It is said that every landslide begins with the movement of just one pebble. The pebble that instigated this particular disaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was unleashed when Marietta Edgecombe walked into her dormitory in Ravenclaw Tower to find her best friend, Cho Chang, sitting on her bed, engrossed in a book. So engrossed, in fact, that Marietta had to greet her twice before she got a response — and even then, it was a thoroughly distracted one.
“Marietta… come and have a look at this for a minute.”
Expecting it to be yet another accessories catalogue for the forthcoming Yule Ball again, she dumped her schoolbag on the floor beside her dresser that doubled as a desk for homework, and went to sit beside her friend. “What am I supposed to be looking at this time?”
Cho ran a hand through her hair and turned the book so she could see. “I was fed up with listening to Sandra Fawcett rabbiting on about apparition regulations down in the common room, so I decided to look them up. I mean, we’re going to need to know this stuff next year, so it’s sort of advanced prep work. Anyway, I’m pretty sure I’ve found the right legislation but it’s a little, well, brief.”
“Ah. So, you found it, did you?” Marietta said cautiously.
Cho tilted her head to look inquiringly at her, “What do you mean?”
Mariette chewed her lip for a moment, thinking. “You know what my mum does, right?”
“She works in the Floo Network Authority — but that’s floo travel, not apparition?”
“I know — but that means that she has to know the rules and regs for all magical transport, not just the floo. It’s something of an open secret that while there’s a load of Ministry guidelines around the regulation of apparition, very little of it is actually law.”
Cho gaped at her and thrust a finger accusingly at the page, “But surely there has to be more to it than this? Look!”
Apparition may be performed by any witch or wizard who, having reached wand-bearing age, carries out such activity under the following conditions:
- They are at all times under the guidance of an instructor;
- They must display L-plates at all times when apparating;
- They must not apparate more than 60 miles at one time;
- They must not apparate with excess breath or blood alcohol content (for those under the age of majority, this limit is zero);
- They must not apparate between the hours of 10pm and 5am, and;
- They must not apparate with a duck on their head.
On reaching the age of majority, the witch or wizard may sit a practical test for their full apparition licence. Possession of a full apparition licence removes the restrictions above, with the exception of those concerning excess breath or blood alcohol content, and ducks.
“No, that’s about it. Mum says that there was a motion to remove the clause about ducks around twenty years ago, but it was defeated when it was put to the vote.”
“Any witch or wizard above wand-bearing age… that means everyone old enough to go to Hogwarts! We could start learning apparition tomorrow, if we could find an instructor!”
Marietta smiled enigmatically, and Cho took that as her cue to look more closely at the text, leafing carefully through the book before eventually double-checking the index.
“It says you have to have an instructor, but it doesn’t say what qualifications that instructor actually has to have,” Cho said pensively.
Marietta laughed, “No, it doesn’t, does it? Mum laughed when I pointed that out, too.”
“So what are their qualifications?”
“The Ministry will tell you that it has to be a Ministry-approved instructor. Legally, however, it could be absolutely anyone. They don’t even have to be present, they just have to give ‘guidance’.”
“Whether that person can apparate or not?” Cho demanded, flabbergasted.
“Whether they can apparate or not.”
“So you could be my instructor? And I could be yours?”
Marietta shrugged, “I know it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but that’s the law.”
Cho looked up at her friend, her eyes sparkling with possibilities, then leapt to her feet, hugging the book to her chest. “Come on! We’ve got to find Professor Flitwick! This is going to be brilliant!”
Marietta trailed reluctantly along in her friend’s wake. We are so doomed.
Albus Dumbledore helped himself to a ginger biscuit and looked across his desk at the Professors arrayed on the other side. Distressingly, the tea he’d had a house-elf set out for them was going untouched, but that was their lookout and they had important things to discuss. “Now then, if I could call this faculty meeting to order? Where would we like to start in this week’s agenda?”
“You know very well where we have to start, Albus — this ridiculous demand about lifting the anti-apparition restrictions on Hogwarts!” said Professor Flitwick fractiously from atop a dangerous pile of cushions on his chair.
“Ah, yes — and who is it this time, Filius?”
“Miss Chang and Miss Edgecombe,” Professor Flitwick said reluctantly. “I tried to talk them out of it, but they were most insistent. They had even bought the legislation published in Hansard to show me.”
“Miss Edgecombe, I should have known. Well, there’s nothing for it; you may tell them that the anti-apparition restrictions will be lifted tomorrow morning, just as soon as I’ve had my tea.”
There was a moment of total silence from the other teachers, allowing Dumbledore to briefly muse upon the tonal nature of dropped pins before moving smoothly on.
“Now, there was another point raised by Madam Pince about the use of school library cards-”
“Have you completely lost your mind, Albus!” Professor McGonagall’s outraged screech summed up the other teachers’ feelings quite adequately.
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows and looked at her over the rims of his half-moon spectacles. “Once one reaches my age, Minerva, a little diminution of the faculties is inevitable, but nothing out of the ordinary, I assure you. Now, the library card system-”
“Oh, hang the library card system!”
“Minerva, please! Have a little respect for Madam Pince’s position, here! Would you like a lemon drop? I always find them very soothing.”
Professor McGonagall took several deep breaths before trusting herself to reply. “I’m not overly concerned with the fiddling of the library cards to get a couple more books out at a time, but this apparition nonsense… you can’t possibly grant this, Albus! It will be complete madness!”
“Hear, hear!” said Professor Sprout stoutly, and even Professor Snape grudgingly nodded his agreement.
“It would be unethical for me to restrict our students in the exercise of their legal right to apparate, so long as they comply with all the various conditions of the law. You can be assured that should any of them attempt to apparate with a duck on their heads, I will come down on them most strongly.”
“Albus I have the Weasley twins in my house! It’s bad enough as it is, but can you imagine the havoc those two could wreak?!”
Dumbledore allowed himself a smile, “Come now, don’t let your unerring sense of impending catastrophe get you down, my dear Minerva. I am not only perfectly cognizant of that fact, I am positively looking forward to seeing what they can make of it.”
Professor McGonagall was slowly massaging her temples, as if in anticipation of the migraine that was surely coming on. “Can’t we take this to the Ministry? I mean, surely they can change the law if they hear that half of underage Britain will start popping up here, there, and everywhere, all over the country?”
Dumbledore made a hum of acknowledgement but said, “Oh, assuredly we could take this conundrum to the Ministry, but any proposed change to the law would have to be submitted by a sponsor, and given the current backlog, it would not be brought before the legislative body before at least the start of next year’s Lent sitting. Assuming any amendment is passed at this sitting — which is by no means assured — then it would go on the docket for a second reading and would not, in fact, pass into law before a third and final reading. At best, this would give us two to five years when apparition by all of our students is, in fact, perfectly legal.”
“Then why? Why in the name of all that’s magic are you prepared to inflict this inevitable insanity on us? You could easily pass a school rule forbidding it!”
“Because of the most wonderful and instructive opportunities for learning that it involves,” Dumbledore beamed, throwing his arms wide to embrace the room. It was met with a remarkable lack of reciprocate enthusiasm.
“I’m going to regret asking this, but… such as?” asked Professor Flitwick.
“Why, just because a thing is not specifically outlawed, that does not make it a good idea, for one. And there’s another important but less-obvious lesson, usually to the benefit of members of your house, Filius.”
“I see. And that would be what?”
Dumbledore grinned happily and reached for another biscuit. “It invariably provides an excellent lesson on the dangers of being a smart-arse.”
News of the lifting of the ban on apparition in Hogwarts spread through the castle like wildfire. Madam Pince was immediately snowed under with a mad rush on the library for instructional books and pamphlets, while students were happily signing little contracts with their friends to become each others’ instructors — regardless of their utter ignorance of any of the theory or practice involved. Despite their teachers’ pleadings, the experimentation began almost the moment the students made it back to their respective common rooms after class ended for the day. The Triwizard Tournament, which had been the unending topic of conversation since the start of the school year, was all but forgotten.
In Gryffindor Tower, a tense stand-off quickly developed between the seventh-years, who had already received their Ministry-approved apparition training, and the rest of the house who, naturally, wanted the older students to spill the beans on how it was done. Unfortunately, their attitude could be summed up by Rochelle Bartholomew’s sniffy response.
“You must be kidding! We had to wait six bloody years before we got the privilege, so now that we can, we’re going to enjoy it! You lot are on your own! Besides, Professor McGonagall told us that she’d flay us alive if she caught any of us helping you. No thanks!”
Pardeep Chandimal was more receptive, but equally unhelpful. “You must be kidding! I failed so badly I didn’t even get out of the first room in the test centre! I’d like to help you, but at the moment, I can’t even help myself!”
That left the mutinous crew of younger students milling around in the common room, all talking and tripping over each other until the Weasley twins took charge.
“Oi!” Twin trumpet blasts got everyone’s attention, before George continued in a more normal voice, “All right, if we’re all trying to do this at once, then we’re going to be tripping over each other and splinching left, right, and centre. Push everything back against the walls, and then we’ll try to get this set up properly.”
There was a general scramble, and all the couches and tables and armchairs were quickly out of the way, leaving the floor clear.
“Excellent!” said George, conjuring hoops around three feet across with flicks of his wand and scattering them around the floor. “Right — so everyone here wants to learn to apparate? In other words, if you’re just here to do your homework, take it upstairs, please, so no-one gets hurt. The rest of you, gather ‘round.” He spotted his sister in the watching crowd. “You, too, Ginny?”
Ginny Weasley grinned. “Well, I’m not sure about trying it myself just yet, but do I want to watch you two making fools of yourselves? Hell, yes!”
The other students laughed.
“Thank you for your vote of blinding faith in our abilities,” said George drily.
“Stop hiding at the back there, young Harrykins, if anyone needs to learn to apparate, it’s got to be you,” said Fred cheerfully, singling out the dark-haired boy watching on from beside the youngest Weasley brother.
Ron pushed his best mate forward, “Yeah, we can’t have our Triwizard Champion becoming Triwizard Dragon Fricassee, can we?” he chuckled. “If anyone needs to be able to do this, mate, it’s you.”
Harry Potter was less sure, but he was simply glad that Ron was talking to him again, now that the first task was over and done with. “I think Ginny has the right idea, actually,” he said, backing away from the limelight. “Maybe I’ll give it a go once a couple of you have got the hang of it and you can help the rest of us.”
“That’s fair enough, actually,” said Lee Jordan. “You two with the big mouths can start us off!”
“Absolutely!” said Angelina Johnson. “This is either going to be hilariously good, hilariously bad, or just plain hilarious.”
Harry looked around and found that the nearest free seat was next to Ginny. “Err… d’you mind?” he asked.
Ginny caught the direction of his look and shuffled over a bit to give him some more room. “Sure! Squeeze in, Harry, we might as well have a front-row seat.”
Meanwhile, the twins were enjoying being the centre of attention — as usual.
“In theory, it’s simply a matter of deciding sufficiently firmly that you want to be somewhere else,” George was saying.
“Like home, or the Great Hall, or Honeyduke’s,” added his brother seamlessly.
“Or the opposite side of the castle from a prank setup as fast as possible,” George continued.
“According to the standard Ministry guidance leaflet, you must focus on the three D’s — Determination, Destination, and Deliberation,” Hermione quoted, interrupting from her seat next to Ron.
Ron rolled his eyes. “I prefer to go with the four S’s — Shower, Shampoo, Shave, and-” He caught the deathly look in Hermione’s eyes and settled for, “-the other one.”
Harry and Ron snickered, while Hermione rolled her eyes. “Don’t forget the L plates, either,” she pointed out to George.
“Ooh, crikey, yes!” George exclaimed. “I wouldn’t want to be without those, heaven knows what would happen. Kenny?”
Kenny Towler peeled some square stickers with an ‘L’ drawn hastily on them in red marker off a sheet and slapped them on the front and back of George’s robes.
“Thanks, mate! Now, according to the textbook, it helps to have something to aim at. That’s what the hoops on the floor are for. So then, thinking light and sparkly thoughts-”
Without further ado, George spun elegantly on the spot and vanished with a loud pop, reappearing a split second later in the little hoop on the far side of the room. The watching students broke out into applause.
“Whoa! That went better than I expected,” George said, patting himself down ostentatiously. “I think everything’s still there, too. Your turn, Fred?”
“My turn,” his twin agreed. Fred bit his lip in concentration, then spun on the spot. There was a loud bang, and something dark collapsed in a heap where Fred had been only seconds before. Confused, Harry was turning to look at the destination circle when he heard George let out a polite cough, and was just in time to see him pass his brother a large, hefty-looking book.
“Thank you, my dear brother, you’re too kind,” said Fred, holding the book strategically to protect his modesty despite the growing, rather shocked, laughter from the rest of the room.
“Well, I guess that answers that question,” Dean Thomas said loudly.
“What’s that?” Hermione asked faintly, studying the ceiling. Her unease may have been to do with the non-standard use of Hogwarts — A History, Harry thought distractedly.
“Whether the Weasleys really do have freckles all over!”
There was a roar of laughter from the watching Gryffindors.
“So, what went wrong, d’you think?” Ron asked hurriedly. “Hey, turn around, you lot! Let the poor bloke have some dignity!” He snatched up the fallen pile of clothes and took them to his brother at a run.
“I’m not sure there’s much dignity left for him, after that,” snickered Alicia. She and Angelina seemed to be greatly enjoying the show.
Fred waggled his boxers-clad behind and pulled up his trousers, drawing a few wolf-whistles. “Well, I was concentrating too hard on moving my body so I didn’t leave anything behind — I guess I forgot that I needed to apparate my clothes with me, too.”
“I’ve never heard that before,” said Hermione, still studying the coving with great interest. Harry looked around — out of all the girls in the tower, she was the only one not watching. Well, apart from Ginny, which was understandable. She was shaking with suppressed laughter, her shoulder twitching against his in a manner that was thoroughly distracting but in no way unpleasant.
“Well, I’m just telling you what happened to me,” said Fred with a shrug. “It’s up to you whether you believe it or not.”
“Yeah, I haven’t seen you try it yet. Anyway, let’s try that again.”
Fully clothed again, Fred jogged back to the other circle. “Right, here we go. To you!” he cried, spinning himself into nothingness. He appeared right next to his brother, who grinned at him and apparated back to the other side of the room where Fred had been moments before.
“To me!” shouted George.
Fred appeared next to him once again. “To you!”
And so it went on, the twins rapidly flickering from one side of the common room to the other, to the awe of their watching housemates.
“This is fun!” George declared happily. “All right, who’s next?”
“Me, I think,” said Ron, pushing himself forward in an obvious display of bravado. Harry winced. Obviously, Ron was still desperately searching for a way to distinguish himself. “L-plates?”
Kenny Towler slapped a couple of stickers on him, and he was ready to go.
“Be careful, Ron,” Hermione said in a constricted voice.
Ron looked over at her with a sarcastic reply on his lips, but it faded abruptly when he saw the genuine concern on her face, and for once he didn’t put his foot in his mouth.
Maybe there’s hope for them, after all, thought Harry.
“So, what was it again? Desperation, Defenestration, and Decontamination?” Ron muttered to himself.
“Ron!” Hermione groaned in exasperation.
And obviously I was wrong.
Ron took a few deep breaths, swinging his arms as if to loosen up. “Right, then, here we go… don’t forget the clothes… really don’t forget the clothes...” With his brow locked in concentration, he took and held a final breath and tensed himself, spinning in a small circle.
There was a loud pop, followed by a sort of flash on the other side of the room, but all of Ron had stayed where he was. And they could clearly see that ALL of Ron had stayed where he was, because his clothes had been apparated to the far side of the room.
Ron cracked an eye open when the first giggles started, then went white and looked down. With a yell of horror, he lunged in general direction of the dorms, only to run headlong into Katie Bell. With a whimper, he spun around and… disappeared into thin air.
“Yes! It worked, it worked, it worked!” The twins were dancing a delighted jig, cackling madly.
Hermione, on the other hand, was sitting stock-still and saucer-eyed, her gaze fixed on the spot where Ron had been standing with her jaw hanging just about down to her knees.
“Um… Hermione?” Ginny asked, cramming a fist into her mouth to suppress her giggles and turning puce.
There was not the slightest reaction.
“I guess Ron really does blush all over,” Seamus guffawed. Beside him, Lavender and Parvati were clinging on to each other and crying with laughter.
“Oh, good grief!” Harry muttered, flushing in sympathy with his mate’s predicament. “I knew this was a bad idea!”
“Her-MI-oh-ne!” Ginny sing-songed around her giggles, but the only response from the bushy-haired girl was a slow closure of her jaw which gradually stretched into an almost painful-looking grin.
“You all right, Hermione?” Fred asked nonchalantly, pulling on his shirt again.
“…I’m fine,” she whispered in a shivery voice, still looking at the spot where Ron had been in all his glory.
“Sure you are,” said Katie, flopping down onto the couch next to her fellow Chasers. “Something on your mind, Hermione?”
“NO! No, nothing! Er, I’ve got to… um, if you’ll all just excuse me,” she stammered, before turning and sprinting for the common room door, cheers and laughter trailing in her wake.
“That was brilliant!” choked Seamus through tears of laughter.
From outside the portrait hole came a fading scream that echoed up and down the Grand Staircase. “VIICCCTTTTOOOOORRRRRR! I’VE CHANGED MY MIINNNDDDD!”
“So,” said Fred with a happy sigh, “Who’s next, then? Harry?”
“You must be bloody joking!” Harry exclaimed, shrinking back into his couch.
Ginny glanced over at Harry, and asked loudly, “What do you mean by, ‘It worked’?” in a suspicious tone.
“Psychology!” Fred and George said in unison.
“We wanted to see what would happen if someone focused their entire attention on moving their clothes, rather than themselves,” explained Fred. “One minor exhibition for my adoring fans later, and the thought was firmly embedded in our dear, prudish brother’s mind.”
“So you don’t have to worry about your clothes coming with you?” Alicia asked.
“Nope! Well, not unless you focus very carefully on them not coming with you — as my dare-devil twin just so ably demonstrated,” said George, as Fred bowed left and right.
“Nice!” Angelina said admiringly.
“One does one’s best! It seems to have had quite the effect on young Hermione,” Fred added grandly. “No doubt she’s eager to confirm these findings at the earliest opportunity — with a suitable test subject, of course.”
“I don’t know about that, but the smile on her face is absolutely terrifying,” Ginny chuckled. “Poor Ron. He hasn’t got a chance!”
“I wonder where he ended up?” Seamus asked.
Dumbledore hummed loudly as he massaged his favourite lavender and jojoba oil beard-shampoo deep into his long and luxurious beard. Over the years, some jealous souls had cruelly accused him of wearing a wig, or lengthening it by magic — such scandalous behaviour wasn’t uncommon amongst the follicly-challenged who were seeking an air of authority these days, apparently — but the truth of the matter was that it was all natural, the product of careful and methodical maintenance — and just the right shampoo. The rumours about the thirteenth use of dragon blood were sadly incorrect.
The shower cubicle of the bathroom in the Headmaster’s Suite was by his stage in his ablutions wonderfully steamy — but not enough to disguise the loud pop of apparition, nor the sudden and unexpected appearance of a tall, lanky, red-headed figure in the cubicle with him. One that was completely starkers.
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow and paused in his lathering. “Ah, Mr. Weasley. An unexpected pleasure. Would you be so kind as to pass me that loofah?”
There was a sudden, appalled scream and a loud bang of disapparation.
Dumbledore sighed philosophically, and reached for the lonesome loofah himself.
“Alas, another phobic of the common loofah. Ah, well.”
“He could be anywhere! I mean, yes, it’s funny, but who knows what was going through his head when he disapparated!” said Ginny fretfully.
“Oh, come on!” said Fred airily. “How bad can it be?”
“Ginny’s right,” said Harry. “Maybe we should go and look for him?”
“Given that he’s currently in his birthday suit,”
“A simply mortifying state of déshabillé, as our lovely guests from Beauxbatons would say,” added George.
“What makes you think little Ronnie wants to be found?” finished Fred.
Severus Snape was exercising his intellect by thinking of new and imaginative swear-words as he scrubbed his hands over his scalp again and again. An hour, it had taken, to sort out the disaster after that utter cretin Adrian Pucey had tried to brew a modified wit-sharpening potion in his dormitory. If only he had brewed and taken an unmodified wit-sharpening potion before attempting his experiments, it may have given him the wit to understand that what he was attempting was foolhardy at best — or, in other words, dangerously and unutterably moronic. After that, a good, hot shower to clean up had seemed like a fantastic idea to help him unwind a little.
Reluctantly, he reached for the shampoo. In recent months, Dumbledore had been trying to press his own favourite concoction on him. No doubt the old man meant well, but the thought of emanating a sickly floral bouquet everywhere he went was enough to give him the boak, as Minerva would put it. Contrary to the not-so-secret conjecture of the students, he had nothing against shampoo in principle. It was just that he had the most ridiculously poofy hair that looked like he’d stuck his finger in a tank full of distressed electric eels every time he washed it. The only way to avoid looking like some sort of cross between a giant puffskein and that annoying know-it-all Granger was cripplingly-expensive quantities of Sleekeazy's Hair Potion. Granted, it left him looking like a rat that had been dipped in lantern oil, but it had to be better than the alternative.
The thought of one of his least-favourite students brought a reflexive sneer to his face, so it was something of a surprise to hear a loud pop over the rushing of the water and find himself face-to-face with another of his least-favourite students. Even more alarmingly, said student was completely and utterly naked, and looking at him with abject horror.
Snape recovered first. “Ah, Weasley,” he purred dramatically, “How long I have dreamt of this moment-”
There was an ear-splitting scream, abruptly terminated by a loud pop, and the skinny redhead was gone. Severus grinned nastily to himself. If nothing else, it would guarantee that it was a long time before the brat dared to show his face in his classroom again — or ever, with a bit of luck.
Whistling happily, Snape resumed lathering. Suddenly, the day wasn’t a complete loss, after all.
Ron re-materialised and looked wildly around himself. He felt a momentary spike of hysterical panic when he realised that he was in a bathroom again — and then relaxed when it sank in that there was no-one there with him, for a change. Looking to his left, he snatched a bath-towel from a heated rail and quickly wrapped it around his waist before sinking down to sit on the edge of the tub and put his head in his hands, trying to steady his breathing.
“Oh, Merlin. Oh Merlin. Dumbledore. And, and… Snape! Oh, my GOD!” He let out a shuddering breath and tried to get a grip on himself. At least it was over, now. At least he had something to cover himself. He swore viciously. “Bloody Fred and George! This is their doing, somehow, I know it is! Still, at least I’m alone this time, I just have to figure out how to get back to Gryffindor Tower...”
He looked over at the bathroom sink and felt his vocal cords seize up. There, sitting on top of the vanity, was a tabby cat with square markings around its eyes, frozen with one paw raised to wash.
He was in a bathroom again, all right, but he wasn’t alone.
He wasn’t alone, at all.
There was a momentary flicker of light, and Minerva McGonagall jumped down onto the floor and spat out a few strands of fur. Outside, she heard the door to her quarters bang open and the thunder of feet racing in the general direction of ‘away’ — and, presumably, back to Gryffindor Tower.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, she thought philosophically. I told Albus this was going to happen. Still, at least young Mr. Weasley had the presence of mind to stick to more traditional modes of transport, this time. That was actually rather surprisingly clear-headed of him. Yes, perhaps all that time hanging around with Miss Granger hasn’t been entirely wasted, after all.
“Five points to Gryffindor,” she muttered happily to herself.
The portrait over the entrance to Gryffindor Tower crashed open, drawing an indignant squawk from the Fat Lady, and they all turned to see an exhausted Ron Weasley — thankfully, wearing a tartan towel to protect the remaining shreds of his modesty — stumble in and collapse breathlessly into the nearest seat. Despite his obvious exertions, he was white-faced and his eyes had the haunted look of someone who has seen things that no human being should ever see.
“Ron! What happened, where did you go!” Lavender exclaimed, leaping to her feet.
“Nowhere!” he gasped, his chest heaving. Harry noticed that his best mate was shaking, and he was pretty sure it wasn’t from the cold air. “Absolutely nowhere!”
“Well, it can’t have been nowhere, can it? And where did you get that towel? I mean, who in the world would have tartan towels, any-” Lavender abruptly shut up, and her mouth fell open in shock.
All the missing blood flooded back into Ron’s face as his housemates’ helpless, hysterical laughter rang around the common room.
Meanwhile, out on the grounds of Hogwarts, two third-years in blue-trimmed robes were carefully stalking the wildlife around the lake.
“Luna, come on! This is stupid!”
“It’s vital research, Grant,” the girl insisted. “No-one can say why it’s in the regulations, so in the true spirit of Ravenclaw, I intend to find out!”
“And like I said a thousand times already, it’s probably forbidden for a reason!”
Luna snorted, “What, like they told us apparition was forbidden until we were seventeen? Like they told us that Stubby Boardman isn’t Sirius Black in disguise? Go back inside if you want, but I’ve got work to do.”
With a sigh, Grant Page shut up and stayed put. He would like nothing better, but he had been assigned to keep an eye on her by their housemates, and given Luna Lovegood’s… unique… take on life, he didn’t dare. She could be remarkably pig-headed about things, sometimes.
Unaware of his musing, Luna crept closer to the reeds at the edge of the lake. “Heeeeeere ducky, ducky, ducky!”
The following morning, a Saturday, Harry made his way down to the Great Hall for breakfast with Dean and Seamus, who were still laughing about Ron’s misadventures the day before but weren’t in the least put off from trying it themselves. Harry refused to join in their laughter, but as he ate he mused that Ron had finally gotten a taste of what it was like to be the centre of attention. Presumably he’d finally learned that Harry wasn’t kidding when he told him that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
There was still no sign of Ron by the time he returned to the common room. Concerned, he went up to his dorm; it wasn’t like Ron to skip a meal unless something dire had happened. The handle of the door to their dorm turned, but the door itself was sealed and would not open. He tried banging on it, but the only response was a couple of rather muffled voices.
“Morning, Harry! Have you seen Ron anywhere? Hermione was asking for him earlier, but she’s gone down for breakfast.”
Harry turned away from the door to the fourth-year dorm with a philosophical sigh to find Ginny watching him from the stairs.
“Morning, Ginny. I think he’s barricaded the door,” he said. “Neville’s in there, trying to talk him down, but I’m not sure it’s working. All I could hear through the door was Ron gibbering something about never going near the Potions dungeon ever again.”
Ginny raised an eyebrow, “I think that’s something every Weasley can agree on, but I wonder why he’s bringing that up now? He’ll be all right in a bit, Harry.” She looked at him thoughtfully. “Why don’t we go for a bit of a walk?” she asked tentatively. “You look like you could do with some fresh air?”
He looked at her in surprise. She looked nervous, but more concerned than anything. At least she wasn’t blushing and stammering like she did a few years before. And getting out of the madhouse of a castle for a while suddenly sounded very good indeed. “Sure, why not?”
They descended into the bedlam of the common room to find Cormac McLaggen holding his detached lower limb in one hand and hopping awkwardly for the door. Orla Quirke, the second-year, was apparating around the room with an enormous smile, seemingly unaware that she’d left her hair behind, while Lee Jordan was still spinning hopefully on the spot and looking around in the hope that he’d apparated.
Harry kept his head down and slipped around the edge of the room to the portrait and the door to the rest of the castle. McLaggen hopped out after them but declined their offer to take him to the hospital wing, insisting that he could manage by himself, and so they headed for the Great Staircase in silence and made their way outside.
The sun was shining overhead, but the wind was bitingly cold even through their heavy cloaks. Harry thrust his hands moodily into his pockets and slouched along, watching the other students dotted around the lawn. Quite a number were doing silly-looking pirouettes with a total lack of success, and, rather bizarrely, they could see Hagrid behind his cottage, doing cartwheels with his pink umbrella clutched in his hands. Closer to the Herbology greenhouses, Cho Chang had both hands clutched over her behind and was screaming at a horrified-looking Marietta Edgecombe, which Harry found particularly disheartening. He’d had a bit of a crush on Cho for quite a while, and while she was still a very pretty girl most of the time, those good looks were singularly absent with her face screwed up in rage and anger. And still there was the nightmare of the Yule Ball to face, and the prospect of finding a date...
Somewhere out past the lake, Ginny gently drew him out of his gloomy thoughts. “Knut for them, Harry?”
His head jerked around at the sound of her voice, and he flushed. “Sorry, Ginny. I’m not exactly being great company, am I?”
“It’s all right, you look like you’ve got a lot on your mind,” she said neutrally. “If you need to think about things, then think. Maybe it’ll help.”
“Maybe,” he agreed, lapsing back into silence. The pattern of ripples on the surface of the lake was strangely soothing, and he had to admit that the mighty ship from Durmstrang looked very dramatic against the backdrop of the castle. Durmstrang… that brought his thoughts back to the Triwizard Tournament again. He still had no idea what the egg was supposed to do, either.
“It’s just… this stupid Tournament,” he heard himself saying aloud, “And then there’s the Yule Ball coming up. Professor McGonagall collared me on Friday, and said I needed a partner. Apparently all the Champions need to start off the dancing, and...”
He trailed off, and Ginny understood. “Harry, do you know how to dance?”
He shook his head, not looking at her.
She bit her lip. “Look, I know how much you hate the thought of looking stupid in public, but look around you — have you ever seen so much concentrated stupidity in one place over the last couple of days? So you can’t dance, so what? Not everyone knows how. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and you can always learn. Hermione and I can probably help, if you want?”
“I think Hermione might have other things on her mind about now,” Harry said archly, making Ginny snicker.
“Not half! Look, like I was saying, if you flub a few steps here and there, it’s hardly the end of the world so long as you’ve got the general idea. And no matter how badly you dance, you can be sure that it’s absolutely nothing compared to finding yourself in the buff in Professor McGonagall’s bathroom!”
Harry grinned, but the smile soon faded. “I need to find a partner, though. That was one of the things she said. Very pointedly.”
Ginny laughed, “And let me guess, you’d rather face that Hungarian Horntail again than ask a girl out, wouldn’t you?”
“Yeah.” There was a long silence. “Ginny, would you go to the Ball with me?” Harry asked abruptly.
The question took her completely off guard. “Um… what?”
“Sorry, sorry, never mind,” Harry muttered, turning away so she didn’t see his face flush.
“No, wait! Harry! Harry!” She took a few steps after him and put her hand on his arm to stop him fleeing, and reluctantly, he turned back towards her, although his eyes were fixed firmly on the ground. “I was just… surprised, that’s all.”
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
“It’s not that, just… why me, Harry?”
“Because… because… oh God, Ginny, because I really, really don’t want to have to go and make a bloody fool of myself again in front of the entire school and it’s not like I have a girlfriend, and I just don’t want to have to deal with the expectations of some girl I don’t know very well who’s only going to be disappointed, and now you know what you’d be getting yourself into, and quite frankly, if they really are going to force me into this, I might as well go with someone I know for sure is at least a friend and a bit of a laugh.”
Plus, Cho will have to get her arse re-attached. I probably shouldn’t be thinking about that right now, though.
Ginny stared at him in shock — and with a little frisson of giddy excitement. He’s really asking me! But he’s asking because… then again, it’s Harry — what was I expecting, some giddy declaration of undying devotion? I can’t believe he actually said all that, because it sounds pretty honest. In fact, I can’t believe he said all that to me. Anyway, I get to go to the Ball, and maybe we can have a bit of fun together. And, just maybe, it’s a start. Everything has to start somewhere, right?
Realising he was still waiting for her to answer, she pulled herself together. “All right — but on one condition.”
“What’s that?” he asked warily, daring to look at her for the first time since he asked her.
She bit her lip and met his beautiful, green eyes. “Let it go,” she said softly. “I know you’ve got loads of pressure on you, what with school and the stupid Tournament, and everything, but just for one night, try to let it go. If you walk into the Ball convinced you’re going to hate every minute of it, you probably will. I’m not saying you have to pretend that everything’s wonderful, but just relax and try not to worry too much. Who knows, maybe you’ll even have a little fun!”
“I’ll do my best,” Harry said eventually, but she could read his scepticism in his eyes.
“Then all we have to do is teach you to dance,” she said, forcing cheer into her voice. “It’s really not that hard once you get the basics, and you must have at least some co-ordination to be able to fly the way you do.”
“How? And where?”
Ginny shrugged. “We’ll sort something out. Maybe we can ask Professor McGonagall, she’ll help.” She grinned at him, “Anything for her favourite student, after all!”
“Who, you?” he asked blankly.
“No, you, you idiot! Come on, let’s go back to the castle, it’s freezing out here. Maybe there’ll have been an outbreak of sanity while we were gone.”
“I wouldn’t count on it.”
Harry fell in by her side, his hands shoved deep into his pockets again, but he did look rather happier on their leisurely stroll back to the castle. Nearer to the main entrance, a strange sight caught her eye.
“Harry, look! It looks like Fred and George are starting to put their new skills to use!”
He frowned up at the castle walls for a moment, then shrugged. “What am I looking at?”
She pointed, and he leaned in to look along her arm. “There, see? Check out the statue of Slytherin!”
Arrayed along the front of the castle, statues of the Four Founders were set into niches in the stonework. Looking closer, Harry suddenly realised that the statue of Salazar Slytherin was now sporting ludicrously high, bright-red, sequinned heels. Grinning, he turned to speak to her and suddenly realised that they were nearly cheek-to-cheek. He twitched in surprise, but managed to stop himself jerking away from her and instead straightened in what he hoped was a natural manner, although he knew the sudden fires in his cheeks gave him away. She didn’t seem bothered, though, and her head tilted to look inquiringly at him. He couldn’t help but notice the wide grin on her face, and her chocolate-brown eyes were bright and cheerful and sparkled with amusement. Heartened, he said, “What makes you think it was Fred and George?”
She laughed, “Who else would it be?”
“Good point. It’s surprisingly subtle for them, though.”
“Oh, Harry! This is nothing, you’d be surprised how subtle they can be when they really want to be sneaky!”
“And suddenly, I’m afeared,” he said. “This apparition thing, though — how did they manage to do it first time? I mean, they were popping around like they’d done it all their lives, up there?”
“Honestly? I’d expect they nicked Percy’s notes last summer and have been practising somewhere in secret. They put a lot of effort in to two things — making themselves look foolish, and making things that ought to be hideously difficult look effortless.”
“But what if they splinched themselves? They could have been seriously hurt!”
Ginny grinned at him, “You’ve been hanging around with my mother too much! No idea, but the spells the Magic Reversal Squad use must be written down somewhere, so they probably did the research. I said they like making themselves look foolish, and they do — it’s just that you should never conclude that they’re stupid.”
“Amen to that!” Harry said fervently as they climbed up the steps to the castle entrance. Once inside, they passed the entrance to the Great Hall and were heading for the Grand Staircase when they heard voices approaching from the direction of the hospital wing.
“...sure they can do something eventually. Luna? Luna, wait up!”
They turned to see two students in Ravenclaw robes; a boy, presumably the speaker, was chasing after another student who was heading for the stairs. Well, they presumed he was the speaker, because from the neck of the other student’s robes rose a head covered in pure-white feathers and with a large orange bill beneath two angry and tearful silvery-grey eyes.
Ginny stopped dead, her eyes widening. “Luna?”
The peculiar figure looked back over its shoulder at them, quacked mournfully, and kept going, presumably heading for Ravenclaw Tower.
“Grant?” Harry asked, “What happened?”
Grant Page let out a frustrated breath and dragged his hands through his hair. “Did you wonder why rule 6 is there in the apparition regulations? That’s why. Madam Pomfrey doesn’t seem to be able to reverse it just yet, she’s had to send for some experts from the Ministry, but they won’t be here until next week.”
“You’re kidding? So she’s stuck like that?” Ginny asked incredulously.
“It looks like it,” Grant sighed again. “Look, I’d better go. A few minutes ago, I think she was trying to go swimming in the lake.”
Harry and Ginny watched him hurry off after Luna. Finally, Ginny couldn’t resist turning to Harry.
“And you were worried about what, exactly, Harry?”
The resumption of classes on Monday morning brought carnage. Come the bell to signal the end of the first class, half of the student body gleefully tried to apparate to their next class. The resulting splinchings, inadvertent merging, black eyes, and bruised tailbones took Madam Pomfrey and the teachers the rest of the morning to sort out — only for their students to repeat the disaster with the first class after lunch with lemming-like enthusiasm.
The students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons watched these scenes with absolute incredulity, convinced that the British had completely lost their minds. It was no surprise when Professor Karkaroff and Madam Maxine ordered all of them back to the ship and the flying carriage, respectively, with strict orders not to emerge until the madness had died down.
After a truly harrowing day, Professor McGonagall stood in the Great Hall at dinner time and implored the students to cease their ham-fisted exploration of apparition. The students received her heartfelt speech politely, but that only lasted long enough for the Weasley twins to rise from their seats, bow extravagantly to the high table, and disapparate. Moments later, there was a rapid, crackling hail of noise, much like a Chinese New Year parade, swiftly followed by screams and swearing from those who hadn’t quite perfected the art as well as the twins. The Slytherin table, which had all remained seated, was hooting with laughter at the show.
“This is all your fault!” Professor McGonagall all but screamed at Professor Dumbledore.
“On the contrary, my dear Minerva, the students seem to be doing quite remarkably well,” Dumbledore said approvingly. “The Weasley twins, in particular, have really distinguished themselves. Five points apiece, I think, to Gryffindor.”
“Don’t encourage them, Albus,” Professor Flitwick barked angrily. “Madam Pomfrey and I are fed up with having to un-merge Miss Stimpson and Mr. Davies because she can’t keep her mind off him at the crucial moment! And then there’s the constant un-splinching every time the end-of-class bell goes, and just look at Miss Lovegood!”
Dumbledore cleared his throat, “The strictures against apparition with a duck on one’s head are very clearly stated, Filius. As she has seen fit to disobey the law, she has been issued with a summary infringement notice and fined fifteen galleons. I did say I would come down hard on any illegal behaviour, and so I have been forced to give her detention next weekend.”
“And that’s all?! That’s your response to this… this...?!” Professor Flitwick’s words failed him.
“Well, additionally, I have confiscated her duck pellets. She hasn’t taken that very well, alas,” Dumbledore added regretfully.
Luna Lovegood quacked angrily from the Ravenclaw table and pecked aggressively at a large piece of bread. Next to her, Grant Page had his head in his hands.
“Do you know how many times I’ve had to re-attached Eloise Midgeon’s nose today, Albus?” Professor McGonagall raged, “Do you? And that’s after I move Miss Vane’s nose around to the front of her head for the umpteenth time! That girl simply will not learn!”
“Susan Bones has been leaving body parts all over the castle,” Professor Sprout joined in. “You know that saying, ‘she’d forget her head if it wasn’t attached’? I’m increasingly convinced it was invented with Miss Bones in mind!”
A lesser man might have quailed under the fearsome glares of his staff, but Albus Dumbledore was made of stern stuff, indeed. Just as he was about to reply, help came from a very unexpected source.
“It’s hardly Professor Dumbledore’s fault if you are unable to control your students,” Professor Snape said in an oily voice. “None of my Slytherins have taken part in this foolishness.”
The teachers stopped arguing long enough to notice the Slytherin students filing out of the Great Hall in orderly fashion — on foot. Their own feet, too, not someone else’s.
“Any how have you achieved that, Severus?” Professor Sprout asked, unable to keep the acid out of her voice.
Professor Snape smiled. “Lessons,” he said succinctly.
“Lessons?!” Professors Flitwick, McGonagall, and Sprout exclaimed in unison.
“You mean you’re giving them lessons, Severus?” Professor Flitwick asked.
Catching on, Professor Sinestra began to giggle.
“Me? Of course not. However, I have made arrangements for any of my students who wish to learn how to apparate to receive formal tuition on the weekends.”
“How are you paying for all this? The school budget does not allow for this sort of extraordinary spending,” Professor McGonagall demanded.
“Mr. Pucey has recently earned my severe displeasure. In exchange for avoiding detention, his father has agreed to provide lessons to the students of Slytherin House on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. You know where Mr. Pucey’s father works, of course?”
“The Department of Magical Transportation,” replied Professor Sprout in a shocked voice.
Snape was having trouble swallowing a particularly smug smile at the parade of stunned mullets around him at the staff table. Well, excepting Dumbledore, who was grinning serenely, either in admiration for a gambit well-played, quiet amusement at the total balls the other staff had made of managing the situation, or because he was contemplating the next issue of Sock Knitting Monthly (A Free Ball Of Yarn With Every Issue!). You could never tell.
“Precisely,” Snape replied smoothly. “The Apparition Licensing section, as it happens. You see? Had you simply arranged a formalised way for your students to study this fad for apparition instead of issuing blanket orders forbidding it, all this nonsense could have been avoided. I’ll leave you to tidy up the consequences of your lack of foresight, shall I?”
With that, he got to his feet and swept regally out, his cloak billowing behind him and revelling in the gobsmacked looks of his fellow teachers. He paused only long enough to leer at the youngest Weasley brother, who was reluctantly trying to referee a spat between Natalie McDonald and Jimmy Peakes over who retained ‘touching rights’ on their swapped torsos, and was gratified to hear a horrified squeak, followed by a thump as Weasley fainted dead away.
He grinned malevolently as he headed for the dungeons. Yes, life as a teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry could be very good, sometimes.