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The Never-ending Road

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Snape did not get back to Harriet before the holidays ended, but she wasn't daft enough to think—this time—that he'd forget. He was going to make her sorry she'd gone wandering at nighttime.

Honestly, this conditional task he'd come up with didn't sound so terrible as it did impossible. How was she supposed to help Asteria Greengrass fit into Hogwarts if her sisters couldn't? They would surely know her a great deal better than Harriet. Did Snape imagine Harriet was much more popular than she actually was, enough to provide Asteria with a ton of friends?

"Perhaps he thinks that if she can learn to connect with someone outside her own family, it will make it easier for her to form other friendships," Hermione said, a bit breathlessly. "Thanks, Harriet, you can set them down—"

Harriet shoved her stack of books onto Madam Pince's desk and rotated her now-free shoulders. Hermione was checking out six books on Arithmancy, four for Muggle Studies, and eight on Ancient Runes. Eighteen bloody books. Her hair was almost as wild as Harriet's these days, and her eyes, instead of brightening from lack of homework, were only getting darker with circles from all the extra studying she'd put in. Soon she'd look like a raccoon.

Madam Pince glared at them both and began her exhaustive process of checking each book over for nicks and spoils, sniffing repeatedly as she went. They were going to be there a long time.

"But why me?" Harriet asked in a library-voice, turning back to Hermione. "Snape doesn't even like me."

"Perhaps he thinks Asteria will like you," Hermione said. "And that's more important, isn't it?"

Harriet brooded on this possibility. Well, even if it didn't make much sense, she was going to do it anyway. Snape would make sure she did.

"You saved her from childish brutality once before," Snape had said. But Harriet would have felt much more comfortable punching someone in the nose than doing. . . this.

Everyone was due back at the castle that evening, so even though the holidays were technically over, she and Hermione (and Daphne, Asteria, and the other boy) still had the castle to themselves. Hermione, predictably, had plans to study.

They dragged her books through the castle in three separate bags.

"We need pack horses," Harriet huffed as they climbed the stairs. Wingardium Leviosa only worked for brief levitation. She didn't want to imagine what Madam Pince would do to them if they accidentally levitated the books off the stairs and dropped them several hundred feet.

"You know," Hermione panted as they staggered onto the floor where the entrance to Gryffindor Tower lay. "Don't tell Ron, please, he'd only laugh—but I really am thinking of giving up Muggle Studies. Not because it's too much work," she added quickly. "But it's. . . it's insulting."

"How?" Harriet asked in surprise.

"It's so. . . so patronizing and, and twee. Wizards have the, the stupidest view of Muggles, even if they aren't being cruel. Professor Burbage is very nice, of course, but the books we have to read! They act as if all the scientific and intellectual advancements of the past three hundred years are simply the Muggles' quaint way of compensating for being deficient in magic!"

"Oddsbodikins," Harriet told Sir Cadogan, who was dancing back and forth on his green, clearly wanting to challenge them to a fight but too chivalrous to interrupt two ladies while they were talking. Looking disappointed (his visor clanked down over his face when he dropped his head), he had no choice but to let the portrait open.

"'What Muggles toil to achieve with coal and oil and electricity are not necessary for the wizard, for whom fire, light, and movement are accomplished with a slight movement of his wand; and the arts, philosophies and theologies that Muggles craft in their spare time, to fill the terrible emptiness in their souls, the wizard may experience by casting the spark of the lightest spell.'" Hermione said it like she was quoting, and her eyes were blazing. "And all the books are like that! Poor little Muggles, stuck without magic in their quaint, dull little ways. . . "

She must have been storing this up for quite a while. Harriet let her rant on, making noises in places that sounded like good ones, but she was mostly thinking about her stomach hurting: a low-level but continued ache that had started up some time in the library. She'd thought it would go away if she ignored it, but the more she ignored it, the sharper the pains started to twinge, layered over the dull ache that was already there.

". . . completely ignoring how Muggles have contributed to the world, while wizards just sit around and—and play Quidditch—oh, I don't mean that, but when was the last time Professor Binns mentioned a conference of wizards that didn't have something to do with keeping down goblins and werewolves and giants and, and Muggles? Harriet, are you all right?"

"Yeah. No. I dunno." Harriet grimaced, rubbing her stomach. "I think the bacon was off at breakfast or something. My stomach hurts."

Hermione's righteous anger morphed into worry. "Do you want to go to Madam Pomfrey?"

As Harriet was shaking her head, an angry pain, sharper than all the rest, pulsed like it was gripping the lower half of her body. "Maybe. Okay, yeah."

Madam Pomfrey was not in the infirmary. Everything was dark, and the doors were locked.

"She must not have got back yet from her holiday," Hermione said worriedly. "Maybe Professor McGonagall will have something you can take. . ."

Professor McGonagall was working at her desk when Hermione knocked on her office door.

"If you are coming to inquire about your broom, Miss Potter," she said, looking over her square spectacles at them, "Professor Flitwick thinks it may be carrying a Hurling Jinx."

"Harriet thinks she ate something bad at breakfast," Hermione said quickly.

"My stomach hurts," Harriet said uncomfortably when Professor McGonagall looked sharply at her.

"In all the years I've been here, Miss Potter, when there's a case of food-poisoning at Hogwarts, one of the students has been responsible. Since none of the five who remained seem likely culprits, it's probably something else." She stood. "Come with me. I'll let you into the infirmary."

They trekked back through the halls to the hospital wing. Harriet knew it was evidence of how much Hermione was worried about her that she'd sacrificed studying her eighteen new books (well, maybe not the four Muggle Studies ones) to go on this pointless walk-about.

Professor McGonagall unlocked the infirmary doors and swept along to Madam Pomfrey's massive cabinet of medicinal potions. It was big enough that the whole Gryffindor Quidditch team could have climbed inside it and not knocked elbows. On its many shelves, hundreds of bottles gleamed in the light, cobalt blue and emerald green and opal white, shimmering black and mucky brown. Professor McGonagall reached for a ruby red one, which made Hermione say, "Oh!" in a tone of sudden comprehension. It did look familiar. . . Harriet thought she'd seen Hermione take it bef. . .

"Oh." Harriet went bright red, like the potion.

"This might do the trick." Professor McGonagall handed it down to her, briskly business-like. "I believe the bathroom is open. I know Madam Pomfrey keeps the. . . other articles in there." That slight hesitation was the only lapse in her matter-of-fact manner.

Face flaming, Harriet fled to the infirmary bathroom and locked herself in.

It was. . . that.

So.

Relief and satisfaction warred with worry. It was really uncomfortable. She knew Hermione hated getting it, but seeing Hermione grimace and drink that red potion and splutter was a lot different than having to do it herself. The stuff smelled like vinegar. And now she'd be having it for the rest of her life.

Until menopause, at least, said her Hermione-like part.

"Cheers," Harriet muttered. Pinching her nose, she knocked the potion back.

It tasted like fermented vinegar. Coughing, she filled a cup of water from the sink and chugged it. "Pleh. PLEH."

Once everything was. . . taken care of, she skulked out of the safety of the bathroom. Professor McGonagall and Hermione had been talking, but they left it off and turned to face her.

"It was that," Harriet said before either of them could ask, blushing again.

Professor McGonagall looked sympathetic, really. "A burden we all must endure, Miss Potter. Well!" She was brisk again. "You know where the potions are. Madam Pomfrey allows female students up to five doses per cycle on a standard basis, but if you need more, you can discuss it with her."

She walked with them back to the Tower. Hermione was talking with her, something about Transfigurations, but Harriet was concentrating on herself. Although the pain in her lower body was gone, she thought she kept seeing spots whenever she tried to focus on anything. She tried to blink the spots away, but they wouldn't go.

Once they were back in the common room, Hermione marched toward her books, looking like someone about to roll back her sleeves and get down to brass tacks. Harriet had offered to look up page numbers in the index for her, but when she opened the first book, she realized she couldn't read. The spots made the words disappear when she tried to focus on them.

"Harriet?" asked Hermione.

"I. . . can't see." Harriet tried to squash her panic. Maybe it was just a period thing. "Does this happen to you?"

"You can't see?" Hermione asked in alarm.

"I can see," Harriet said quickly, "I just—I'm getting spots. I can't read. Wait, this can't happen to you or you'd never be able to study—"

"Do you have a headache?" Hermione asked.

"My head feels funny, but. . ."

"Lie down on the couch," Hermione instructed. "I'm going to get Professor McGonagall."

She dashed away, the portrait opening and shutting. Harriet decided Hermione was right, as usual: lying down seemed like a good idea. She took off her glasses and curled up next to the fire. A moment later, a soft, furry weight landed on the cushions and settled against her stomach.

"Hi, Crookshanks." She scratched his chin. He yawned massively, showing all his teeth.

Hermione came back. Harriet squinted at her, but without her glasses all she could make out was a vague, Hermione-like shape with a mass of hair. It was like one of those paintings that made images with huge streaks and whorls of paint.

"Miss Potter?" said Professor McGonagall's voice. "How do you manage to get into trouble drinking a simple potion?"

"Natural talent, Professor," Harriet said as Professor McGonagall touched her forehead.

"Miss Granger said you were seeing spots. Does your head ache? Any sensitivity to light?"

"No. . ."

"Fatigue? Numbness?"

Harriet considered. "I feel tired and—not good. What is it?"

"The menstrual analgesic provokes a migraine in a small percentage of witches," Professor McGonagall said. "About three percent, I believe. It's possible the migraine is concurrent, but you're awfully young to get them, even as part of your cycle. Have you ever experienced migraines before?"

"No, but. . . Aunt Petunia gets them," she said reluctantly.

Professor McGonagall hmm'd. Harriet could imagine her pressing her lips together in one unbending line.

"Lie down in your dorm, at least. I'll return shortly. I need to see Professor Snape about which potions for migraine can be mixed with this potion."

The horror at Professor McGonagall telling Snape that she needed a potion for this crashed over Harriet like a wave at the beach that had knocked her down (although she had never actually been to the beach). "I'll take the migraine. It's not so bad."

"Miss Potter, Professor Snape is a Head of House," Professor McGonagall said briskly. "I can assure you, he's dealt with. . . this sort of matter before with his female students. And as Madam Pomfrey has been delayed, he has the best knowledge of medicinal potions in the castle at present. Get up to bed and I'll be with you shortly."

She left. Harriet's head churned—with the migraine, which was starting to hurt, like someone was putting a huge pressure not on her skull but directly on her brain; with the image of Snape handing out potions for, for it; with the knowledge that he'd know she was on it.

"It shouldn't be embarrassing, you know," Hermione was saying. "It's a perfectly natural condition. For goodness' sake, it happens to fifty percent of the human race every month! It's really quite insulting that we're made to feel like there's something the matter with us whenever our periods come and we mustn't talk about it, or be embarrassed if we do—"

"Can we please talk about this later?" Harriet said, wincing. "My head's really starting to hurt. . ."

Hermione ushered her upstairs, tucked her into bed and drew the hangings around her four-poster. Harriet felt very tired now but her head was hurting too much for her to fall asleep. She shut her eyes.

Be careful what you wished for—honestly. This part of growing up sucked.

And it probably meant she was going to be short forever.

--

Severus frequently found himself at a profound loss in dealing with Asteria Greengrass. Was this how being Longbottom's Head of House would have been? (For himself. If Minerva had any problems, she didn't discuss them where he could hear.) Although he'd had his share of anxious first-year students, his House favoritism had always soothed them—to a certain extent. They didn't shake and squeak like Longbottom, but they understood the importance of deferring to him in exchange for his continued protection.

Asteria was the only student he'd ever had who still blanched and trembled and refused to look at him when he so much as stood within ten feet of her. Talking to her was an absolute disaster. He'd considered relocating her to Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw as an experiment, but was afraid the shock of being removed from her sisters would kill her.

He wasn't entirely exaggerating, either.

Since the rest of the school hadn't yet returned, he met with the remaining Greengrass girls in the Slytherin common room. In defiance of every tactic he'd perfected to intimidate his students—even the Slytherins—he also sat down, in an armchair, so the sisters could take the adjacent couch and Daphne could sit in the middle, letting Asteria believe she was shielded. Although she was tall for her age, she did have a knack for appearing smaller than she was, and had perfected the trick of vanishing into the background. Most people likely forgot she was there. Having mastered that habit himself, Severus didn't, and it was clear that Daphne didn't, either, but they both pretended Asteria wasn't there. Severus had learned that Asteria was much more comfortable being ignored entirely.

She was a very strange child.

"I hope you had a good holiday, Professor," Daphne said, calmly polite. He'd never seen her manners lapse, even from constant exposure to Pansy Parkinson, who in her own way could have challenged Harriet Potter in a contest to vex the Pope.

"Thank you, Miss Greengrass." That wasn't a real answer, but he tried to avoid giving real answers whenever possible. In the same noncommittal spirit, he said, "I believe congratulations are in order for your family."

For a moment, Asteria's invisible shield rippled, but Daphne's composure did not. If anything, she seemed truly pleased. Being a practical girl with her hopes aimed in the same direction, she probably did welcome her sister's prospected marriage.

But Asteria, in that flash of a moment, was clearly not happy with Leto's leaving. Severus was satisfied.

"Thank you, Professor," said Daphne. "We're all very pleased."

He did not ask if they'd be attending the wedding. He'd received no word to arrange their temporary withdrawal, and since Leto was being removed from school to expedite her marriage, the wedding would be taking place shortly (if it hadn't already). If the expense of transporting two sisters had been too much for the bride, the groom might have offered; but either he hadn't or had been voted down. Either way, to Severus' mind it was an ill beginning.

"I am aware that the event must be a trial for you all," he said. "Your sister to be removed from her home, and the remaining two to lose her."

Asteria's invisibility rippled again. Even Daphne's eyelids flickered that time.

"You, Miss Greengrass, have a number of allies who can support you." Slytherins rarely used the term "friends"; they considered it too juvenile and frail as an association. "Your sister, however, is more delicately placed."

Daphne's eyes darted toward Asteria, who was staring fixedly at the ground, her face and posture telegraphing the exertion it was costing her not to jump up and flee.

"I have assigned Harriet Potter to work with her," Severus said coolly.

Daphne's eyes flew back to him, widening, while an expression came over her face that said she thought he was mad. Asteria, however, went a deep shade of scarlet.

"Harriet Potter?" Daphne repeated. "I—" She was clearly struggling with the propriety of arguing. "Sir—forgive me—but I hardly think that a good idea. . ."

"Miss Potter has already assisted your sister once."

Daphne blinked. "When? I. . ." Then the light of understanding passed over her face. She turned to Asteria, who was trying more than ever to hide in plain sight. "She was the one, then?" Daphne said, as if a lingering question had just been answered.

Severus was distracted by a brief warmth flaring in the pocket against his ribs. While Daphne and Asteria conversed through tense, silent looks, he pulled out the small notebook he and the other Heads used for minor emergencies.

Minerva's handwriting said: 'Need to know what potions are compatible with Feminine Comfort that may have provoked migraine.'

"I will leave you to discuss it," Severus said to the Greengrass sisters. "However, I must inform you that the meetings are a requirement and your sister must attend them without you. I will contact you with the details of the first meeting."

Daphne looked stunned; Asteria frozen, almost paralytic. He left them like that, feeling like he'd just thrown a kitten out in the snow. But it was necessary; he knew it was necessary. If he allowed Daphne to accompany Asteria, she would let Daphne take care of everything and they would get nowhere, none of them. The teachers believed the same as her sister: with infinite kindness, Asteria would eventually settle into boarding school life, form friendships and grow into a capable young woman. But Severus knew that people rarely worked that way; for most, it took either a shock or a deep desire to alter them in the slightest. Asteria appeared to have no desire to change. If left to her own devices, she would remain withdrawn and isolated, and Daphne would willingly shoulder the burden of carrying her alone. Slytherins could be neurotic in their assumption of duty.

Escaping the common room, he entered into the next awkward fray of the day involving teenaged girls. If Minerva was asking, the sufferer was either Granger or Harriet Potter.

He spelled onto the page: 'You had better wait for the dose to pass through her system before you give her anything else.'

'If there's another option, Severus,' Minerva wrote back immediately, 'I would take it rather than force the poor girl to suffer a migraine.'

'Pain potions—which Feminine Comfort is, in large part—contain ingredients that should not be overloaded into the system, which is what would happen if you gave her anything for the resultant migraine.'

'Where are you?' Minerva wrote. 'I couldn't find you in your office. Come to the infirmary.'

He went, but only because if their positions had been reversed—one of his Slytherins half-Transfigured into a badger, perhaps—he would have hunted Minerva down, even if she'd told him he just had to wait and let the student de-badgerize.

"I do wish Poppy hadn't been delayed," was how Minerva greeted him when he stalked into the infirmary. "I can't remember what half these potions are. Is there really nothing I can give her, Severus?"

"Nothing," he said flatly. "Feminine Comfort is an analgesic and a stimulant. If you give her any more pain potions, she will have a reaction to that, and sleep potions and stimulants mix with disastrous results."

Minerva gave Pomfrey's medicine cabinet a dark look, as if it was being deliberately unhelpful.

"She should do whatever she normally does," Severus said. "Or whatever Pomfrey has written in her file."

"She's never had this problem before." Minerva shut the cabinet door and spelled the lock. "Apparently her aunt also suffers from migraines, but she would take Muggle remedies, of course."

That still didn't narrow down which girl it was, but Severus suspected he knew who. It was perversely appropriate that he should have to deal with this concerning her.

"It's highly likely that the migraine is resulting from the potion," he said. "It affects three percent of witches in that way."

"Yes, I'm aware."

"And if it were simply part of her usual symptoms," he continued, ignoring this but feeling quite stupid all the same, "the potion would have taken care of it. The migraine will abate by the time the potion passes through her system."

"Thank you, Severus," Minerva said, a sigh in her voice.

He left, feeling oddly uncomfortable about being so useless. It was simple biology; there was nothing to be done. To his extreme annoyance, neither telling himself that nor realizing he was entirely correct did anything to improve his mood.

--

"Are you sure you don't need me to stay?" Hermione asked anxiously, fussing with Harriet's pillow.

"Sure as can be." Harriet settled back on her now-more-lumpy pillow. "There's nothing for you to do. Go to dinner, I'll be fine. You can finally talk to someone other than me and your Arithmancy books."

"I haven't been exactly pining away for Lavender and Parvati's society," Hermione said.

What about Ron's? Harriet thought. But she had no intention of saying it. She and Hermione never talked about boys, though "Boys, Boys, Boys" made up about 48% of Lavender and Parvati's conversation. That one time Harriet had brought up Lockhart, Hermione couldn't have changed the subject faster.

Sometimes Harriet would have liked to talk about boys. A worry niggled at her that maybe she was weird because all the boys Lavender and Parvati gushed about—Lockhart (who was more of a man, but still), Cedric Diggory, Roger Davies, Michael Corner—didn't appeal to her at all. They looked bland and boring to her, verging on unattractive.

"Well. . . if you need anything," Hermione said reluctantly, now wrinkling Harriet's blankets.

"I'll make a list and give it to you when you get back. Make sure you hand me a quill and a roll of parchment before you go."

Hermione's mouth twitched, almost smiling. She leaned over and kissed Harriet on the cheek, and then left the room, dousing all the lamps with a spell. Hermione might have come from Muggles and rage about the way wizards treated them, but she was a better witch than a lot of magic-born girls (or boys).

Harriet drifted into not-quite-sleep. Her headache was softening, but the lower-body pain was growing as the migraine sloughed off. Professor McGonagall had explained that she wouldn't be able to take Feminine Comfort without enduring migraines, but a general analgesic should take care of most of the pain. She could try it when the Feminine Comfort wore off.

She woke up fully after a time because her stomach had that hollow, burning, hungry feeling in it. Damn. How was she going to get anything to. . .

Cautiously, she opened her eyes. They'd finally stopped spotting and hurting in the light. The room was dark, the only light coming from the moonlight shining a ghostly silver through the frosted window glass.

"Dobby?" she said.

Crack!

(Good thing her headache was lighter.)

"Miss Harriet Potter!" Dobby cried.

Not light enough. She winced. "Hi, Dobby. Sorry, but could you whisper? I've got a migraine. . ."

He stuffed his ears in his mouth again. "What is Harriet Potter wishing from Dobby?" he whispered, so quietly she had to strain to hear him at all.

"How's Snuffles?" she asked, glancing at the snow pillowed on the windowsill.

"Dobby is feeding Snuffles five times a day," he announced, like he was telling her about a sacred duty. "Snuffles is as kind and noble as Harriet Potter! He is entrusting Dobby with many important secrets, and is saying to Dobby, 'You must be keeping Harriet Potter safe, as I cannot be being with her.'"

Harriet blinked at his shining, fervent face. She'd always sensed that Snuffles was cleverer than other dogs, but she didn't know he could speak to house-elves. Maybe he was part-Crup? Or maybe house-elves could talk to animals. Their magic was certainly different than humans'.

"Thanks for looking after him, Dobby, I really owe you one." She glanced again at the ghostly shining snow. "Is he cold?"

"He is sleeping in the Shrieking Shack," Dobby explained. "Harriet Potter, you must be careful."

Harriet had been about to ask, half-jokingly, where the Shack's ghosts had gone, but he was looking so earnest and serious that she was quite taken aback.

"Snuffles is saying to Dobby there is a dangerous man at Hogwarts, a servant of," he trembled, "H-he Who Must Not Be Named. He is in disguise, and has tricked many people for oh so many years. He is a nasty, cunning, traitor-wizard. Snuffles was almost to be capturing him before, but the traitor-wizard outsmarted Snuffles, it is true, and now Snuffles has come to find him, and to protect Harriet Potter at last."

Harriet was too stunned to do more than blink several times.

"Snuffles told you all this?" she said weakly.

He nodded his head so vigorously that if he'd been Sir Nick, that last bit of flesh holding his head to his neck might finally have snapped. "Snuffles is entrusting Dobby with his most important secrets, so that he is helping protect Harriet Potter! Dobby would die for Harriet Potter—"

"Nobody needs to die for me." Her stomach twisted up in a way that had nothing to do with her cramps. . . but also at the shining look on Dobby's face. He really meant it.

Her mouth felt suddenly dry with fear.

"Really," she said, while he gazed at her worshipfully. "I mean it. This is an order, Dobby, okay? I know I can't give you orders, really—"

"Dobby will do whatever Harriet Potter wishes!" he cried.

"Okay, then," Harriet said firmly. "If you died for me, Dobby, I'd—it would break my heart. So I don't want you doing anything like that. Okay?"

His eyes widened and started to leak tears. A strange expression had come over his face, one that was half-misery, half ecstasy.

"Dobby's life should be worth nothing if Harriet Potter were to die and Dobby live," he said tremulously.

Harriet had no idea what to say to this. The words wrapped around her heart like ropes and tried to drag it far, far down. "I'm not that important."

"To Dobby, Harriet Potter is." His wide eyes were utterly serious. "And to Harriet Potter's Snuffles. We is to be keeping Harriet Potter safe. Evil dark wizards is not to be hurting Harriet Potter while Dobby and Snuffles is drawing breath. Dobby. . ." More tears streamed out of his eyes; he started to tremble. Harriet became very alarmed. "Dobby—" he choked. "Wishes of all things to promise Harriet Potter—but he cannot—Harriet Potter must live!"

The expression on his twisted-up little face was even more alarming than the pitch of his wailing voice. Harriet scrambled out of her bed just in time to prevent him from charging headlong into her dresser.

"Dobby is sorry!" he wailed. "Dobby's life is worth nothing if it is not being in service to Harriet Potter!"

"Okay!" Harriet struggled to keep a grip on him. "Okay, I don't—I take it back! I take it back." Dobby turned his enormous eyes on her, though he was still weeping. Harriet felt gooseflesh prickling up her arms. "You can—you can do whatever you want. Okay? Just. . ."

She was at a complete loss. It frightened her to think he'd hurl himself into something dark and dangerous out of—out of love. She felt like the window had been blown open and the snow was burying her. She wanted, strangely, to cry.

"Can you promise me, at least," she said at last, "you'll think of some other way? Before dying. Okay? Can you do that?"

He nodded wordlessly.

"Dobby promises," he croaked.

--

When Hermione returned, Harriet was sitting in bed eating out of a massive hamper Dobby had brought her. She wasn't as hungry as she'd been earlier, but the food smelled so good. . .

To think she'd only called Dobby so she could ask for dinner.

She'd felt very low since he'd left.

"Hi." Hermione huffed breathlessly, like she'd run all the way up from the Great Hall. Her eyebrows flew up at the sight of the hamper. "Well, that's much better than what I brought." She waved a lumpy napkin. "Dobby?"

"Mmm." Harriet swallowed a bite of what she suspected was pate. "I think this must've been what he fixed for Narcissa Malfoy when she was—you know. It's got pheasant pies in it. And just look at these eclairs. . ."

The eclairs had a cream topping over the chocolate, sculpted in tiny, intricate rosettes. Hermione's eyes widened.

"And there's all these truffles," Harriet said, opening their box. Each one was decorated with a sugar violet. "And chocolate mousse. . . Want some?"

They snacked out of the hamper until they heard Lavender and Parvati clattering up the stairwell like a herd of wildebeests; then Hermione, stuffing the end of her éclair between her teeth, set the hamper on the other side of the bed, out of their sights.

She turned away to swallow the last of the éclair as the other girls burst into the dorm. Eyes shining, they stormed Harriet's bed.

"Harry!" said Lavender in a hushed, vibrant voice. "Hermione told us."

"This is brilliant," Parvati said happily. "Now we can finally do it!"

"Do what?" Harriet said, taken aback.

"Oh, not that rubbish again," Hermione said irritably.

"It's not rubbish," Lavender sniffed. "It's an ancient art."

"What is?" asked Harriet, bewildered.

"Some Divs ritual," Hermione said with clear scorn.

"It needs three witches to work," said Parvati to Harriet. "On their feminine cycles."

"What?" Harriet didn't know whether to laugh or pull her pillow over her face.

"Hermione would never agree to do it with us," said Lavender, shooting Hermione a dark look, while Hermione looked aloofly superior. "But you will, Harry, won't you?"

"What's—what's it do?" Harriet asked.

"It gives us a more potent scope into the future," said Parvati quite seriously, and Harriet remembered that her mother worked Divs for a living. "Three is a sacred number, and during this time, our bodies are a powerful vehicle for the forces of life's magic. The cycle of all life is centered in us, now more than ever."

This sounded so ridiculous that she nearly did laugh. But then she remembered how Dobby had explained understanding what was the matter with her: "The magic changes, Harriet Potter. It never happens to wizards, but to witches—house-elves is telling." And he hadn't looked embarrassed at all (though Harriet had been red-faced enough for the both of them).

"Well. . ." Harriet had wondered before: if Divinations was truly rubbish, as Hermione claimed, why did Hogwarts still teach it? Trelawney did seem like a dirty great fraud, but what if it was just her, not the subject? "Couldn't hurt to try."

Lavender and Parvati squealed. Hermione looked disbelieving.

"It will be amazing!" Lavender declared.

"We'll do it when we're all having it at the same time," Parvati said, eyes shining. "I bet we're all on the same cycle, now that you've started, Harriet—"

As the other two started their noisy unpacking ritual, Harriet looked at Hermione in silence. They shared a thought that wasn't words, and didn't need to be augmented by life's sacred forces to be understood.