The view from the topmost parapet of the Astronomy tower was spectacular at night, particularly when the moon was bright. The castle and the grounds far below were washed in silvery light that made everything seem a little surreal and peaceful. The parapet measured only some ten feet across – a two-foot-wide path encircling the covered stairway that led down into the tower and school below. No protection from the elements here, so it was unpopular with trysting students in inclement weather.
Duster and Crookshanks made themselves comfortable on the floor and waited for the other familiars to arrive. Fawkes had decided to change their meeting location to prevent their pets from locating them. The tower didn’t bother the two tomcats, but Swift shuddered as he looked over the edge. Then he slunk over to the top of the stairs, ears and tail both down.
“I hate heights!” the borzoi growled as he settled down. “Trust a bird to pick a location like this.”
Gambit bounded up the topmost stairs just in time to hear the last sentence. “Going to be a mite cramped,” he said as he looked around. “Who’s watching the door?”
“I am,” Erasmus called from the bottom of the stairs. “Shadow is on her way up with our report.” He waved a blue-grey paw at Fawkes as the phoenix flew by him and made his way down to the next level where he took up a post at the door.
The other familiars arrived by ones and twos, the toads huffing and complaining loudly about the stairs. Fawkes was compelled to promise that future meetings would not be held in such difficult locations.
“In fact,” Trevor croaked hoarsely, “let me and Cass select the meeting spots. We know where we can get to easily.”
Cassandra nodded emphatically. “We won’t choose somewhere dampish – you cats would hate that!”
“Oh very well then,” Fawkes said. “Let us know where you decide the next meeting will be. Let’s get started, shall we?” He cocked his head to one side. “I’m pleased to report that Albus and Minerva seem to be quite taken with each other. Thunder and Thjalfe?”
“Most excellently!” Thjalfe purred. “Getting Lucius to fly was a marvelous idea! Xia noticed him immediately.”
“They were most of the day in conversation,” Thunder added, “and are planning to go flying tomorrow – something about a one-on-one Quidditch match.”
“That sounds most promising!” Fawkes agreed. “Who’s next? Norris and Topper?”
The macaw preened his feathers carefully and didn’t answer, while Norris scratched an ear indifferently. The phoenix whistled sharply. “Come, come. Surely it can’t be that bad.”
“Our pets do not like each other, Fawkes! They are just barely civil. This pairing is not going to work out, no matter what we do.” Topper’s sharp talons grated on the stonework where he perched. “My Poppy is a fastidious creature, and Argus is grimy and unkempt.”
“Obsessively fastidious, you mean,” Norris interjected. “Not to mention prejudiced against Squibs.” She related the incident of the skunk oil. “So it backfired miserably.”
“We have the same problem,” Swift said while Topper spluttered in outrage, “though it’s to a lesser degree.”
“Let’s trade,” Hephaestus suggested. “Pair Ivy with Argus, and Filius with Poppy.”
The four Familiars looked at each other and nodded. Fawkes fluffed out his feathers as if nothing had happened. “Trevor and Cassandra?”
“Our pets spent part of the morning studying together in the library. They were quite amiable, and Neville offered to escort Hannah to Hogsmeade. We believe they are well on the way to performing this ritual.” The toads exchanged glances, and Cassandra continued. “But while we were in the library, there was an altercation between the Potter human and Crooks’ pet.”
Crookshanks ears went back. “What kind of altercation?”
Trevor repeated as much of the conversation as he could recall, while Crookshanks’ tail lashed furiously and Duster’s eyes glittered coldly.
“We know how much your pet cares about that Potter human.” Duster said for the tenth time. “He is trying to make her feel guilty so she will perform the marriage ritual with him.” The Familiars’ meeting had ended, and the two cats were discussing the latest impediment to their plans.
“True.” Crookshanks batted at an inquisitive beetle and sent it tumbling down the staircase. “And if she does, we can forget about ever pairing her with your pet. Humans take the ritual quite seriously.”
“Obviously we need to get the Potter human to perform the ritual with another female.”
“Duster! Meddling with our own pets is bad enough – would you meddle with an unattached human?”
“In a heartbeat!” replied the black tom. “My pet needs a mate, and your pet is the best suited for him.”
“But… that violates the Law – thou shalt not meddle with unattached pets.”
“Law, pshaw! It’s custom and morality, not law.” He rolled to his feet in one smooth motion. “What Fawkes has asked us to do is no less a violation of custom – thou shalt not manipulate thy pet for thy own ends. It is for the greater good, Crookshanks. If we do not do this, wizardkind will die out. What is the difference, in the long run, between making that human fall down the stairs and attaching him to a different female?”
“It’s a matter of degree – I don’t like it.”
“Think of it this way. If the Potter human performs the ritual with another witch, we will have another viable breeding pair. I’m sure Fawkes will get Albus to provide suitable Familiars for any children.”
“I suppose so – not that there are that many unattached Familiars.” He broke off and looked at Duster with dismay. “You don’t think…”
“Oh yes I do. Five years from now, that overgrown parrot will be telling us to breed.”
Fun, Severus mused, was an entirely personal thing. For most, it was inane forms of entertainment, or ‘practical jokes’ – the latter being neither practical nor funny in his opinion. It was a bright and cheerful Sunday morning, and he was on his way to London to do some shopping in the more questionable stores of Knockturn Alley. He could’ve Apparated or taken the Floo network from Hogsmeade, but he was making use of Potter’s cloak, and flying.
He’d managed to avoid most of Albus’ attempts to corner him thus far, but the politely phrased request for a Sunday evening meeting could not be ignored. He was determined not to think about it. Instead, he reveled in his temporary freedom, pushing his broom to its limits in a quick display of aerial acrobatics that would’ve astounded most watchers, before settling onto a direct course for London.
As Severus passed over Hogsmeade, he saw an all-too-familiar head on the path below him heading for the village. Miss Granger was evidently taking a break from her research. Some thirty paces behind her, making no attempt to catch up, was Mr. Potter. Now that was curious. He slowed down, noting Potter’s efforts to stay out of Miss Granger’s direct line of sight. “Curiouser and curiouser,” he muttered to himself. He’d mention it to Minerva, although she probably already knew about it. He shook himself and kicked his broom into its best pace, anxious to get his shopping done and return.
Hermione shut the door to her room and carefully set up the strongest privacy spells she knew. They wouldn’t stop a determined teacher, but they’d certainly slow the curious down for a moment. Brewing potions in her own room, while not precisely forbidden, would raise eyebrows. At the moment, she’d rather those eyebrows not be raised. Crookshanks was out somewhere, she noticed. That was all to the good, as stray cat hairs did not mix well with brewing potions. She still had vivid memories of the time she’d put the cat hair in the Polyjuice potion in her second year.
Harry had confronted her in Hogsmeade and demanded that she reconsider his proposal. Her nose wrinkled at the memory. He’d doused himself with some awful cheap cologne that she recognized as a gift from Ron the previous year. She’d put him off again, but it hadn’t been pleasant. She shook her head. He’d just have to get over it.
The potions supply shop in Hogsmeade had not only carried everything she needed for the Animagus transformation potion, but had been willing to prepare the ingredients for her (for a price, of course), while she strolled through the rest of the village and bought a few other trifles at other shops. Once the ingredients were prepared, the actual brewing only took an hour. A quick check of the clock told her she would be able to finish it and test it before lunch.
She set up her cauldron and began adding carefully measured ingredients. A gill of fresh water, a level teaspoon of ground comfrey, half a cup of powdered monkshood, and so on. All mixed – as required – with her own hands rather than the more traditional spoon. The potion was pleasantly warm as it flowed through her fingers. She was pleased to see it begin to swirl on its own as the color brightened. Exactly an hour later, it had whitened to the shade of old ivory. It was ready.
The last step was adding the hair and blood. Hermione considered. She’d been in her room for some time. It might be better to go elsewhere to keep Harry from finding her. She decanted the potion into a vial for safekeeping, and cleaned up all traces of her brewing while she thought about it. Finally, she settled on the Room of Requirement and made her way to the seventh floor.
Without knowing exactly what she needed, she decided to concentrate on a safe place where she wouldn’t be disturbed for a while. A long breath later, the room appeared. It had chosen to manifest as a bright and sunny room, devoid of furniture. Well, that was all right. She carefully added her hair and blood and watched the potion bubble as the final ingredients were absorbed. Only then did she realize that she hadn’t the least idea what she wanted her Animagus form to be. “Something fitting,” she said aloud. “That’s what I want. Something fitting.” Then she drank.
Severus touched down back at Hogwarts just after ten a.m. and threw off the Invisibility Cloak with a sigh of relief. The sun was punishing hot today on someone who wore unrelieved black – and he’d been roasting under the cloak. He made his way to his quarters, and stripped off his sweat-soaked clothing leaving it for the house elves to deal with. Halfway to his bathroom, he stopped in thought. There were other ways to get clean besides sitting in a tub of water. He snagged a towel, wrapped it around his waist, and opened his back door.
Back door was, perhaps, a misnomer. The door opened onto a somewhat dark passage leading slowly downward. It was damp here, and the walls and floor were furred with moss. It was soft under his bare feet, a springy carpet over the stones. A hasty Lumos kept him from breaking his neck as the passage wormed its way deeper under the castle. There were odd smells in the air here. The stone floor of the passage gave way to uncut rocks that shifted underfoot. He slowed down; a misstep here could result easily in a broken ankle. Soon the passage opened into a vast underground cavern, with an arm of the lake lapping at the rocky beach here.
Snape walked down to the water’s edge, dropping the towel behind him. The water here was cold and clean. He waded out, careful to test the depth first. The lakebed here shelved sharply, and the water was quickly over his waist. He took a long breath and lunged into a surface dive, leaving the shore behind him. A moment later he rose for air, then turned on his back and floated, letting the chill of the lake cool him completely.
Well, why not? His research assistant had been rather more accurate than she knew, when she said there were many unregistered Animagi around. He concentrated for a moment and shifted, feeling bone and muscle sliding into new forms, new connections of nerves, veins, and arteries. In a moment, a fifteen-foot sea-serpent hissed his pleasure and dove for the bottom of the underground lake, silvery scales etched with green knifing through the clear water.
The potion had no particular taste, and given that it was almost exactly blood heat, was neither warm nor cold as it slid down Hermione’s throat. It was, she decided, like tasteless ketchup that had been sitting out on the kitchen counter for much of the day. She concentrated on “something fitting” and let the magic work its will upon her. For a few moments there was nothing, then a tingling along all her nerves. She closed her eyes to focus more tightly, knowing that if she failed here, the results might be spectacularly fatal.
She felt her legs shaking, and her arms suddenly felt too heavy to hold up. She sank to the floor, doing her best to remain focused. It felt odd – wrong even – to be sitting, and she stretched out on her side. The tingling in her nerves had intensified; now it was almost painful. Spasms tore through her as muscles stretched, moved, and changed, some growing and some shrinking. Bones and tendons writhed into new configurations. It seemed to last for eons, the pain increasing exponentially with every second. Blood roared in her ears and she blacked out.
Snape the sea-serpent slithered his way back to the shoreline an hour later and transformed back to his human form. He was perfectly capable of making his way back to his rooms as a serpent – he’d done it a few times, but the rocks were less than comfortable on his belly. “I really should get around to smoothing out a path,” he muttered to himself as he wrapped the towel around his waist.
He was dressing, when Duster came in, gave him a disgusted look, and curled up on the bed. “What’s chewing your tail, cat?” Snape looked around the room. Litterbox: clean. Food bowl: half full of the dry food his Familiar preferred. Water bowl: filled. He reached out and rubbed Duster’s ears. “I don’t speak cat. Maybe that would be another use for that potion – if we ever get anywhere with it.”
Duster’s ill temper had nothing to do with his pet. He and Crookshanks had spent much of the morning in a glorious massacre of various small rodents. Quite refreshing. They’d returned to the castle to be greeted by Swift with the news that the Potter human was following Crookshanks’ pet around. “I tried to stop him, but short of biting him…” the borzoi had said.
That Potter human. Duster’s eyes glittered like frozen gold. Something had to be done about that kit – obviously his dam hadn’t trained him properly! He allowed himself to purr and curled around his pet’s hand. It was not Sev’s fault that Potter was being a problem.
“Have I been ignoring you, Duster?” Severus asked. He picked up the cat and stroked him gently. “I see you’ve been outside – you’ve got burrs in your fur.” A glance at the clock. “After lunch, a good brushing perhaps? I’m meeting Miss Granger in the lab this afternoon, but she will wait.” He put his Familiar down and strode off toward the Great Hall, only to stagger as Duster jumped onto his shoulder. “Urff! You aren’t a kitten any more, you know.” He regained his balance and settled the cat more comfortably. “There. Now may I have my lunch?”
The house elves had, for reasons known only to themselves, decided to prepare a variety of seafood dishes for lunch. Severus grinned inwardly. No wonder Duster had wanted to accompany him! He sat down and shifted Duster to his lap and snagged a dish for his Familiar, which he loaded with tuna, crab, and lobster.
He wasn’t the only one of the staff with a Familiar at the table, he noticed. Ivy Sprout’s grey Persian was actually standing on the table, sharing a plate with Filch’s cat, their owners in a quiet conversation about Herbology. As he started on his own lunch, Xiamora Hooch came in arm-in-arm with Lucius Malfoy, both with their Familiars on their shoulders, and talking non-stop about Quidditch.
Students weren’t supposed to bring their Familiars into the Great Hall for meals, and he noticed more than a few wrapping up bits of fish or lobster in napkins and tucking them into pockets. Minerva caught his eye and he shrugged, scratching Duster behind the ears. “We might want to rescind the rule on Familiars at table,” he said dryly. “Particularly since we don’t obey that restriction ourselves.”
“An excellent idea, Severus,” Dumbledore agreed. “I’ll make the announcement tonight at dinner.” He handed Fawkes a piece of tuna. “There you go, friend. Ah, Severus, would you mind terribly if I cancelled our meeting tonight? Something’s come up.”
“Certainly, Albus. We can reschedule at your convenience.” He put on his trademark smirk and glanced out at the tables of students, noting that neither Miss Granger nor Mr. Potter were in their customary places. He guessed that she, at least, was on her way back from Hogsmeade knowing she was to meet him in the lab shortly. He turned around to mention the possible trouble between Potter and Miss Granger to Minerva, and caught his fellow Head of House in mid lip-lock with the Headmaster. He immediately returned his attention to his plate, shaking his head to dispel the sight. Something’s come up, indeed. I can guess. He shook his head again at the image that thought produced, and swept out of the Great Hall, his black robes swirling behind him.
Back in his rooms, he spent half an hour combing the burrs out of Duster’s fur, and treating his Familiar to a non-stop diatribe on the foolishness of romance. “I tell you, Duster, I will never, ever do anything as foolish as get entangled amorously. With anyone. Did you see Albus today? Sweet Merlin! And Minerva – who would ever have thought… That’s not all – it seems to be catching. I suppose it’s good that Lucius is finally getting along with someone else on the staff. And did you notice that Argus actually showed up for once?” He rambled on in that vein for a while, and then checked the time.
“Miss Granger will be slightly vexed with me,” he chuckled as he put Duster’s brush back on his desk. “I was supposed to meet her five minutes ago to begin some practical work on her project.” He rose, murmuring a spell to rid his clothing of stray bits of fur. “Perhaps I should have her research some practical uses for cat hair.”
He was slightly surprised to see that she was not there waiting for him. Surprise turned to a mixture of anger and disgust as time passed. How dare she impose on his free time, insist on doing a project, and then have the temerity to not show up for an appointment that she, herself, scheduled? He growled something obscene and left the classroom, not forgetting to seal the wards behind him. By the time he’d reached his rooms again, he’d taken fifteen points from a hapless Gryffindor for “loitering”, and felt a little better.
“So where in Merlin’s Name, is she?” Duster asked some time later. “Sev was not pleased when she didn’t show up.”
“I don’t know, Duster,” Crookshanks replied. “She wasn’t there when we came back from the hunt. I know she got back from Hogsmeade, because there’s an empty bag from the bookstore lying on her desk. It wasn’t there this morning.”
“So she’s been and gone again. It’s not like her to miss an appointment.”
“I know. I have to say that I’m a bit worried.”
“Let’s see if anyone else has seen her,” Duster suggested. “And on principle, if you see the Potter human, knock him down the stairs.”
“Right.” They bolted off in opposite directions.
Half an hour later, they met up again, this time on the roof over the Great Hall. “We know she went to Hogsmeade, and that Potter was following her,” Crookshanks said.
“And we know she returned just after 10am and was in her room, because Gambit saw her.”
“And that she left again at 11:30, more or less. The Fat Lady told us that.”
“She didn’t go back to Hogsmeade – Swift was there until after lunch, and he didn’t see or smell her.” Duster growled a bit. “She doesn’t have one of those cloaks that I’m aware of.”
“No,” Crookshanks said, “which means that she is somewhere in the castle, since Macavity and Chang were sunning themselves on the front gates.”
“She’s not been in the Great Hall or the kitchen, according to Shadow.”
“Nor the Infirmary – I checked with Topper.”
“She’s not in the Badger’s Den, or anywhere in Gryffindor tower.”
“I’m an idiot!” Crookshanks announced, rolling to his feet.
“What?” Duster rose also.
“Follow me!” He took off in a ginger-colored streak back toward Gryffindor Tower. A few minutes later, they were in the seven-year boys’ dorm. It was unoccupied, mostly due to the gorgeous fall weather.
“Would you mind telling me what we’re doing?” Duster groused as Crookshanks began sniffing the five beds.
“Looking for Potter’s trunk… here it is. Can you open this?”
“What the…?” Duster stared at the lock for a moment, and it obligingly clicked open. “There… now…?”
“Nice trick.” Crookshanks burrowed into the trunk and emerged dragging a large piece of parchment. “Help me spread this out, would you?”
“But it’s blank.” Nevertheless, he unrolled one end of the sheet and stood on it to keep it flat.
Crookshanks slapped the parchment with a heavy paw. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”
Duster let out an oath as the Marauder’s Map appeared. “Sev would give his left arm for this!”
“Never mind that. Look for a dot labeled Hermione.”
It didn’t take long. “There!”
“The Room of Requirement!”
Only long discipline forced them to return the map to its place and lock the trunk. Then they dashed off again, this time to the seventh floor. “Damn and blast! It doesn’t open for Familiars!”
Hermione opened her eyes groggily. Her vision was peculiarly distorted; there seemed to be something of a blind spot directly between her eyes. And she had what had to be the grandmother of all headaches. She closed her eyes again, willing the pounding in her temples to stop. It eased slightly, and memory came flooding back.
Well, the potion didn’t kill me, but I’m not going to know if it worked or not until I open my eyes again. Maybe I can tell by feel. She tried to move her hands, to touch her arms and legs, only to find her sense of touch deadened. She could feel the pressure on her arm, but not in her fingers. And it was uncomfortable to try to wrap her arms around herself.
She attempted to get to her feet, only to find herself more comfortable on all fours. So whatever I am, it’s probably four-footed. Sighing, she braced herself and opened her eyes. The headache didn’t come back, but her vision was still odd. If she wanted to look directly ahead, she had to turn her head to one side or the other. Taking a long breath, she looked down at her… hooves. Not hands. Hooves. Black hooves, topped by black stockings. She turned her head and looked at the dark brown pelt covering her sides. Something flopped in her eyes, and she shook her head to get rid of it, wishing for a mirror.
The Room of Requirement being what it was, a mirror appeared on the wall behind her. She snorted in dismay at the image it revealed. She’d hoped for something exotic when she saw the hooves – a unicorn or a hippogriff perhaps. Instead… a dark brown Shetland pony with black stockings and an impossibly long black forelock looked back at her.
“Duster, I’m trying to read.” Severus glared at his Familiar. The tom was being exceptionally annoying. He kept trying to swat the book out of Severus’ hands, and had succeeded more than once. Severus sighed and put his book down. “Cat, you’re being irritating.”
“Miaaaooow!” Duster leaped off Severus’ desk and went over to the door.
“We just did this not three minutes ago. I let you out, and you immediately wanted back in again.”
“Ffft!” Duster considered smacking his pet with unsheathed claws. Severus was not usually this dense. Instead, he climbed into his pet’s lap and curled up, purring like a buzz-saw. Predictably, after a few minutes, Severus began shifting under him.
“Duster, you’re a wonderful Familiar, but you’re heavy. And hot.” Severus gently pushed the cat off to one side. “And you’re shedding.” He put his book down. “How’m I supposed to get any reading done, eh? I’ve got to research this potion for Minerva, you know.” He rubbed the cat’s ears. “Settle down next to me, and let me read in peace.”
Duster sneezed at an imaginary dust-mouse, and leaped out of the chair and onto the bookshelves behind it. Once Severus’ attention returned to the book, the big tomcat stared at the back of the man’s head intently. Sure enough, in a minute or two, Severus began fidgeting again. Once he rubbed the back of his head as if it were bothering him. Finally he put his book down in exasperation. “It really isn’t like Miss Granger to break an appointment. Perhaps I should see if Minerva knows where she is.” He rose and headed for his fellow Head of House’s rooms, never noticing when Duster slipped through the door and followed him.
Minerva wasn’t in her rooms, nor was she in her office. Severus was mightily puzzled by this until he remembered the incident over lunch. Groaning, he decided not to drop by Albus’ rooms. Instead, he headed over toward the Gryffindor Common Room, hoping to find and interrogate one of the students of that House. He found the portrait easily enough, but the Fat Lady refused to open for him.
“You’ve no business here, Professor Snape,” she said bluntly. “Professor McGonagall hasn’t said anything to me about letting you in.”
Rather than waste his time arguing with a painting or stoop to the level of hexing said painting, he decided to check the library, reasoning that Miss Granger might have become so engrossed in her research that she’d lost track of time. When he got there, Madame Pince informed him that Miss Granger had not been there all day. Frustrated at having wasted the entire afternoon, Snape swept into the Great Hall for dinner.
When Miss Granger did not arrive for dinner, Snape’s left eyebrow rose fractionally. This was most unlike that particular Gryffindor – he’d heard her spouting about “proper nutrition” to her friends far too often. He snorted and returned his attention to his own plate.
“Severus!” Minerva’s voice cut into his reverie.
He looked up. “Yes, Minerva?” Her hat was slightly askew, and her hair was coming loose in tendrils. In fact, she gave every indication of having dressed hastily before rushing to the Great Hall.
“I know this research project of Hermione’s is quite important to her, but honestly! The child has to eat! You’ve kept her so busy today that she’s missed both lunch and dinner.”
He set down his fork deliberately. “Minerva, I have not seen Miss Granger all day. She was supposed to be doing some lab work this afternoon, but evidently this project isn’t as important to her as you think. When she didn’t put in an appearance by three o’ clock, I assumed she had changed her mind, so I returned to my rooms.”
The Head of Gryffindor House stared at him. “Then where is she, Severus?”
“I have no idea. I’ve quite enough to do with keeping track of my own House.” Then he relented. “Minerva – it is not like Miss Granger to change her mind and not let anyone know. It is possible that something has happened to her.”
Their eyes met, and they pushed back their chairs. “I shall have a word with Mr. Potter,” Minerva said. “He’s her best friend.”
Severus grimaced. “I think there’s trouble in Paradise, Minerva.” He sighed. “I saw them this morning going to Hogsmeade. Mr. Potter was following Miss Granger at some distance, and making sure he stayed out of her sight.”
“I’m sure it’s just a little misunderstanding, Severus.” She rose. “Let us plan to meet in the staff room in half an hour.”
“I’ll question the rest of the staff while you’re speaking with Mr. Potter.”
Hermione spent a few minutes getting used to walking in her new form. It felt a bit odd at first, but she soon grew accustomed to it. Once she’d mastered walking, it was easy to try other things, and she was soon perfectly comfortable trotting around the room. Even jumping over small obstacles was easy. She grinned inwardly – her Animagus form was evidently somewhat more athletic than her human form.
A desire to know what time it was caused a clock to appear on the wall, and she realized that she was already late for lunch – she’d have to hurry if she wanted to get anything to eat before her scheduled meeting with the Potions Master. With a soft nicker of regret, she closed her eyes and concentrated on regaining her true form.
Only to open her eyes and discover that she was still a Shetland pony.
Don’t panic, she told herself, flicking her tail in agitation. You need to concentrate harder. You’re distracted by your success. Now, let’s try it again. Deep breath. Close eyes. Concentrate… Damn it. What did the recipe say about changing back, exactly? “Once the ability is unlocked, all that is necessary to transform is to have the desire to do so.” I want to change back… so why isn’t it working?
She couldn’t help but remember the incident of the mis-brewed Polyjuice potion in her second year. But I did it right. I followed all the instructions! I used the right ingredients… She whinnied in dismay. Professor Snape is going to be furious with me!
“Miss Granger is missing,” Minerva informed the assembled faculty and staff of Hogwarts. “She went to Hogsmeade this morning, and hasn’t been seen since.”
“She hasn’t been in the library at all today,” Irma Pince volunteered.
“I’ll go down to Hogsmeade and see if I can retrace her trail,” Filius Flitwick said. He bounced out of his chair and out of the room, his borzoi trailing him.
Albus looked grave. “Hagrid, will you and Firenze see if there are any traces of her in the Forest?” The two nodded and clumped off, the centaur’s staccato hoof beats in counterpoint to the half-giant’s heavy footsteps.
“I spoke with Mr. Potter, and he said that he did see her in Hogsmeade this morning, but they went their separate ways,” Minerva said. “He doesn’t know if she came back.”
Ivy Sprout rose to her feet. “I’ll check the grounds and the greenhouses.”
“I’ll help yer,” said the caretaker, rising also. “Go faster wi’ the two of us.”
“Thank you, Mr. Filch, Professor Sprout.” Under other circumstances, Albus might’ve been amused by their behavior.
“Is it possible,” Lucius Malfoy asked, “that she went somewhere besides Hogsmeade? They are on the Floo network. Also, as a seventh year student, Miss Granger does know how to Apparate.”
“Hermione wouldn’t do…” Minerva began angrily, only to be cut off by Severus.
“Miss Granger is aware that students are supposed to limit themselves to Hogsmeade only. However, her personal history suggests that she might break those rules if she thought the cause sufficient.”
Minerva sputtered angrily for a moment and subsided. “You’re right, Severus.”
“While we are waiting for Professor Flitwick’s return, perhaps we should make inquiries of the ghosts and portraits,” Lucius suggested. “It will take some time, but it might give us some idea of when she was where.”
“I’ve an idea,” Madame Hooch said slowly. “She’s got a Familiar, correct? That big gingery cat?”
“See if he can find her.”
“That’s a good idea!” Minerva rose. “I think I saw him in the Common Room. I’ll go fetch him.” She shot a look at Albus.
“I’ll come with you,” Severus said. The two Heads of House left, both in the not-quite-a-run stride of an adult in a hurry. Even with his longer legs, Severus was hard-pressed to keep up with Minerva. The Fat Lady opened promptly, not even bothering to favor Severus with a glare.
They burst into the Common Room, startling a few younger students who were lounging idly in front of the fireplace. Minerva bit her lip. “Mr. Wilkins, have you seen Miss Granger?”
“Not since this morning, Professor.” Robbie Wilkins’ eyes got huge as he recognized the formidable Potions Master behind his Head of House. “She was going to Hogsmeade.”
“What about her cat,” Severus snapped. “Have you seen him?”
The second year student gaped and shook his head.
A racket back out in the hallway drew Severus’ attention, and he turned around to listen more closely.
“I don’t care, Professor Malfoy! You don’t get in here unless Professor McGonagall says so.” The Fat Lady sounded quite aggrieved.
Severus opened the painting from the inside. “Lucius?”
The DADA teacher was slightly disheveled and breathing hard, as if he’d sprinted from the Great Hall. “Portrait… seventh floor…” he gasped. “Room of Requirement.” His message delivered, he sagged for a moment against the wall.
A moment later, Severus and Minerva charged past him, not bothering with decorum. Lucius followed more slowly, catching his breath and returning to his customary elegance.
Severus easily outdistanced everyone on the stairs, taking them two and three at a time. By the time he reached the seventh floor, he had a respectable lead. Drawing his wand, he flung open the door ready for anything. His eyes swept the room and lit on the only occupant – a small Shetland pony who gave him a terrified look and backed away.
One did not have to be Merlin to figure out what had happened. His initial worry dissipated, leaving anger in its place. “Miss Granger!” he almost bellowed, “may I ask what you think you’re doing?”