
"Hermione, I was joking," said Harry wearily. "I know I haven't got a chance of turning into a frog by tomorrow morning...."
"Oh this is no use," Hermione said, snapping shut Weird Wizarding Dilemmas. "Who on earth wants to make their nose hair grow into ringlets?"
- "What were you going to do, snore at them?" said Hermione waspishly. People had been teasing her so much about being the thing that Viktor Krum would most miss that she was in a rather tetchy mood.
- "I told you!" Ron hissed at Hermione as she stared down at the article. "I told you not to annoy Rita Skeeter! She's made you out to be some sort of - of scarlet woman!"
Hermione stopped looking astonished and snorted with laughter. "Scarlet woman?" she repeated, shaking with suppressed giggles as she looked around at Ron.
"It's what my mum calls them," Ron muttered, his ears going red.
"If that's the best Rita can do, she's losing her touch," said Hermione, still giggling, as she threw Witch Weekly onto the empty chair beside her. "What a pile of old rubbish."
She looked over at the Slytherins, who were all watching her and Harry closely across the room to see if they had been upset by the article. Hermione gave them a sarcastic smile and a wave, and she, Harry, and Ron started unpacking the ingredients they would need for their Wit-Sharpening Potion.
"There's something funny, though," said Hermione ten minutes later, holding her pestle suspended over a bowl of scarab beetles. "How could Rita Skeeter have known...?"
"Known what?" said Ron quickly. "You haven't been mixing up Love Potions, have you?"
"Don't be stupid," Hermione snapped, starting to pound up her beetles again. "No, it's just... how did she know Viktor asked me to visit him over the summer?"
Hermione blushed scarlet as she said this and determinedly avoided Ron's eyes.
"What?" said Ron, dropping his pestle with a loud clunk.
"He asked me right after he'd pulled me out of the lake," Hermione muttered. "After he'd got rid of his shark's head. Madam Pomfrey gave us both blankets and then he sort of pulled me away from the judges so they wouldn't hear, and he said, if I wasn't doing anything over the summer, would I like to-"
"And what did you say?" said Ron, who'd picked up his pestle and was grinding it on the desk, a good six inches from his bowl, because he was looking at Hermione.
"And he did say he'd never felt the same way about anyone else," Hermione went on, going so red now that Harry could almost feel the heat coming from her, "but how could Rita Skeeter have found heard him? She wasn't there... or was she? Maybe she has got an Invisibility Cloak; maybe she sneaked onto the grounds to watch the second task...."
"And what did you say?" Ron repeated, pounding his pestle down so hard that it dented the desk.
"Well, I was too busy seeing whether you and Harry were okay to-"
"Fascinating though you social life undoubtedly is, Miss Granger," said an icy voice right behind them, and all three of them jumped, "I must ask you not to discuss it in my class. Ten points from Gryffindor."
- "Getting his comeuppance for sacking Winky, isn't he?" said Hermione, an edge to her voice. She was stroking Buckbeak, who was crunching up Sirius's chicken bones. "I bet he wishes he hadn't done it now - bet he feels the difference now she's not there to look after him."
"Hermione's obsessed with house-elfs," Ron muttered to Sirius, casting Hermione a dark look.
- "Yes," said Hermione in a heated voice, "he sacked her, just because she hadn't stayed in her tent and let herself get trampled-"
"Hermione, will you give it a rest with the elf!" said Ron.
Sirius shook his head and said, "She's got the measure of Crouch better than you have, Ron."
- "Look, I don't care what you say, Dumbledore trusts Snape-"
"Oh give it a rest, Hermione," said Ron impatiently. "I know Dumbledore's brilliant and everything, but that doesn't mean a really clever Dark wizard couldn't fool him-"
"Why did Snape save Harry's life in the first year, then? Why didn't he just let him die?"
"What d'you think, Sirius?" Harry said loudly, and Ron and Hermione stopped bickering to listen.
- "She's unhappy!" said Hermione, exasperated. "Why don't you try and cheer her up instead of covering her up?"
"Begging your pardon, miss," said the house-elf, bowing deeply again, "but house-elves has no right to be unhappy when there is work to be done and masters to be served."
"Oh for heaven's sake!" Hermione cried. "Listen to me, all of you! You've got just as much right as wizards to be unhappy! You've got the right to wages and holidays and proper clothes, you don't have to do everything you're told - look at Dobby!"
"Miss will please keep Dobby out of this," Dobby mumbled, looking scared. The cheery smiles had vanished from the faces of the house-elves around the kitchen. They were suddenly looking at Hermione as though she were mad and dangerous.
- When the post owls arrived, Hermione looked up eagerly; she seemed to be expecting something.
"Percy won't've had time to answer yet," said Ron. "We only sent Hedwig yesterday."
"No, it's not that," said Hermione. "I've taken out a subscription to the Daily Prophet. I'm getting sick of finding everything out from the Slytherins."
"Good thinking!" said Harry, also looking up at the owls. "Hey, Hermione, I think you're in luck-"
A gray owl was soaring down toward Hermione.
"It hasn't got a newspaper, though," she said, looking disappointed. "It's-"
But to her bewilderment, the gray owl landed in front of her plate, closely followed by four barn owls, a brown owl, and a tawny.
"How many subscriptions did you take out?" said Harry, seizing Hermione's goblet before it was knocked over by the cluster of owls, all of whom were jostling close to her, trying to deliver their own letter first.
"What on earth-?" Hermione said, taking the letter from the gray owl, opening it, and starting to read. "Oh really!" she sputtered, going rather red.
"What's up?" said Ron.
"It's - oh how ridiculous-"
She thrust the letter at Harry, who saw that it was not handwritten but composed from pasted letters that seemed to have been cut out of the Daily Prophet.
You are a wicked girl. Harry Potter deserves better. Go back where you came from Muggle.
"They're all like that!" said Hermione, desperately, opening one letter after another. "'Harry Potter can do much better than the likes of you....' 'You deserve to be boiled in frog spawn....' Ouch!"
She had opened the last envelope, and yellowish-green liquid smelling strongly of petrol gushed over her hands, which began to erupt in large yellow boils.
"Undiluted bubotuber pus!" said Ron, picking up the envelope gingerly and sniffing it.
"Ow!" said Hermione, tears starting in her eyes as she tried to rub the pus off her hands with a napkin, but her fingers were now so thickly covered in painful sores that it looked as though she were wearing a pair of thick, knobbly gloves.
"You'd better get up to the hospital wing," said Harry as the owls around Hermione took flight. "We'll tell Professor Sprout where you've gone...."
"I warned her!" said Ron as Hermione hurried out of the Great Hall, cradling her hands. "I warned her not to annoy Rita Skeeter! Look at this one..." He read out one of the letters Hermione had left behind: "'I read in Witch Weekly about how you are playing Harry Potter false and that boy has had enough hardship and I will be sending you a curse by next post as soon as I can find a big enough envelope.' Blimey, she'd better watch out for herself."
Hermione didn't turn up for Herbology. As Harry and Ron left the greenhouse for their Care of Magical Creatures class, they saw Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle descending the stone steps of the castle. Pansy Parkinson was whispering and giggling behind them with her gang of Slytherin girls. Catching sight of Harry, Pansy called, "Potter, have you split up with your girlfriend? Why was she so upset at breakfast?"
Harry ignored her; he didn't want to give her the satisfaction of knowing how much trouble the Witch Weekly article had caused.
- "Well, we know what to get you next Christmas," said Hermione brightly. Then, when Ron continued to look gloomy, she said, "Come on, Ron, it could be worse. At least your fingers aren't full of pus." Hermione was having a lot of difficulty managing her knife and fork, her fingers were so stiff and swollen. "I hate that Skeeter woman!" she burst out savagely. "I'll get her back for this if it's the last thing I do!"
- "Aren't you two ever going to read Hogwarts, A History?"
"What's the point?" said Ron. "You know it by heart, we can just ask you."
- Percy's letter was enclosed in a package of Easter eggs that Mrs. Weasley had sent. Both Harry's and Ron's were the size of dragon eggs and full of homemade toffee. Hermione's, however, was smaller than a chicken egg. Her face fell when she saw it.
"Your mum doesn't read Witch Weekly, by any chance, does she, Ron?" she asked quietly.
"Yeah," said Ron, whose mouth was full of toffee. "Gets it for the recipes."
Hermione looked sadly at her tiny egg.
- "I vant to know," he said, glowering, "vot there is between you and Hermy-own-ninny."
Harry, who from Krum's secretive manner had expected something much more serious than this, stared up at Krum in amazement.
"Nothing," he said. But Krum glowered at him, and Harry, somehow struck anew by how tall Krum was, elaborated. "We're friends. She's not my girlfriend and she never has been. It's just that Skeeter woman making things up."
"Hermy-own-ninny talks about you very often," said Krum, looking suspiciously at Harry.
"Yeah," said Harry, "because we're friends."
He couldn't quite believe he was having this conversation with Viktor Krum, the famous International Quidditch player. It was as though the eighteen-year-old Krum thought he, Harry, was an equal - a real rival-
"You haff never... you haff not..."
"No," said Harry very firmly.
Krum looked slightly happier.
- "It comes down to this," said Hermione, rubbing her forehead. "Either Mr. Crouch attacked Viktor, or somebody else attacked both of them when Viktor wasn't looking."
"It must've been Crouch," said Ron at once. "That's why he was gone when Harry and Dumbledore got there. He'd done a runner."
"I don't think so," said Harry, shaking his head. "He seemed really weak - I don't reckon he was up to Disapparating or anything."
"You can't Disapparate on Hogwarts grounds, haven't I told you enough times?" said Hermione.
"Okay... how's this for a theory," said Ron excitedly. "Krum attacked Crouch - no, wait for it - and then Stunned himself!"
"And Mr. Crouch evaporated, did he?" said Hermione coldly.
- All three of them were so tired they could happily have put their heads down on the desks and slept; even Hermione wasn't taking her usual notes, but was sitting with her head on her hand, gazing at Professor Binns with her eyes out of focus.
- "You can't Disapparate on the grounds, Ron!" said Hermione. "There are other ways he could have disappeared, aren't there, Professor?"
Moody's magical eye quivered as it rested on Hermione. "You're another one who might think about a career as an Auror," he told her. "Mind works the right way, Granger."
Hermione flushed pink with pleasure.
- Hermione had not spoken for ten minutes. She was sitting with her forehead in her hands, staring at her knees. Harry thought she too looked as though she could have done with a Pensieve.
- A screech owl arrived for Hermione, carrying her morning copy of the Daily Prophet as usual. She unfolded the paper, glanced at the front page, and spat out a mouthful of pumpkin juice all over it.
"What?" said Harry and Ron together, staring at her.
"Nothing," said Hermione quickly, trying to shove the paper out of sight, but Ron grabbed it.
- "You were at the top of the North Tower!" Hermione said. "Your voice couldn't have carried all the way down to the grounds!"
"Well, you're the one who's supposed to be researching magical methods of bugging!" said Harry. "You tell me how she did it!"
"I've been trying!" said Hermione. "But I... but..."
An odd, dreamy expression suddenly came over Hermione's face. She slowly raised a hand and ran her fingers through her hair.
"Are you all right?" said Ron, frowing at her.
"Yes," said Hermione breathlessly. She ran her fingers through her hair again, and then held her hand up to her mouth, as though speaking into an invisible walkie-talkie. Harry and Ron stared at each other.
"I've had an idea," Hermione said, gazing into space. "I think I know... because then no one would be able to see... even Moody... and she'd have been able to get onto the window ledge... but she's not allowed... she's definitely not allowed... I think we've got her! Just give me two seconds in the library - just to make sure!"
With that, Hermione seized her school bag and dashed out of the Great Hall.
"Oi!" Ron called after her. "We've got our History of Magic exam in ten minutes! Blimey," he said, turning back to Harry, "she must really hate that Skeeter woman to risk missing the start of an exam."
- "Hello, Hermione," said Mrs. Weasley, much more stiffly than usual.
"Hello," said Hermione, her smile faltering at the cold expression on Mrs. Weasley's face.
Harry looked between them, then said, "Mrs. Weasley, you didn't believe that rubbish Rita Skeeter wrote in Witch Weekly, did you? Because Hermione's not my girlfriend."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Weasley. "No - of course I didn't!"
But she became considerably warmer toward Hermione after that.
- There was a loud slamming noise, and Mrs. Weasley and Harry broke apart. Hermione was standing by the window. She was holding something tight in her hand.
"Sorry," she whispered.
- Krum had come to say good-bye to Hermione.
"Could I have a vord?" he asked her.
"Oh... yes... all right," said Hermione, looking slightly flustered, and following Krum through the crowd and out of sight.
"You'd better hurry up!" Ron called loudly after her. "The carriages'll be here in a minute!"
He let Harry keep watch for the carriages, however, and spent the next few minutes craning his neck over the crowd to try and see what Krum and Hermione might be up to. They returned quite soon. Ron stared at Hermione, but her face was quite impassive.
- Krum had already started walking away when Ron burst out, "Can I have your autograph?"
Hermione turned away, smiling at the horseless carriages that were now trundling toward them up the drive, as Krum, looking surprised but gratified, signed a fragment of parchment for Ron.
- "Oh, Rita hasn't written anything at all since the third task," said Hermione in an oddly constrained voice. "As a matter of fact," she added, her voice trembling slightly, "Rita Skeeter isn't going to be writing anything at all for a while. Not unless she wants me to spill the beans on her."
"What are you talking about?" said Ron.
"I found out how she was listening in on private conversations when she wasn't supposed to be coming onto the grounds," said Hermione in a rush.
Harry had the impression that Hermione had been dying to tell them this for days, but that she had restrained herself in light of everything else that had happened.
"How was she doing it?" said Harry at once.
"How did you find out?" said Ron, staring at her.
"Well, it was you, really, who gave me the idea, Harry," she said.
"Did I?" said Harry, perplexed. "How?"
"Bugging," said Hermione happily.
"But you said they didn't work-"
"Oh not electronic bugs," said Hermione. "No, you see... Rita Skeeter" - Hermione's voice trembled with quiet triumph - "is an unregistered Animagus. She can turn-"
Hermione pulled a small sealed glass jar out of her bag.
"-into a beetle."
"You're kidding," said Ron. "You haven't... she's not..."
"Oh yes she is," said Hermione happily, brandishing the jar at them.
Inside were a few twigs and leaves and one large, fat beetle.
"That's never - you're kidding-" Ron whispered, lifting the jar to his eyes.
"No, I'm not," said Hermione, beaming. "I caught her on the windowsill in the hospital wing. Look very closely, and you'll notice the markings around her antennae are exactly like those foul glasses she wears."
Harry looked and saw she was quite right. He also remembered something.
"There was a beetle on the statue the night we heard Hagrid telling Madame Maxime about his mum!"
"Exactly," said Hermione. "And Viktor pulled a beetle out of my hair after we'd had our conversation by the lake. And unless I'm very much mistaken, Rita was perched on the windowsill of the Divination class the day your scar hurt. She's been buzzing around for stories all year."
"When we saw Malfoy under that tree..." said Ron slowly.
"He was talking to her, in his hand," said Hermione. "He knew, of course. That's how she's been getting all those nice little interviews with the Slytherins. They wouldn't care that she was doing something illegal, as long as they were giving her horrible stuff about us and Hagrid."
Hermione took the glass jar back from Ron and smiled at the beetle, which buzzed angrily against the glass.
"I've told her I'll let her out when we get back to London," said Hermione. "I've put an Unbreakable Charm on the jar, you see, so she can't transform. And I've told her she's to keep her quill to herself for a whole year. See if she can't break the habit of writing horrible lies about people."
Smiling serenely, Hermione placed the beetle back inside her schoolbag.
- "'Bye, Harry!" said Hermione, and she did something she had never done before, and kissed him on the cheek.