Chapter 1 : If Ears Could Hear
“WHO’S GOT THE MAP?” Despite the dense curtain of foliage in the Forbidden
Forest, Ron’s voice seemed amplified several times its normal volume, as if
by a Sonorous Charm. Harry and Hermione, sharing with Ron the cover of Harry’s
Invisibility Cloak, both jumped at the sound. Luckily the moonless September
evening made it difficult even to see the three pairs of ankles sprouting from
the three pairs of shoes creeping close together along the twig-strewn path
skirting the boundaries of the wizarding school. They had been in their first
year at Hogwarts when Harry had received his father’s cloak. Four years later
and several inches taller, the cloak strained to conceal two, let alone all
three of them.
“Shhhh!!! We’re getting closer to Hagrid’s cabin, he might hear us,” chastened
“Not if he’s asleep. If he could sleep through Norbert’s squawking, it would
take more than a few whispers to wake him,” said Ron, recalling the baby Norwegian
Ridgeback dragon Hagrid had tried to domesticate in their first year.
“Here.” Harry poked him in the ribs with the roll of parchment.
“Sorry. It’s too dark to see how far away you are.”
Despite the darkness, the irritation in Hermione’s voice was almost palpable.
“I don’t know why we have to go looking for it now; it’s already two in the
morning, not to mention not even midway through our first week as fifth
years and you’re both already setting us all up for expulsion! That’s classic.
It’s not as if we don’t hear the same warning from Dumbledore every year that
the Forest is off limits.” She heaved an exasperated sigh. “I might as well
hand in my Prefect’s badge right now.”
“Did you ask her to come, Harry, because I know I didn’t,” snapped
Ron. “Look, Hermione, we’ve been through this already once today. If we don’t
get some of the dragon droppings for the Verivue Potion, you can bet we’re going
to start off the year with negative marks in Potions. Neville even told me he’d
seen Snape—the git—sneak that rotter Malfoy a key after class—“
“For his office cabinet, I’ll bet,” huffed Harry in a low voice. “It seems
unfair of him to make us scrounge around for the rarest supplies at the last
minute and not put them on the bloody list.”
“Harry’s right. And all the while Snape’s giving the Slytherins access
to the scarcest commodities on the sly!” The indignance was clear in Ron’s voice.
He then proceeded to give vent to his opinion of the Potions Master, muttering
colourful phrases he’d picked up at the Romanian dragon-training camp over the
summer while visiting his brother Charlie.
Harry found an elbow on each of his friends and gave a squeeze to insist on
silence. They were now skirting the edge of Hagrid’s hut, from which a dim light
glowed through its two small rear windows. A snore or two at regular intervals
told them their Care of Magical Creatures professor and groundskeeper at Hogwarts
was fast asleep. Following Harry’s lead they slipped around the hut and toward
the edge of the Forest.
Harry looked around carefully and paused under the first tree, taking care
to avoid the branches of the Whomping Willow. He and Ron had discovered the
enchanted tree the hard way in their second year when it violently attacked
them after they accidentally collided with it in Ron’s father’s flying Ford
Anglia. Towering against a thickly veiled sky, it seemed to leer at them viciously.
“Lumos,” he whispered and directed the glowing tip of his wand at the
dusty piece of unfurled parchment. The three huddled closely to inspect the
Marauder’s Map which indicated the position of any living being in and around
Hogwarts. Looking down they saw three small dots hovering near the edge of the
parchment at the border of the Forest. Each dot was marked with a name: “Harry
Potter”, “Ronald Weasley” and “Hermione Granger”. Inside the little illustration
of the groundskeeper’s hut was a lone, although slightly larger, dot labeled
“Good, no one but us.” After getting his bearings, Harry extinguished his
wand. “I think I saw Hagrid put the fertilizer here yesterday, under that lean-to
by the fence,” said Harry, striking off. Hagrid’s snores from the hut grew fainter
in the distance, but Ron and Hermione stumbled behind on tiptoe nevertheless,
peering nervously at the blackness of the wood. Previous experience had made
all three well aware that there was more to the Forest than meets the eye, particularly
“He’s using it as fertilizer? For what?” asked Hermione.
“I don’t know. For something of Professor Sprout’s. We’ll probably find out
in Herbology the day after tomorrow.”
“If we don’t get caught,” said Hermione. “Why doesn’t Professor Sprout keep
it in the greenhouse then? ---Eeeuuch!!” She brought the wool of her
jumper sleeve up to her nose, but not quick enough to avoid committing the acrid
stench to memory.
“Ugh! That’s why,” sputtered Ron, doing the same. “I guess we found it. Although,
how could you miss it? No wonder Sprout didn’t want this in the classroom.”
Harry wrinkled his nose, squinting involuntarily. “Chalk it up to Snape to
give us the most unpleasant kinds of homework.”
“Yeah,” chimed in Ron. “As if boils and gangrenous pus weren’t enough to put
us all off lunch.”
“Well, at least he’s consistent,” muttered Hermione, raising a sardonic brow.
The tip of Harry’s foot kicked at one of the sacks of manure. “Lumos,”
he whispered and a faint glow emanated again from his wand. Bending over the
top, he drew out a small pocketknife from under his robes.
“Wait!” Hermione stayed his arm with her hand. “Snape said we only need about
a quarter of an ounce. We don’t want to damage the bag, this stuff is expensive.
Let’s try this. Abrerominutio!” With a wave of her wand a small hole
appeared underneath the seal. Deftly scooping them each portions no larger than
a pinky nail, she dropped the samples into small envelopes treated with an olfactory-blocking
“Cerrad’aperturo!” muttered Hermione, tapping her wand along the opening
to ensure it had vanished. Ron was just stuffing the envelopes under his robes
when Harry suddenly held them back.
“Listen!” he said.
“What is it?” Hermione whispered.
“I thought I heard something.”
“’Don’t know. It’s gone.” Harry glanced at the map again. Still only the four
dots he counted before in their corner of the parchment. “But maybe… it’s coming
from over there, not on our map…”
Hermione, ignoring this and impatient to get as far away from the Forest and
as close to her bed as possible, took a few steps back in the direction of the
school and Hagrid’s hut. But the boys hadn’t moved and she found herself snagged
by the cloak.
“Come on, both of you. Before we get into trouble.”
“Wait,” said Ron. “I hear it, too. It’s--”
“Music?… Shh,” said Harry. He and Ron mechanically turned to face the wood.
Hermione frowned in the darkness, peering forward into the trees. She thought
she had for a moment seen a figure crouched in the distance. But when she blinked
again the depths of the forest were still. It must just be my imagination,
she chided herself, peering down at the map. “I don’t hear anything. Let’s g—Hey!
Where are you two going?” she hissed.
Both boys had taken short wooden steps toward the dense tree line. The cloak
slipped further off with Ron and Harry’s every step and the chill of the breeze
up to her knees made Hermione shiver. “Oh, all right, I’m coming. Wait.” She
decided it was better to accompany them than remain standing alone at the edge
of the Forbidden Forest.
They had gone no further than the first crossroads in the trail when Harry
suddenly came to a halt and Ron, directly behind, collided into him.
“What?” asked Hermione. “What is it?”
Neither answered. The boys stood still as statues.
Both stared ahead blankly, neither issuing a response. Hermione, moved by
a mixture of anxiety and impatience, gripped them by the arms. “Hey!”
“Ow!” they both yelled suddenly, seeming to come to. Ron swatted at her irritably
under the cloak.
“Shhhh!!” cautioned Hermione. Too late.
“Who’s there?! Show yerself!” The raspy twang of Argus Filch’s voice cut through
the stillness of the clearing behind them. The overzealous and mean-spirited
caretaker at Hogwarts carried a dim lantern just in front of his thin, sour
face twisted into a scowl. Just visible on the grass, creeping carefully ahead
of him was Filch’s cat Mrs. Norris, who bore an uncanny resemblance to her master.
“Someone’s here, my sweet. Ye can smell ‘em, can’tcha?” By this time Filch
and Mrs. Norris were so close they could see the shadows cast by the scant stubble
on the caretaker’s chin. As Filch approached they spotted the yellow-brown tinge
of his crooked teeth, some of which were missing. “It’s no use hiding. Show
yerself!” They soon realized his breath was no better.
Mrs. Norris looked directly up at them, but made not a sound. The three wondered
apprehensively—and not for the first time—whether the cat could actually see
through Invisibility Cloaks.
Having frozen at the sound of Filch’s voice, the three held an unnaturally
crouched position to keep their ankles and shoes under the cover of the Cloak.
By the time Mrs. Norris seemed to lose interest in whatever she may have sensed
in their direction, the cramping in Hermione’s legs had become unbearable. She
feared she might have to ask the boys to use a Mobilicorpus Charm to get her
back to Gryffindor Tower.
Filch lingered for a moment, staring searchingly through their faces, before
disappointedly giving up the hunt. A whole summer without inflicting punishment
of any kind to a student had done nothing to temper his taste for it. The three
heard him grumbling audibly to Mrs. Norris.
“Must be summat out there,” he said, squinting. “How I’d love to get my hands
on whatever little brat might be out ‘ere breakin’ curfew.” He nodded at the
cat. “I ‘spect it could be some o’ them older students roamin’ the grounds.
They do it fer kicks, ye know—like that Potter and his whingey friends.” The
boys winced as Filch unsuspectingly flung a nasty scowl in their direction,
his disgust evident. “Damn that bloody Wizards’ Educational Council. They don’t
even give a toss ‘bout corporal punishment nowadays. Biggest mistake they made,
in my ‘pinion, was to abolish it.” Filch spat at a spot close to the edge of
the Cloak. Hermione watched in horror as the cat turned slowly, hissing in their
direction. But Filch merely nodded. “That’s right, my sweet. Hardly seems worth
punishin’ them little brats anymore seeing’s all they’d get’s a detention. In
my day,” he sighed nostalgically, “it was all hot coals, the rack and partial
Expelling a disgruntled sniff, Filch turned abruptly on his heel, and struck
off in the opposite direction. Once his ramblings to Mrs. Norris faded completely
into the distance, the three stole their way back to the entrance to Gryffindor
Tower without attempts at further conversation. In the entrance hall, a suit
of armour lolled its sleepy head as they crept past, but they otherwise encountered
no one along the staircases and vaulted corridors.
In front of the entrance to the tower marked by a portrait of a fat lady dressed
in a large pink dress, a lone figure sat huddled, resting its head on its knees.
“Neville, what are you doing here?” asked Harry.
“I—I forgot the password.” Shivering, he drew his robes closer around his
pajamas. He rubbed his eyes sleepily leaving a streak of dirt on his rounded
cheek. They knew this short, plump boy with straight, mousy hair to be perhaps
the most absent-minded in the whole of Gryffindor House. Ron helped him up.
Hermione turned to the portrait of the Fat Lady. “Sad cow,” she said.
“Same to you, dear!” huffed the Fat Lady.
“Hermione!” admonished a startled Ron.
“What?” She frowned at him irritably. “It’s the new password. Or can’t you
remember them either?”
Indeed, the Fat Lady followed her indignant outburst with a nod and the portrait
swung forward to let them through.
Without another word, Neville climbed in ahead of them. Hermione could hear
the pad-pad-padding of his slippers fading as he disappeared up the spiral staircase
leading to the boys’ dormitory.
No sooner had they entered the circular, tapestry-laden common room, than Harry
and Ron turned soporifically to the boys’ staircase. The fireplace held cold
embers and the common room was empty (not entirely surprising given that it
was already 3:30 in the morning). Hermione, still fully awake, hands on hips,
called after them. “Hey, aren’t you going to explain yourselves? What was all
that about out there? What did you hear?”
Harry glanced back, frowning. “Hear? When? What do you mean, what did we hear?
Nothing.” He shrugged, yawning, his eyes glazing over.
“But didn’t you say you h—?”
To her bewilderment, Ron half turned and shrugged at her as well. Hermione
watched as both turned and ascended the staircase, together whistling in perfect
time an unfamiliar and mournful tune. And for the first time that year, even
counting their first Potions class, Hermione’s hairs stood on end.