The Sugar Quill
Author: Mrs Weasley (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Siren and the Spy  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

This story follows the events of Sixth Year Showdowns and The Gift and is set in Harry & Co's seventh year.

Disclaimer: These characters belong to JK Rowling, except for a couple I've added.

* * * * *

"What're you looking at, Hermione?" Harry Potter asked, coming up behind her. Students were thronging the crowded Hogwarts corridor, jostling in all directions, but they moved aside to give Harry and Hermione some space by the noticeboard, out of deference to their status as Head Boy and Head Girl.

Hermione Granger turned from the noticeboard. "There's a notice up about a new series of tutorials for seventh-years. A new subject."

"What? Another new subject? Aren't we doing enough work already?" Harry ran his hand through his unruly black hair in a gesture of mock despair. Although they were only half-way through their seventh and final year at Hogwarts, he and Ron Weasley were constantly complaining about the amount of work which was being piled on them with their N.E.W.T. exams in mind. Hermione didn't take their complaints very seriously, although she worked harder than anyone else in their year. She was hoping to get a scholarship to a college of witchcraft. However, although she took her work and her prefect duties seriously, she wasn't quite as obsessed with work as she had been when she was younger. She and Ron had been an "item" for just over a year now, and Harry thought the relationship had done her good and made her less serious.

Harry leaned over Hermione's shoulder to read the new notice. "A new series of tutorials are offered to seventh-year students who are interested in furthering their knowledge of Musical Enchantments. Tutorials will be given during your Friday free periods, and we are pleased to announce that the well-known musician, Charybdis Messina, has agreed to give the tutorials. Please sign below if you are interested in attending the sessions. M. McGonagall."

"What a name...Charybdis Messina..." Harry said absently, and then with a start he noticed what Hermione was doing. In her neat writing she was signing up not only herself on the new list, but himself and Ron too. "Hey! Hermione! What if we don't want to go?"

"It'll be interesting," said Hermione serenely, putting away her quill. "And it may help us to gain insight into some other branches of magic." She turned from the noticeboard and called a warning to some first years who were pushing and shoving each other in their haste to get to Potions on time.

Harry sighed. "All right - but don't blame me if Ron doesn't like it."

Ron didn't like it. "Musical Enchantments?" he said incredulously to Harry, as they sat at the Gryffindor table at supper time. Hermione was on duty at the far end of the hall. "Girly stuff! Like that Herbology woman Mum listens to on the radio - the one who sings to her plants to make them grow better - whatshername?" Seeing Harry's blank look, Ron continued, "And in our free period as well - about the only time we've got to catch up on our homework essays - tuh!"

Knowing Ron of old, Harry kept quiet and ate his supper, nodding from time to time in agreement, and as he expected, by the end of the meal Ron's exasperation had subsided into, "Well, I suppose we'd better go to the first session and see what it's all about, but if it's a load of rubbish I'm chucking it in after that -"

When the seventh-years who had signed up for Musical Enchantments assembled outside the classroom door on Friday, Harry found that they were quite a large group. He suspected that most people had come out of curiosity to find out what the subject entailed and to see the apparently well-known Charybdis Messina. Harry himself had never heard of her, but Ron said he thought he remembered his mum mentioning her name, Hermione had found a short biography of her in "Who's Who in Modern Magic", and Parvati Patil was telling everyone she knew all about Charybdis, and she was wonderful.

"She's supposed to know more than anyone else about the use of music in witchcraft, and she's incredibly beautiful -"

Listening to Parvati, the seventh-years were taken by surprise when a low, melodious voice spoke behind them. "Are you all here for the Musical Enchantment class? Please go in."

They turned, and saw a woman looking at them, an air of faint amusement on her face. Parvati had been right. Their new tutor was a stunningly beautiful woman. She was very tall - taller than most of the seventh-years and only an inch or two shorter than Ron, who was six feet four these days and towered over most people at Hogwarts. She had a lithe, slim figure and wore a floating midnight blue robe. A mass of black hair streamed over her shoulders and down her back, and she had the most extraordinary eyes Harry had ever seen - a deep, dark blue, with lashes and brows which looked startlingly black against her white skin. She looked intently at the seventh-years as they made way politely for her to sweep into the classroom. The students followed and sat down, waiting for their new tutor to speak.

She walked to the teacher's desk, put down the shoulder bag she carried, and stood facing the class. When she did speak, Harry noticed again what a deep, musical voice she had.

"I'm very pleased to be here at Hogwarts and to meet you all. Let me introduce myself. My name is Charybdis Messina. You may call me Miss Messina." She seated herself gracefully on the desk top, her gauzy sleeves falling away from her white wrists as she gestured. "We are here to study the art of musical enchantment. Can anyone tell me what they think is involved in this art?"

A few hands went up, some doubtfully, some more confidently. Hermione's hand, of course, was the first one up. "Yes? asked Miss Messina.

"It's the art of using chanting or singing to enforce the power of an enchantment," Hermione said promptly, then added, "or you can use the playing of an instrument."

"Quite right. Please tell me your name - I will try to learn as many as I can." She smiled faintly as she looked around the class.

"Hermione Granger, Miss Messina."

"Thank you, Hermione. Yes, it will be valuable for you to know that certain enchantments may involve the use of music. You already know, I am sure, that the way in which one stresses magic words is crucial. Words which are pronounced incorrectly can have no effect - or they may have disastrous effects. Singing, or chanting, spells and enchantments can add even more power to the magic being performed."

Harry's mind wandered back to his first year at Hogwarts, when he, Ron and Hermione had encountered a giant three-headed dog known incongruously as Fluffy. They had discovered that music would soothe him to sleep, but so far that had been the only time Harry had found a use for music in his time at Hogwarts. He looked sideways at Ron, to see if Ron was also thinking of the Fluffy incident, but Ron was looking forwards, gazing attentively at Miss Messina.

"...It is very important, of course, to use music correctly. In most cases, only the right notes will do. If the wrong notes are sung or played, the enchantment may not take effect. I will demonstrate a simple musical charm for you." Miss Messina cast another intent look around the classroom, and her gaze alighted on Ernie Macmillan. "Perhaps you would like to help me with this?"

Ernie, an amiable, burly Hufflepuff who generally liked to stay out of the limelight near the back of the classroom, got nervously to his feet, gave his name and was directed to stand next to Miss Messina. She opened her bag and removed a curious stringed instrument. Harry had never seen one quite like it.

"This is a lyre. A very sweet-toned instrument. I am going to perform a very simple charm to induce movement of the feet." She poised her fingers over the strings, then struck three sharp, clear notes; two low and one higher. Then she repeated the notes in groups of three, this time chanting "Mo-tor-i! Ped-est-a! Rap-i-do!"

Ernie looked surprised, and slightly alarmed, as his feet began to jerk and dance on the spot, tapping a rapid beat as the sound of the lyre died away. The rest of the class laughed appreciatively. After a few moments, Miss Messina raised her hand and struck one chord on the lyre. Looking very relieved, Ernie stopped dancing and slunk back to the safety of the back row.

"You see, quite a simple combination of notes and words can be effective," said Miss Messina. "We have time for another demonstration..." She looked around again. This time her intensely blue eyes rested on Ron. "Your name?"

"Ron Weasley," said Ron awkwardly, tripping over his feet as he got up.

"Thank you, Ron. Do stand there. Now, this is another very simple charm. As you can see, Ron has red hair. I am going to use a charm which will change it." As she spoke, she had raised her hand and ruffled the top of Ron's hair. He looked embarrassed.

Miss Messina smiled brilliantly at the nervous Ron, and struck more notes on her lyre. "Iridium - cortexta - iridium - cortexta -" she sang, in time to the notes which rippled from her lyre. Harry thought she had a very beautiful singing voice - deep, but sweet, and strangely powerful. The room seemed to hum with the power of it. The seventh-years began laughing again as Ron's red hair abruptly faded to white, then darkened to black, then went through a spectrum of rainbow colours before Miss Messina struck a final chord and Ron was red-haired once more, and looking rather sheepish.

"You see," said Miss Messina, looking smilingly from Ron to the rest of the class, "there's really nothing complicated about the use of music in enchantment." She patted Ron's arm. "Thank you."

Ron almost tripped over again as he sat down. He looked a bit dazed. When Harry tried to catch his eye to grin at him, he couldn't, because Ron was still gazing transfixed at Miss Messina. So Harry looked at Hermione instead. She was looking rather disapproving.

The tutorial seemed to go very quickly, and soon Miss Messina was bidding them farewell until the next week. "But I will see you before then, because Professor Dumbledore has kindly invited me to stay as a guest for the next two weeks. I shall look forward to exploring this beautiful countryside - it will inspire me to write new compositions."

She left, and the class spilled out into the corridor, discussing the lesson.

Harry caught up with Hermione. "What did you think?"

"Hmm, it seems quite interesting," Hermione said. "I'm not convinced that everything she said was true - if one sticks to the principles of Arithmancy -"

"No, please, Hermione, I need some food before we discuss Arithmancy!" Harry said with a grin. "What did you think, Ron? Liked your hairstyles, by the way!" He noticed that Ron wasn't with them, and looked back to see his friend following slowly behind them, apparently deep in thought. "Ron?"

Ron looked up, slightly startled out of his reverie. "Yeah?"

"What did you think of Miss Messina?"

"Oh! Er, yeah - she's very beautiful, isn't she?" Ron said, rather vaguely.

Hermione gave him a Look. "Harry meant, what did you think of her theories about magical enchantments?"

"Yeah. Interesting." Ron's mind still didn't seem totally with them. They reached the Great Hall, and Ron and Hermione went off to find seats together at the Gryffindor table. Harry, whose turn it was to do prefect duty, went to supervise the first-years entering the Hall.

"I must write to Sirius tonight," he thought to himself.

Sirius Black was Harry's godfather, and had been his guardian since Harry's fifth year at Hogwarts. In the holidays they shared a small house Sirius had bought near The Warren, home of the Weasleys. In term time, Sirius liked to travel. When he had first been cleared of the crimes which had sent him to Azkaban for twelve years, Sirius had travelled the world, trying to get away from his bad memories. Now, he had some kind of job with the Ministry of Magic, which also seemed to involve a great deal of travelling, although he still wrote to Harry as often as he could. Harry often wished, however, that Sirius would give him more details about where he was and what he was doing. When they saw each other in the holidays Sirius was never very forthcoming about his travels.

"He'll be interested to hear about Miss Messina," Harry thought. "Wish I knew where he was - but Hedwig will always find him. He's been very mysterious about his new job - I wonder if he'll tell me more about what he's doing when he writes?" And Harry hurried off to break up a fight between some Gryffindor and Slytherin first-years.

* * * * *

"Dear Sirius,

Thanks for your letter, and the ten Sickles. The money will come in handy next time I'm in Hogsmeade. Things are pretty busy here, as usual. You remember I told you in my last letter about Miss Messina, our new Musical Enchantments teacher? We've had two lessons with her now, and they're quite popular. I think a load of the other boys signed up when they heard how stunning Miss Messina was - unfortunately, Malfoy and a few other Slytherins have joined the class. This week she taught some of us to play a few notes on the lyre. Seamus is really good at it, but he says it's his Irish blood that makes him musical. Most of us have trouble making the right notes, though! There's something strange about Miss Messina - I don't know what. I've never met anyone like her before.

Hermione asked me to say, if you should happen to be anywhere near Diagon Alley soon, could you possibly look in Flourish and Blotts for a copy of Miss Messina's book, "The Magic of Music"? She thinks it would be useful background reading. We'll send you the money if you do find it. Hermione and I are a bit worried about Ron. He's been acting strangely for the last week or so - moping about, day-dreaming - not like his usual self at all. I think Hermione's a bit upset because Ron keeps going off by himself - it's almost as if he wants to get away from us. I think he's got something on his mind. Well, I must go, I've got work to finish - as usual. Wonder where you are now? Hope you're having an interesting time, anyway. I'll write again soon.

Harry."

Harry put down his quill, flexed his fingers, and folded his letter into an envelope. The Gryffindor common room was very quiet - on a sunny March Saturday, most Gryffindors had chosen outdoor activities. Harry almost had the place to himself, except for a gaggle of second-years playing a card game in the corner, who would not have dreamed of disturbing the Head Boy. He leant back in his chair, thinking. There were two main problems bothering him, and for different reasons he had not told Sirius about either of them.

The first problem weighing on Harry's mind was Charybdis Messina. In their second Musical Enchantment tutorial she had looked at Harry a lot, or so it felt to Harry. Every time he had looked towards her, it seemed, he had found those startlingly vivid blue eyes fixed on him with a compelling stare. It made him uncomfortable and, more alarmingly, it made the scar on his forehead sting painfully. That was usually a bad sign. Usually, he would have mentioned this to Ron, but his best friend was acting so oddly that Harry had chosen not to. Since that first tutorial Ron had been strangely preoccupied - zoning out of conversations, day-dreaming in class and unusually quiet. Harry and Hermione were not the only ones to have noticed this. Harry had an uncomfortable feeling that Ron's behaviour was related to Charybdis Messina. Ron had spent the second tutorial gaping at Miss Messina as if hypnotized, and she almost seemed to encourage this, smiling at him, picking him for demons trations and patting his arm. A number of the other seventh-year boys, Harry knew, would have been quite happy to sit and stare at Miss Messina all day, but Ron seemed to be the worst affected.

The other problem weighing on Harry's mind was Ginny, Ron's sister. She was a sixth-year, and, like Harry, a member of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Harry knew all the Weasleys very well, especially since he and Sirius had moved to live near them in the holidays, but it was only since last summer that he had begun to feel differently about Ginny.

Ginny had been injured in an accident on the Quidditch field - luckily, she had made a full recovery - but when he saw her lying unconscious Harry had realised that she had become very important to him. After the accident, he had held her hand in the hospital wing and there had been a silent admission that they both cared about each other, but Harry hadn't found the right words at the time to tell her what he felt. Partly because he didn't really know what he felt.

His experience with girls was limited. In his fourth and fifth years he had had a few dates with an older girl, Cho Chang, but they had both known that was just fun, and there were no really deep feelings involved. Harry hadn't met anyone else since then who made him want to have an exclusive relationship. His friendship with Hermione had helped him to understand a little more about girls, but he had only ever wanted friendship from her. In the last few months, though, he had found himself envying what she and Ron had - it would be great, he thought, to be so comfortable in someone else's company, to know them so well. For the first time, he wasn't content to be odd man out. He wanted something more. Someone of his own. And he thought that person might be Ginny, but he didn't know what to say to her.

Since last summer, Harry and Ginny had spent quite a bit of time together. Some people saw them as a couple, he was sure. But they were still on the level of a friendship - they hadn't really spoken about deeper feelings. Harry felt strangely nervous about messing up their tentative relationship. He didn't want to hurt Ginny - he was very fond of her. And he was afraid that if they did get together, and then fell out, it might damage his relationship with Ron and the rest of the Weasley family, who had been so good to him.

There was a darker reason, too, behind Harry's silence. Sirius hardly ever spoke of it, but Harry knew the Ministry of Magic were worried that Voldemort was gathering his forces again. Sooner or later Voldemort would try to come back, and when he did, Harry knew that he would be one of Voldemort's targets. Did he really want to drag Ginny into the danger of being closely associated with him?

"Harry?" A voice spoke, and Harry was startled out of his reverie. He looked up, to see Ginny herself standing in front of him. She grinned. "I wondered where you'd got to. Why are you in here when it's so lovely outside?"

"Just writing to Sirius. But I've finished now. Want to come to the owlery with me?"

They walked through the corridors together, chatting about nothing in particular, until they reached the owlery, where Harry's owl, Hedwig, hooted her greeting as she saw them. Harry let her out of the cage and she perched on his shoulder, nibbling his ear affectionately. Ginny reached up to stroke the soft feathers on Hedwig's head. "She's so beautiful. So where's Sirius now?"

"No idea. He won't tell me - all I know is that he's doing something secret for the Ministry of Magic. But Hedwig will find him - won't you?"

Hedwig gave a tiny hoot of agreement as Harry gave her the letter. When she had soared out of the owlery, and disappeared into the blue sky, Harry and Ginny followed her outside and walked across the grass towards the lake.

"So," said Ginny abruptly, "I hear my brother's making an idiot of himself over the new Musical Enchantments teacher."

"Um - yeah, I suppose so," said Harry, surprised. "He seems to like her a lot -"

"Harry, I've seen him, walking round with his mouth hanging open! Mind you," Ginny added generously, "I've seen Miss Messina and she is pretty gorgeous. But you'd think Ron would have more sense than to get such a huge crush on her."

"He - um - he has been acting a bit strangely," Harry admitted. "I think Hermione's getting a bit fed up with him."

"I don't blame her!" Ginny sounded exasperated. "If I were her I'd tell him to pull himself together - I might tell him that anyway," she added darkly, clearly thinking it was her sisterly duty. She sighed, and then looked at Harry with a flash of mischief in her eyes. "So, what do you think, Harry? I don't see you following Messina round the school like a sheep - or like my brother!"

Harry hesitated, then decided to tell Ginny what he hadn't told Sirius. "You might think this is silly, but - there's something about her that bothers me."

Ginny looked surprised, and more serious. "Like what?"

"Like the fact that every time she stares at me, I can feel the scar on my forehead hurting," Harry confessed. "And that's usually a warning that something bad's going to happen."

"You should tell someone."

"Who? Most of the teachers would think I was making a fuss about nothing. I can just hear McGonagall telling me to go away and stop wasting her time."

"I suppose so - what bad thing could happen, do you think? She's a famous musician." Ginny paused, and bit her lip thoughtfully. "Did you tell Sirius about this in your letter?"

"No. He's probably doing something really important - I don't want to waste his time on something that might turn out to be nothing."

"Mmm." Ginny seemed to think it over for a few minutes more, then looked up, changing the subject. "Look, there's Hermione."

Harry and Ginny walked more quickly, and came up to where Hermione was standing alone by the lake. She looked upset, but was clearly trying to hide it. She smiled quickly at Harry and Ginny when she saw them, but it was not a real smile.

"Where's Ron?" asked Harry, and wished he hadn't when he saw the look on Hermione's face.

"He's gone for a walk with Miss Messina," said Hermione bleakly. "She said it was such a lovely day, she'd go and write some music in the open air, and would Ron like to carry her bag for her? So he did."

Ginny put her arm through Hermione's. "Look, he's just got a bit of a crush on her, that's all. It'll probably wear off as quickly as it started, and then you can give him a good slap for being an idiot!"

"But it's more than that," said Hermione, looking more upset than Harry could remember her being for a long time. "He's not acting like himself at all - all the things he's been doing - going off alone, not wanting to be with us, Harry, it's just not Ron."

"I know," Harry said, wishing he could think of something more comforting to say. "I miss the usual Ron as well. But I'm sure he'll snap out of it soon." He struggled to think of a different topic. "Hermione, what did McGonagall want to see you about this morning?"

Hermione collected her thoughts. "Oh. Yes. You know I've been applying for wizarding colleges? Well, she wanted to tell me about this famous college - at Petrzalka - there's a scholarship -"

"Petrzalka? But that's really famous, isn't it?" said Harry. "Wasn't Dumbledore a student there, or something?"

"Yes, years ago, of course. Professor McGonagall says they give an annual scholarship to one English student, and she thinks I would have a good chance and I should apply for it."

"Wow. But - Petrzalka - where is it? Isn't it a long way away?"

"Slovakia," said Hermione.

"Hermione! Would you really want to go so far away by yourself?" Harry asked in surprise.

Hermione sighed. "Well, I wasn't thinking of going so far. I was planning to go to college somewhere in this country - somewhere I could see Ron often - and you, of course. But if Ron doesn't c-" Harry could see she was now struggling against tears - "I told him about P-Petrzalka but he - I don't think he was listening - he was just thinking about -" She really was having trouble holding the tears back now.

"Let's go indoors," said Ginny, who, like Harry, knew that Hermione would hate the younger students to see the Head Girl in tears.

Ginny led Hermione away, and Harry followed, worried. He hated to see his friends unhappy, but he couldn't really believe that Ron's infatuation with Miss Messina could be strong enough to make him hurt Hermione. He knew just how much his friends cared about each other, even though they frequently bickered and didn't display their real emotions much in public. "He'll snap out of it," Harry told himself, trying to be convinced. "I'll have a word with him. He can't realize how upset Hermione is about this."

* * * * *

Ron and Miss Messina had not arrived back in school by the time supper began, and Hermione did not come to the meal at all. Harry looked for her at the Gryffindor table when he had finished supervising the younger students into the Hall, but she wasn't there. He saw Ginny though, and went to sit with her. "Where's Hermione?"

"In her dormitory," Ginny told him, passing him a plate of bread. "I think she wanted a bit more time to pull herself together before she faced Ron or Miss Messina again."

"Well, they're not here, either. Must be still wandering round the countryside."

But just as Harry spoke, he saw the door open again. Miss Messina, wearing a sea-green robe today, her black hair streaming behind her, swept towards the staff table, and Ron walked dreamily towards the Gryffindor table. He walked straight past Harry and Ginny without seeming to notice them, until Ginny said sharply, "Ron!"

Ron looked up. "Oh. Hi." He took the seat Ginny was indicating, opposite her and Harry.

"Did you have a nice afternoon?" Ginny asked sweetly.

Ron's face brightened. "Yeah! We went up into the hills and Charybdis said the countryside had given her some good ideas for her new composition -"

"*What* did you call her?" interrupted Ginny.

Ron blushed. "She asked me to call her Charybdis."

Harry and Ginny exchanged alarmed looks at this. Harry glanced towards the staff table. Charybdis Messina looked very much at her ease, leaning back gracefully in her chair, laughing at something Professor Flitwick had just said. She seemed to be the centre of attention for most of the male staff. Even Snape seemed to be hanging on her every word, his sallow face more animated than usual. Only Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall seemed to be immune to Miss Messina's charm. Professor Dumbledore was seemingly absorbed in his meal, his usual expression of happy abstraction on his face. Professor McGonagall was pursing her lips as she glanced sideways at Miss Messina and her admirers. She did not seem to be overly impressed. Ginny had followed Harry's look towards the staff table. Now, she looked at Harry, raised her eyebrows quizzically, and sighed.

Ron, meanwhile, was picking at his meal with the same expression of dreamy happiness. It was not until five minutes later that he looked up and said, "Where's Hermione?"

"Oh, you noticed then," said Ginny, rather acidly. "She's in her dormitory."

"She wasn't feeling very well," said Harry.

"Look, Ron -" began Ginny forcefully, but Harry nudged her and gesticulated towards the other students at the table.

"Not here," he muttered in an undertone. "Let's not have a scene in front of the younger ones."

"Mm, I suppose you are the Head Boy," Ginny agreed in low tones. "OK, but when we get upstairs I'm going to give him a piece of my mind."

Ron had remained oblivious to this conversation.

The Gryffindor common room was crowded that evening. Too crowded for the Head Boy to have a showdown with one of his fellow seventh-year prefects without attracting far more attention than Harry would like. Hermione was still nowhere to be seen, and Ron had slipped away somewhere between the Hall and the common room. Ginny said that if she couldn't have a word with Ron she would go and write letters. She blushed slightly as she spoke, for no reason Harry could see.

Harry left the common room through the portrait hole and decided to go and look for Ron. He was not too much surprised to find him in the Entrance Hall, in deep conversation with Charbydis Messina. That was to say, she was talking, in her beautiful melodious voice, and Ron was hanging on her every word. Harry lurked, trying to think of a good excuse for breaking into the conversation - after all, she was a teacher. He was still thinking when a harsher voice came from behind him.

"Potter, why are you hanging about here?" It was Snape, his black robes billowing behind him, wearing the sour expression he usually adopted when looking at Harry.

"I'm - er - I'm waiting for Ron, sir." Ron and Miss Messina had both turned to look at Harry and Snape. For just a moment, as her intense blue gaze fell on him, Harry felt a sharp twinge of pain across his scar.

"Are you indeed?" Snape turned his sour look towards Ron. "Then it seems to me that you and Weasley should lose no time in getting back to your common room where you belong."

"Yes, I mustn't keep you, Ron," said Miss Messina pleasantly, smiling at Ron. "We've finished our conversation, Severus."

Snape waited as Ron reluctantly moved away from Miss Messina and started walking back down the corridor with Harry. "I understood that prefects and Head Boys were supposed to supervise what goes on in their common rooms in the evenings," he remarked nastily.

Harry heard Miss Messina reply, "Oh, don't be too hard on them, Severus." He looked back to see her patting Snape's sleeve and smiling at him charmingly. In response, Snape's face twisted into an unaccustomed smile.

"Yuck!" thought Harry. "I think Snape quite fancies her too."

Ron was scowling as they walked back towards Gryffindor Tower. "Who does Snape think he is, anyway?" Harry heard him mutter. Harry decided it was time to speak his mind.

"Look, Ron, I know you like Miss Messina," he began.

The cloud cleared from Ron's face. "Yes, she's wonderful, isn't she?"

"Um - well, anyway, Ron, do you realise that Hermione's quite upset about all the time you've been spending with Miss Messina?" Harry asked.

"Is she?"

"Yes! Do you realise," Harry persisted, trying to say something that would snap Ron out of his dreamy trance, "she's been talking about applying to this wizard college in Slovakia? We'd never see her if she went there."

"What?" Harry was glad to see his friend frown, looking more like his normal self. "She can't do that."

"Oh, can't I?" Both boys were startled to see Hermione in front of them. She looked angry. "Go on Ron. Why shouldn't I go to Slovakia?"

Ron looked uncomfortable. "Well - it's so far away."

Hermione's face hardened. "Why should you care? You'd rather spend time with your precious Miss Messina anyway! I suppose she's teaching you to play the lyre - or maybe she's teaching you a few other things!"

"I don't understand why you don't like Charybdis, Hermione, she's very-"

"CHARYBDIS!" Hermione shouted. "Ron, can't you see what sort of person she is? She's flirting with a seventeen-year-old, at her age -"

"She is not flirting with me!" Ron shouted back, losing his temper, and Harry realised with alarm that this was turning into a real quarrel. He was used to the bickering of Ron and Hermione, but their arguments were usually of short duration and ended amicably. This time they were both deliberately saying things calculated to hurt the other.

"You and the other girls are just jealous that you don't look like her!" Ron shot at Hermione. Hermione looked stunned at this.

"Fine! Well, I'd better tell Professor McGonagall I'd love to go to Slovakia - I just can't wait to be as far away from you as possible!"

"Miss Granger! Mr Weasley!" Professor McGonagall herself had arrived on the scene, and she looked furious. "This is not the way I expect prefects of this school to behave! And for the Head Girl - " she glanced at Harry "-and the Head Boy too, to be involved in such a scene -" Words failed her. "You will each lose ten points for Gryffindor." At this, Harry opened his mouth to protest that *he* hadn't actually been arguing, but catching Professor McGonagall's eye he thought better of it and shut his mouth again. She continued. "Now please go back to Gryffindor Tower, all of you, and try to behave in a more responsible way."

She stood there, arms folded, nostrils flaring, mouth set grimly, watching them leave, and they had no choice but to walk down the corridor together. Harry could feel Ron and Hermione's hurt and anger simmering in the air between them. None of them spoke on the way to the common room. When they got there, Hermione stalked to the girls' staircase and went upstairs to her dormitory. Ron went upstairs to the seventh-year boys' dormitory, and Harry heard the slam of the door echoing down the stairs. He sighed, looked round the crowded room, and saw Ginny beckoning to him.

Ginny was sitting by the window with Rosalie Little, one of her fellow Chasers on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, and Torquil de Lisle. Torquil, thin, dark and dreamy, was Ginny's ex-boyfriend. He was brilliant at Divination and was known for going off unexpectedly into trances, during which he made predictions which were usually a lot more accurate than those of Professor Trelawny, their Divination teacher. Although he and Ginny were no longer a couple, they had remained friends. Ron had a low opinion of Torquil, but Harry found him likeable in his odd way, and sometimes wondered guiltily whether he was in any way responsible for Ginny and Torquil's break-up, although Ginny had said that Torquil's Divination skills made her uncomfortable.

Rosalie got up. "You have this chair, Harry, I was just going to speak to Tony." She smiled and left them.

Harry sat down. Ginny looked at him, and gestured to the doors Ron and Hermione had disappeared through. "No luck?" she asked.

"It's got worse," said Harry gloomily. "They had a shouting match in the corridor and McGonagall came across us. She's taken thirty points off Gryffindor because she doesn't think prefects ought to behave like that."

"I'd like to slap Ron, I really would," said Ginny in disgust. "Wish Fred and George were still here. They'd sort him out."

"I just wish Miss Messina would leave," said Harry. "I met her tonight - with Ron - and she stared at me, and my scar started burning again."

"Harry, I hope you don't mind, but I've done something about that," Ginny said, looking uncomfortable.

Harry was just going to ask what she meant when he remembered Torquil, who was probably wondering what they were talking about. But when he looked at Torquil, he saw him sitting stiffly in his chair, his eyes staring into space. "Torquil? Are you all right?"

Ginny looked quickly at Torquil. "Oh, help, I think he's - he's Seeing."

Harry had once seen Professor Trelawny go into a trance and make a real prediction. She had spoken then in a voice quite unlike her own, and Torquil, when he spoke, sounded curiously distant.

"*Beautiful...but deadly...There is a dark danger...a dark danger...don't listen to the music of the Siren...*" There was a pause, then Torquil's eyes seemed to come back into focus. In his normal, rather reedy voice he said, "What happened? Did I See something?"

"Ye-es," said Ginny, looking shaken. Harry knew that she had been very nervous of Torquil's abilities since an incident in their fifth year. "You said something about 'dark danger' and 'don't listen to the music'."

"Did I?" Torquil looked surprised. "I wondew what all that was about." He yawned. "I'm weally tired now. Think I'll go to bed. Goodnight Ginny - Hawwy." He nodded at Harry as he got up to leave. Left alone, Ginny and Harry stared at each other.

"What was that about?" Harry asked.

"It's obvious," said Ginny. "It's Messina. She's beautiful - and dark - maybe she's deadly and dangerous too!"

"Well, the bit about the music would fit in," Harry agreed. "But what's a Siren? And what could she do? I know there's something wrong somewhere - or my scar wouldn't be hurting - oh." He had just rememembered what Ginny had been saying when Torquil went into his trance. "Yeah. What were you saying about my scar, before, Ginny?"

Ginny looked uncomfortable again. "Um - well, don't get cross with me, Harry, but I was worried when you told me about Messina making your scar hurt. You didn't want to worry Sirius about it - but I thought, if something bad did happen, he'd be furious we hadn't told him about it. So I - well, I wrote to him. Do you mind?"

Harry looked at her anxious face. "Not really. I don't suppose it matters. Maybe I should have told him. He might be able to give us some advice." He yawned, suddenly tired. "I'm going to go to bed. Hope Ron and Hermione wake up in better tempers tomorrow, or it's going to be awful."

Ginny grimaced. "I think it's going to take more than a night's sleep to get things back to normal."

* * * * *

The next few days were very difficult. Harry had been dreading going down to the Great Hall for meals, and his fears were justified. Everyone seemed to have heard about the rift between Ron and Hermione, and, since Harry was their closest friend, naturally everyone thought he was the best person to get details from. People kept sidling up to him and asking him questions he really didn't want to answer. It was the best topic of gossip Gryffindor House had had for ages.

Nobody dared to ask Hermione anything. She went about her Head Girl duties as normal, her head held high and her lips pressed together - Harry suspected this was to stop them from trembling. But to anyone who didn't know her quite so well, she seemed more or less as usual, although she did snap rather bad-temperedly at some first-years who were pushing and shoving each other in the corridor.

Outwardly, Ron looked more affected by the break-up. His face was pale, and he had dark circles under his eyes. He snapped at anyone who tried to start a conversation with him, until they gave up and left him alone. The only times he looked happy were when he was shadowing Miss Messina, like a faithful dog. Harry didn't know which was worse - the slack-jawed, Charybdis-worshipping Ron who didn't seem to care about Hermione at all, or the miserable, bad-tempered Ron who clearly cared very much. On the whole, he preferred the latter, but both were hard to live with. Dean, Seamus and Neville had all started complaining about Ron being a pain to share a room - or a class - with these days.

On Thursday afternoons the Gryffindor and Slytherin seventh-years had Care of Magical Creatures together. Harry followed Hermione out of the Great Hall after lunch. She hadn't been talking much in the last few days, but he and the others had been doing their best to chat to her in a friendly way, as if nothing was wrong; to let her know she wasn't alone. As the seventh-years reached the front steps, heading out into the grounds, Harry looked across at Ron, who was walking several feet apart from the rest of them, looking gloomy again. Harry wondered if it would be any good having another go at talking sense into Ron today.

"Potter!" Professor McGonagall's voice startled Harry and made him turn round and look back towards the castle's front doors. He wasn't the only one who turned round to look. "A moment of your time, please, I need to speak with you."

Draco Malfoy was nearby with his hulking sidekicks, Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle, also on their way to Care of Magical Creatures. "Oooh, Potter, what have you been up to now?" Malfoy smirked. "Don't tell me the Head Boy's in trouble again - really, I'm shocked." Crabbe and Goyle sniggered appreciatively. Harry gave Malfoy a withering look.

"Yeah. Ha ha." It wasn't worth wasting more time on Malfoy, particularly not with Professor McGonagall standing by the front door, tapping her foot impatiently. Harry turned to Hermione and Neville. "You go on. I'll be along when she's finished with me."

Hermione and Neville nodded, and set off again with the others. Harry ran up the steps towards Professor McGonagall. As soon as he reached her, she beckoned to him and set off briskly, walking back through the Entrance Hall. "You have a visitor, Potter."

"A visitor?" Harry asked politely, speeding up to walk with her.

"Yes. Your godfather. Sirius Black." Professor McGonagall sniffed. "He is in my office. He seems to think that what he wishes to discuss with you is important. And, since he now works for the Ministry of Magic -" She did not finish the sentence.

"Oh." Whatever Ginny had said in her letter to Sirius, had it been enough to make him come straight to Hogwarts? Still, Harry reflected, with the atmosphere as it was, he would be quite glad of the chance to ask Sirius for his advice. He looked sideways at Professor McGonagall, and decided that this might be a good chance to ask her about something else. "Professor - can I ask you something?"

"You may ask, Potter. Whether I choose to answer or not is another matter," said Professor McGonagall, regarding him astringently, but not unkindly.

"The college in Slovakia Hermione was thinking about applying for - Petrzalka? Do you think she'd get in? And do you think she'd be happy so far away from - from all her friends?"

Harry half expected Professor McGonagall to refuse to answer him, but instead she said consideringly, "Well, that's really Miss Granger's business. But yes, I think she has a good chance of being accepted. She gave me her application form yesterday."

"She's already applied?" Harry said in alarm. But they had reached Professor McGonagall's office. She opened the door, said "Perhaps you'd like to take your godfather for a walk around the grounds when you've finished in here, Potter," and walked away.

"You know," said Sirius's voice, "even though I'm a respectable employee of the Ministry of Magic these days, I have the feeling Professor McGonagall still isn't very keen on me."

"Sirius!" Harry grinned at his guardian, who was lounging in Professor McGonagall's own armchair. Sirius Black smiled back at him. More than three years had gone by since Sirius had escaped from Azkaban, the wizard prison, and he looked a different person to the gaunt skeleton Harry had first met. He was still thin, but his skin had a healthy colour, and his intense dark eyes were alight and alert. He wore his dark hair clipped very short, having once told Harry he'd had enough of looking like a Yeti during his time in Azkaban. He was tall and wiry, and -

"You're wearing Muggle clothes," said Harry with interest.

"Part of my job," said Sirius nonchalantly. He waved Harry to a chair. "I had a letter from Ginny."

"I know. She told me she'd written to you." Harry sat down. "What did she tell you, exactly?"

"That you have a very glamorous new teacher, and that your scar bothers you when she looks at you," said Sirius. "And that Ron seems to have developed a crush on her."

Harry sighed. "Developed a crush? He's besotted! He follows her around and he won't listen to anything I say."

"What does Hermione think about that?" asked Sirius with interest.

"She's miserable. Ron's miserable. They won't even speak to each other now. They had a big row but it didn't stop him from going around with Miss Messina. Oh, and *she* asked him to call her Charybdis." Harry pulled a face. "Now Hermione's applied to go to wizard college in Slovakia. And the rest of us have to live with the terrible atmosphere."

"Well, I'm sorry to hear that, but I'm more concerned about this scar business, Harry. Didn't you tell me once that it was usually a warning of danger?"

"Yes." Harry looked round Professor McGonagall's office. Although she was not there, her influence seemed to fill the room and it made him uncomfortable discussing his problems with Sirius in there.

Sirius, sensing this, suggested, "Shall we go for a walk? Then you can finish telling me your troubles."

As they walked down the front steps, Harry remarked, "I'm supposed to be in Care of Magical Creatures now, I'm surprised McGonagall let me off the class to talk to you."

"I told her it was important Ministry of Magic business," Sirius confessed, looking slightly guilty.

"So what exactly *have* you been doing for the Ministry?" Harry asked him, as they walked towards the herb gardens. "You've never told me what your job involves."

"That's because I'm not supposed to tell you all about it, Harry," Sirius said. "You know Ron's dad has to keep some of his work secret from his family, don't you? Well, some of the things I've been doing are - let's say - confidential."

"But you have been travelling a lot again, haven't you?" Harry asked.

"Yes." Sirius stopped walking and turned to face Harry. "Look, Harry, I appreciate that you don't like being kept in the dark. You're not a child any more. I'll just tell you that I've been doing some - undercover - work for the Ministry. I have contacts in various places, and I've been trying to find out from different sources what Voldemort and his followers are planning now."

"You mean you're a spy?" asked Harry. "Wow."

"Well, yes, technically, I'm a spy," agreed Sirius, looking sheepish. "But keep it to yourself please, or my cover will be thoroughly blown." They walked on, and he added, "Luckily, most of those who practice the Dark Arts don't recognise me these days, and those who do don't suspect that someone with my dubious past would be trusted to do a top-secret job for the Ministry."

"I wouldn't mind being a spy," said Harry thoughtfully.

"It's not as exciting as you probably think," Sirius assured him. "And let me remind you that everyone in the wizarding world knows who Harry Potter is, so your chances of going undercover successfully would be minimal!"

"Yeah, I suppose you're right," Harry said. "Anyway, I'm quite glad Ginny wrote to you. I could do with some advice about all this."

"Ginny seemed very worried about the scar business," said Sirius. "I think she cares a lot about you."

Harry coloured. "Um. Yeah."

"Does that mean you don't feel the same way about her?" asked Sirius, amused by Harry's embarrassment.

"No - I really like her - it's just - I'm never quite sure what to say -" Harry stammered. He really didn't want to discuss this with Sirius.

"Oh, the joys of being seventeen," said Sirius, and then decided to change the subject and spare Harry's blushes. "Anyway, I must pass this on to you." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a package. "The book Hermione wanted."

"Oh, yeah." Relieved, Harry unwrapped the sheet of paper which was loosely covering the book. He read the title aloud. "*The Magic of Music, by Charybdis Messina.*" Harry grimaced as he looked at the photograph on the back of the book - Charybdis Messina, in a flowing white robe, strumming her lute and smiling enchantingly at the camera.

Sirius looked at the picture over Harry's shoulder. "She's pretty stunning, I have to admit."

Harry had just remembered something. "Sirius - I haven't told you yet - the other night, Ginny and I were there when Torquil de Lisle went into one of his trances. You remember him?" Sirius nodded. "He said something, and Ginny and I think it might be about Miss Messina."

"What did he say?"

Harry screwed up his face, trying to remember the exact words.

"*Beautiful but deadly...There is a dark danger...don't listen to the music of the Siren...*"

"The Siren?" Sirius asked, looking suddenly alert. "Are you sure that's what he said?"

"Yeah, I think so."

He looked from Harry back to the smiling photograph of Charybdis Messina. "The Siren...I wonder, now...that would explain a lot."

"What?" Harry was getting frustrated. "What is a Siren, anyway?"

Sirius was pacing up and down. "A Siren, Harry, is a woman with special magical powers. She can use music to enchant people and make them do what she wants. And - " Sirius paused, and gave Harry a meaningful look " - a Siren can bewitch men to be hopelessly in love with her, so that they will carry out her orders."

"You mean," said Harry slowly, "she may have bewitched Ron?"

"It seems quite likely."

"But what orders would she want him to carry out?" Harry asked.

"I'm worried that she may be taking orders herself, from someone else," said Sirius, frowning. "I've heard a few rumours lately that there are Sirens among those practising the Dark Arts, among the followers of -"

"Voldemort!" gasped Harry. "You mean, she might be here doing something for Voldemort?"

"It's possible," said Sirius. "In which case, Ron is in bigger trouble than you thought. Let's get back to the school - I need to speak to a few people, and then - I want to meet Miss Charybdis Messina."

Harry nodded, and together they hurried back towards the main entrance to the castle.

* * * * *

When Harry and Sirius reached the Entrance Hall, Sirius said tersely, "I think we should speak to Dumbledore first," and they hurried through the corridors towards the gargoyle which concealed the entrance to Professor Dumbledore's office. They were brought up short by the sight of Professor McGonagall, who was striding down the corridor from the opposite direction.

"Professor - we need to speak to Professor Dumbledore," said Sirius. "It's urgent."

"I'm afraid that's not possible just now," Professor McGonagall said briskly, "Professor Dumbledore has gone to a meeting at the Ministry of Magic." She looked at Sirius through narrowed eyes. "Since you're here on Ministry business yourself, I'm surprised you didn't know that."

"Different departments," said Sirius hastily. "Look, Professor, this really is an urgent matter. Perhaps I could speak to you about it - in confidence?"

Professor McGonagall sighed and motioned them to step into an empty classroom just down the corridor. "Go on," she said, folding her arms, and looking slightly impatient with them.

"I have reason to believe, Professor, that one of your teachers, Miss Messina, may be a Siren," said Sirius. "She may also be working for Lord Voldemort -"

"And she's probably enchanted Ron!" Harry broke in anxiously.

Professor McGonagall raised her eyebrows sceptically. "Do you have any proof of this?"

"Not that she is actually working for Voldemort," Sirius admitted. "But -"

"Professor, you know that Ron's been acting very strangely around Miss Messina," Harry said eagerly. "If she's bewitched him, that would explain it."

Professor McGonagall sighed and looked at him with a touch of pity. "Potter, I am aware that your friend has developed something of a crush on Miss Messina, but that does not necessarily mean she is an exponent of the Dark Arts." A twinge of distaste passed over Professor McGonagall's face. "She is, after all, a very attractive woman - "

Harry thought of telling Professor McGonagall about what Torquil had said in his trance, but then he remembered that she was known to have a very low opinion of Divination and people who practised it.

"Perhaps you could send for Miss Messina, Professor?" asked Sirius. Harry could tell he was trying to remain polite. "I would appreciate the chance to speak with her, and then, if there is no truth in my suspicions - "

Professor McGonagall sighed. "Very well. But please bear in mind that she *is* one of our staff, and I would appreciate it if you would refrain from creating a scene in the middle of the school."

"Of course," Sirius said quickly.

Professor McGonagall had heard footsteps approaching along the corridor. She looked out of the classroom door. "Ah - Miss Weasley - a moment please," they heard her say. "Would you find Miss Messina for me - she may be in the staffroom now - and ask her to come here? Tell her that there is a representative of the Ministry of Magic here who would like to speak with her."

Harry and Sirius heard Ginny murmur an acknowledgement, and her footsteps hastening off along the corridor. Professor McGonagall turned back towards Harry and Sirius. "You will excuse me if I don't wait with you - I have a great deal to do." As she turned to leave, she fixed Sirius with a look which suggested to Harry that she was thinking of Sirius not as he was now, but as the rather troublesome boy she had once taught.

When she was gone, Harry and Sirius waited uneasily in the empty classroom. "What are you going to ask her when she gets here?" Harry asked.

"I'm not sure," said Sirius. "But if she really is a Siren, I may need your help."

It seemed like a long time, although it could only have been about ten minutes, before they heard someone hurrying back down the corridor. Harry went to look, but it was not Miss Messina approaching, but Ginny, rather out of breath. "Harry!" she said in surprise. "Is Professor McGonagall - ?"

"She's gone," said Harry.

"Where's Miss Messina?" asked Sirius abruptly, coming to the door. Ginny's eyes widened at the sight of him.

"Sirius! I wondered if it was you!" She smiled. "I'm so glad you came, I hoped when I wrote to you -"

"Yes, but never mind that, Ginny," Sirius interrupted her. "Where's Miss Messina?"

Ginny looked surprised. "Isn't she here yet? I gave her Professor McGonagall's message, and she said she would go at once. Then I thought that perhaps the Ministry person was you, Sirius, so I came back to look -"

"She hasn't come here," said Sirius. "I was afraid of this. She may have taken fright when she heard the Ministry were here to speak to her. Let's get downstairs, quickly."

Harry, Sirius and Ginny made their way back down to the Entrance Hall without meeting Miss Messina on the way. In the Entrance Hall they met Hermione and Neville, back from Care of Magical Creatures. It looked as if Neville was trying to cheer Hermione up, without much success. They both looked curious when they saw Harry, Sirius and Ginny.

"Harry, what happened to you? You never came back to the class," said Neville.

"Sirius! What are you doing here?" Hermione asked in surprise.

"It's a long story," said Sirius. "Hermione, we need you." He glanced at Harry, and jerked his head towards Neville, indicating that he didn't want Neville to be in on this conversation. Harry thought quickly.

"Neville, if you're heading back to Gryffindor Tower, could you dump this on my bed for now?" he asked, pulling out the paper-wrapped book by Charybdis Messina and thrusting it into Neville's hands. Neville looked slightly suspicious, but nodded good-naturedly, and set off. When he had gone, Sirius turned to the other three.

"Hermione, I need to find Charybdis Messina, and we don't know where she is. We need to split up and search the building."

Hermione nodded, but her face had darkened at the mention of Miss Messina's name. "Why do you want to see *her*?"

"Because I think she may be working for Voldemort," said Sirius.

"Voldemort!" Hermione looked staggered. "Really?"

"Even if she isn't, we're pretty sure she's a Siren and she's enchanted Ron," said Harry quickly.

Hermione stood still for a moment, thinking. "A Siren?" she said at last. "I've read about them - but that would mean -" She looked up, and Harry was surprised to see hope on her face, and a brighter expression than she had worn for several days. "I'll check the ground floor," she said quickly. "Meet you back here in a quarter of an hour?"

"Right," said Sirius. "You check the first floor, Harry, Ginny the second and I'll go up to the third. If we haven't found her by the time we meet back here, we'll search the rest of the building."

They separated quickly. As Harry and Ginny ran up the first flight of stairs together, Harry said, "Hermione seemed quite pleased to think that Miss Messina might be a Siren. I wonder why?"

Ginny gave him a pitying look. "Oh, come on, Harry. Don't you think Hermione would like to know Ron was under an enchantment, rather than that he just prefers Miss Messina to her?"

"Oh. Yeah." When they reached the first floor corridors Harry left Ginny and began to search along the rows of rooms. In some rooms there were classes still in progress; others were empty, but there was no sign of Miss Messina anywhere. "Maybe she's left the building?" he wondered as he reached the end of one corridor. "If she thinks the Ministry are on to her, she might have made a run for it."

The last room at the end of that corridor was the room in which they normally had their Musical Enchantments tutorials. Harry pushed the door open cautiously, but when he looked inside, the room was empty. He was about to close the door again when he noticed something lying on the teacher's desk, and went to have a closer look. To his surprise, it was an envelope, addressed in flowing curly letters to "The Ministry of Magic Representative."

Harry hesitated before picking up the envelope. He pulled out his wand and tapped it carefully, but it did not seem to be booby-trapped or bespelled. It was just an envelope. He tucked it into the pocket of his robes and hurried back to the Entrance Hall, where he waited impatiently for the others to join him. Hermione and Ginny arrived, shaking their heads and looking worried.

"No luck," said Ginny.

"I found this," said Harry, showing them the envelope. "It's addressed to Sirius, I think." At that moment, Sirius hurried towards them, and Harry held the envelope out to him. "This was in the Musical Enchantments room."

Sirius raised his eyebrows as he took the envelope. "It's not bespelled," Harry assured him quickly. Sirius still opened the envelope with caution, and pulled out a piece of parchment which was covered in the same writing. Harry recognised the flowing hand as Miss Messina's - it was the same writing she used to make notes on the board in their Musical Enchantments tutorials.

Harry, Hermione and Ginny clustered around Sirius to read the note he held.

"To the Ministry of Magic Representative.

I am told that you wish to speak with me, but unfortunately, I don't wish to speak with you at this time. I wondered if someone would be bright enough to start asking questions about my activities. I feel my mission at Hogwarts may be coming to an end.

Before I go, however, I would like to speak with Harry Potter. It will be necessary for him to come to the furthest dungeon as soon as you inform him of this request. I'm sure he will agree to speak with me - once you tell him that I have his friend, Ron Weasley, with me. A sweet boy, very easily influenced, I must say. Sadly, however, if Harry doesn't come to meet me very soon, or if you summon assistance from the Ministry first, I fear I may have to do something rash - and you may not see that nice boy, Ron, again. Alive, that is. I will await Harry impatiently.

Charybdis Messina."

Sirius looked rather grim when he had finished reading this. Ginny and Hermione looked at each other, open-mouthed. "She's got Ron?"

"And I have to go and get him out," said Harry slowly.

"NO!" said Sirius, Hermione and Ginny together. Sirius continued, "Who knows what she's planning to do to you if you go in there alone? It's too dangerous, Harry."

"But she's got Ron!" Harry said desperately. "I *have* to go. She says she'll kill him if I don't go to meet her."

Without discussing it, they had all started hurrying towards the entrance to the dungeons. "There must be a way we can get him out," said Hermione. She looked anxious, but more determined than she had looked for days - like the old Hermione, before things had started to go wrong. "I've read about Sirens - they use magic to make themselves beautiful, if you make them show themselves in their true form, you can defeat them and break their enchantments."

"Yes, that's true," said Sirius. "What worries me is that Ron is probably acting under her orders. You might have to deal with him as well as her, Harry."

"Ron wouldn't hurt Harry! Would he?" said Ginny in horror.

"There's no telling what he might do if he's enchanted, Ginny," said Sirius, throwing her an understanding look. They had plunged into the darkness of the dungeon corridors, where flickering torches gave a weird light to their progress. The furthest dungeons were some way away, past storerooms, classrooms, doors, more doors -

"I don't think you should go in there alone, Harry," said Sirius, who seemed to have accepted that Harry was going to confront Miss Messina whatever he said.

"There's nothing in her letter to say we can't come with you," Hermione pointed out. "I'm going to, anyway."

"So am I," said Ginny.

"We can't all go," Sirius said firmly. "At least one of us should wait outside - in case - in case something goes wrong. We may need to send for help."

They had reached the door of the furthest dungeon; a heavy, dark, wooden door. It was closed. They stopped and looked at each other.

"I shouldn't really be letting any of you go into danger," said Sirius reluctantly, "but -" He looked at their faces. "I'm going with Harry. Who's going to wait outside?"

Hermione and Ginny looked at each other. It was clear that they both wanted to go with Harry and Sirius. "Ron's my brother," began Ginny, rather defiantly. But her expression changed, as she looked, stricken, at Hermione's face, and dropped her gaze. "No - you'd better go, Hermione."

Ginny turned to Harry and Sirius in anxiety. "Oh, I'm going to hate waiting. You will be careful, won't you?"

"Don't worry, Ginny," said Sirius. "We'll get Ron out of there if we possibly can."

But Ginny had turned to Harry. "Harry - take care - " she said awkwardly.

Harry looked at her and wished again that he could think of the words to tell her all the things he really wanted to tell her. But he couldn't, and he was half-embarrassed to try, with Sirius and Hermione waiting and watching. Instead, he took her hands, as he had done once before, and squeezed them reassuringly. "It'll be all right, Ginny, you'll see."

She looked pleased and shy as she let go of his hands. "I hope so," was all she said.

If we get out of this - *when* we get out of this - I really am going to tell Ginny how I feel, Harry promised himself, as he turned towards the door.

"Ready?" Sirius asked.

Harry and Hermione nodded. The door to the dungeon creaked open, they stepped inside, and Sirius closed it behind them.

* * * * *

When the dungeon door closed behind them, it seemed very dark indeed. Harry realised that he, Sirius and Hermione were standing in a flagged passage. The flagstones beneath their feet were wet, and he could hear water dripping from the walls. A drop fell on Harry's ear, and he wiped it away. There was a corner ahead of them, around which glimmered a slightly brighter light.

Sirius, Harry and Hermione exchanged looks. "Tell me," Harry whispered to Hermione. "How do we get her to show herself in her true form?"

Hermione, her face very serious, whispered the words to him.

"Don't use them yet," Sirius cautioned them in low tones. "Wait for me to give you the signal, then we must all act together. If her magic is powerful enough, it might take all three of us."

Harry and Hermione nodded, and they walked forward, their wands in their hands. Harry moved a few paces ahead of the others, reminding himself that it was him Charybdis Messina really wanted to see. He turned the corner - and stopped, motioning behind his back to indicate that Hermione and Sirius should wait where they wouldn't be seen yet.

In front of him, Harry saw a stone chamber, almost as dark and dank as the passage had been. Against the far wall stood a heavy stone chair, in which Charybdis Messina was sitting gracefully. She wore the midnight blue robes in which Harry had first seen her, her black hair fell over her shoulders, and she looked more beautiful than ever. Her lyre was on her lap. Ron was standing beside the stone chair, gazing at Charybdis as if hypnotized. He did not look up, or even seem to notice that Harry had entered the room. But Charybdis Messina did.

"Ah - Harry Potter!" she exclaimed, sounding delighted. She gazed at Harry with an expression of mocking triumph in her deep blue eyes. "I felt sure you would be joining us soon."

"Yes, I'm here," Harry said, trying to sound unconcerned. "What do you want?"

Charybdis clasped her hands together. "Why, the pleasure of your company, Harry dear." Her gaze was making the scar on Harry's forehead burn again, but he tried to keep his face from revealing this.

"You said that if I didn't come, you'd kill Ron," Harry said loudly, hoping this statement would shock Ron into reacting, but Ron still seemed oblivious to him.

Charybdis put a finger to her lips. "Harry, please! I don't like to resort to such drastic methods - so unladylike - but I knew you would come to help your friend." Caressingly, she wound the hem of Ron's sleeve around her finger, smiling at him. Ron smiled back at her adoringly, and Harry felt sick.

"You're working for Voldemort, aren't you?" he demanded. "Why did he send you here?"

A small frown creased Charybdis's perfect brow. "Really, Harry, I expected better of you. Haven't you guessed? He sent me here to enchant you. We thought it would be so useful for the famous Harry Potter to be in my power. Unfortunately, you proved more resistant to my charms than I thought you would be. So I had to try another approach - and your friend Ron was most receptive." She lifted her lyre from her lap and sent a gentle, rippling chord across the strings. Ron lifted his head. He looked rather as Torquil did when he was in a trance.

"Ron dear, your friend Harry is here," Charybdis said in her low, musical voice.

Ron looked dreamily towards Harry. "Hullo, Harry." Even his voice sounded wrong.

"Ron, listen to me," Harry said urgently. "Whatever she's told you, it's all lies. She's enchanted you. D'you understand?"

"I'm afraid he doesn't," said Charybdis sweetly. "He's quite in my power now. He would do anything for me. Really. Anything." She turned to Ron again. "Would you like to help me, Ron dear?"

Ron nodded, his eyes still curiously blank. Harry hated seeing him like this.

"Then kill Harry," said Charybdis, her voice suddenly very cold.

Unbelievingly, Harry saw Ron reach into his robes and pull out his wand. He moved forward, eyes focussing on Harry, yet his face still expressionless.

"No. Ron. Listen," Harry said, holding his own wand at the ready, trying to keep his voice calm. "You wouldn't -"

Ron lifted his wand.

"NO!" Hermione and Sirius shouted, rushing from the shadows to stand level with Harry, one on each side of him.

"Ron - stop!" Hermione pleaded, her voice breaking. "Don't you know who we are?"

Ron paused. He looked confused, as though he was struggling to wake from a dream.

Charybdis had drawn in her breath sharply when she saw Hermione and Sirius, and her face had darkened. She rose to her feet, lyre in hand. "Ron!" she said sharply. "Do it. Kill him."

Ron looked from Charybdis to Hermione, then back to Charybdis again. She nodded at him. He lifted his wand again -

"Expelliarmus!" Harry, Hermione and Sirius shouted together, aiming their wands at Ron. There was a bang and Ron was thrown backwards against the wall, then fell to the floor in a tangle of lanky arms and legs, and lay there, apparently unconscious. His wand had flown into the air, and Sirius stepped forward to catch it.

"Oh, Ron," Harry heard Hermione whisper. There were tears in her eyes. She raised a trembling hand to her mouth and took a step towards the place where Ron lay, but Harry caught her sleeve and pulled her to a halt. He nudged her warningly, and they both looked at Charybdis.

Charybdis looked furious. She drew herself up to her full height, her eyes blazing. "A foolish thing to do, Harry," she hissed. Then she seemed to recollect herself, narrowed her eyes at Hermione and said nastily, "And I don't remember including you in my invitation, Miss Granger. Really, I despise people who push in where they aren't wanted." She looked at Sirius. "And you are?"

"Sirius Black," said Sirius, sounding, Harry thought, amazingly calm.

Charybdis obviously recognised his name. Her eyes widened, before she said, "Really? I wish I could say I was charmed to meet you, but alas, I can't. Since my tool has failed to carry out his orders -" she nodded at the unconscious Ron, " - I will just have to see to you myself." She struck another chord on her lyre, opened her beautiful mouth and began to chant.

"Mortis...dormus...mortis...dormus..."

With each note, each chord, Harry felt the dungeon fill with the humming power he had noticed the first time Charybdis had sung for them in class. The power seemed to build and build, and with each repetition of the chant Harry felt a strange lethargy filling his arms and legs. He looked at Hermione and Sirius and saw that they were feeling the same effects. Hermione's eyes were closing, and Sirius's knees seemed to be buckling. Harry was starting to feel very, very sleepy...

He forced his eyes open and looked at Charybdis. She gazed back at him triumphantly, and as their eyes met, Harry felt a searing pain across his scar which jolted him into wakefulness. Realising the danger they were in, he turned and shook Hermione.

"Hermione! Cover your ears!"

She blinked drowsily at him. "What?"

"Cover your ears! Don't listen to the music!" Harry grabbed her hands and forced them over her ears. He held them there for a few moments until he saw the alertness begin to return to Hermione's face, then he turned and quickly did the same for Sirius, before pressing his hands to his own ears.

As soon as their ears were covered, Sirius and Hermione started to recover from the effects of the music. Seeing this, Charybdis's beautiful face twisted in a furious snarl and she sang more loudly. Even with his ears covered Harry could feel the throbbing of the music shaking the dungeon as the power of Charybdis's magic increased. "They must be able to hear this all over the castle," was a thought which flitted across his mind, before he turned to exchange urgent looks with Sirius and Hermione. Surely now was the time to make the Siren show herself in her true form?

"Now?" Harry mouthed at them, unable to make himself heard over the music.

Sirius nodded, his face set, and they all held their wands at the ready. Harry saw Sirius's mouth form the word "NOW!"

Standing shoulder to shoulder, Harry, Hermione and Sirius aimed their wands at Charybdis and muttered the same magic words. The words were inaudible, but they recoiled as three flashes of dazzling light erupted from their wands and joined into one blinding bolt of lightning which was aimed straight at the Siren.

As the light hit her, Charybdis's lyre fell from her hand and her singing turned into a agonised shriek, so terrible that they all fell to the floor, covering their ears in pain. Harry, his hands still pressed to his ears, dared to look up, and his eyes widened as he saw an extraordinary sight. The Siren was flailing about and screaming in pain as a terrible transformation took place. Her lovely face was twisting and changing...into the grey mask of a hideous, lined old woman. The beautiful dark blue eyes were fading and becoming cloudy; the long black tresses of hair were becoming grey and straggly. Her slim body was writhing as she became stooped and bent with age. Curses were pouring out of her mouth - her wonderful voice had become quavering and cracked. She was sinking to the floor in a tangle of floating blue robes. Beside him, Harry felt Hermione sitting up to look, and he heard her gasp as the wizened hag who had been Charybdis fell in a crumpled heap on the floor. She writhed for another moment, then lay still, and silent. Silence fell over the dungeon which had been throbbing with noise a few moments earlier. There was a very long pause.

Harry let out a long breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding, and looked at Sirius and Hermione. They were both looking rather stunned. There was a moment when none of them could move, before Sirius climbed rather unsteadily to his feet and moved across to examine the fallen Siren. He knelt beside her, then looked up, straight at Harry. "She's dead."

Harry nodded. He had guessed as much, and though it shocked him to think they had been involved in killing anyone, somehow he couldn't be very sorry in this case. He stood too, and went to look down at the thing that had been Charybdis Messina. "How old do you think she really was?"

Sirius shrugged. "We'll never know for sure - but my guess is that she'd been around for a long, long time, under one name or another. Sirens are very long-lived creatures, but this one was at the end of her time."

A sudden groan startled them. Ron, still lying in a heap by the wall, was stirring at last. Harry started towards him, but Hermione got there first, plunging across the room and dropping on her knees beside him. Her tears were falling on to Ron's face as she touched it gently.

"Charybdis is dead - so the enchantment should be broken," Sirius remarked quietly to Harry.

Ron blinked and opened his eyes, looking completely dazed. "Ron, are you all right?" Hermione asked anxiously.

"H-Hermione? W-What happened?" He looked past her and saw Harry and Sirius regarding him with worried faces. "W-Where are we?" Then he winced, and put a hand to his head. "Ouch! My head's killing me. Why are you crying, Hermione?"

But by this time, Hermione was hugging him so tightly he couldn't find the breath to say anything else, and after looking very confused for a few more moments, Ron hugged her back.

Harry looked away from his two friends, and became suddenly aware that there was a lot of banging and shouting going on from outside the dungeon. "Harry! Are you all right?" That sounded like Ginny.

"We'd better go and explain," said Sirius. "Come on."

Harry nodded, and looked round to beckon to the others, but Ron and Hermione were still wrapped around each other, quite oblivious to him or Sirius and murmuring in tones inaudible to anyone else. He decided to leave them for now, and followed Sirius out into the short passage and then to the door.

Ginny was not the only person waiting outside the dungeon door. There was quite a crowd assembled as Harry and Sirius emerged wearily into the corridor. Ginny flung herself at Harry. "You're safe! What did you do? Where's Ron?"

"He's fine - Hermione's looking after him." Harry opened his arms to her, and hugged her tightly. He buried his face in the top of her red head and breathed in the smell of her hair. It felt good to be hugged, and not many people had embraced Harry in his life so far. When Mrs. Weasley hugged him, he almost wanted to cry because it made him think about the mother he didn't have. When Hermione hugged him, he felt a warmth of friendship towards her. But when Ginny hugged him now, he suddenly wanted very badly to get her alone and kiss her. However, looking over her head he saw all the people around them and he decided that might have to wait until a little later. Professor McGonagall was heading for himself and Sirius with a glint in her eye that said, "I want a full explanation of all this." Madam Pomfrey was close behind her, obviously hoping that there would be some casualties who needed treating. And a lot of students, drawn by the noise, were clearly longing to find o ut what had been going on. Harry released Ginny gently, exchanged glances with Sirius, and opened his mouth to start explaining. By the look on Professor McGonagall's face, the explanation would have to be a good one.

Several hours and a great deal of explaining later, Harry looked around the group which was gathered in a small sitting room that led off Professor Dumbledore's own office at the top of a tower. Professor Dumbledore, summoned from London by an urgent owl from Professor McGonagall, was sitting in his own armchair, nodding and stroking the golden feathers of his phoenix, Fawkes. Sirius, Harry and Ginny were sitting in other armchairs, feeling grateful for a chance to relax after the events of the day. Ron and Hermione were sitting close together on a small sofa, Hermione with her hand on Ron's arm as if to make sure he didn't run off with any other passing Sirens. Madam Pomfrey had wanted to keep Ron in the hospital wing overnight, but Professor Dumbledore had told her he wanted Ron present when they talked about what had happened, so she had contented herself with putting a bandage on his head. Ron had been totally confused at first. He didn't seem to remember much about the days during which he had been enchanted, but now he had found out about the way he had behaved, he was inclined to be very ashamed of himself. Much to Hermione's pleasure, one of the first things he had done was to throw Charybdis Messina's book into the common room fire.

"Interesting," Professor Dumbledore nodded, as Harry told him about Torquil's trance and the warning he had given them. "Very talented young man. I wonder if he would be interested in the Divination job when Professor Trelawny retires?"

"Well, it was lucky he did warn us, Professor," said Harry. "I remembered what he said about not listening to the Siren's music - if we hadn't covered our ears we might all have been in her power."

"Lucky you were so quick-witted, Harry," said Sirius. "I'm afraid Hermione and I were succumbing pretty fast."

"My scar kept hurting, and it stopped her from hypnotizing me," Harry explained.

"And lucky for you, Mr. Weasley," Professor Dumbledore said to Ron, "that you have friends who were willing to risk themselves to save you."

Ron blushed scarlet with embarrassment. "I must have looked like an idiot," he mumbled.

"You did," said Hermione firmly. "A complete idiot." Then she gave him a little smile. "But we forgive you."

"Well, well, enchantments can be powerful things," said Dumbledore, smiling faintly. He turned to ask Sirius another question, and while everyone else was listening to them, Harry leaned sideways towards Hermione.

"Are you really going to go to Slovakia?" he murmured, not loudly enough for anyone else to hear.

Hermione pulled a face at him. "There are closer colleges I can go to," she whispered back. "I asked Professor McGonagall this evening to throw away my Petrzalka application."

"What's that?" asked Ron, becoming aware that they were talking.

Harry and Hermione exchanged glances. "Nothing," they said in unison, and grinned. Not for the first time that day, Ron looked confused.

Dumbledore turned his attention to the younger members of the party. "It's getting late," he said, looking at them over his half-moon spectacles. "Madam Pomfrey won't be pleased with me if I keep you up talking after such a busy day. Sirius, I suppose you will have to report back to the Ministry on all this tomorrow, but I hope you'll be our guest for tonight. Would you care for a drink?"

The four students recognised their cue to leave, and got up from their seats. They made their way down the spiral stairs and walked towards Gryffindor Tower. "Are you sure your head isn't hurting still?" Hermione asked Ron.

"It's fine, don't fuss," Ron told her. "But I must say, I'm pretty tired," he added, yawning and leaning against her shoulder.

Harry and Ginny were walking behind them. "Are you tired?" Harry asked her.

"Not very," said Ginny, "but then, I didn't have to go into that dungeon and deal with that horrible - Thing." She looked affectionately at Ron's back. "I'm so glad he's back to his old self again - even if he does drive me mad sometimes."

"Yeah," Harry agreed. He took a deep breath and continued awkwardly, "The thing is - if you're not too tired - would you like to go for a walk?"

"Now?"

"Yes," Harry said firmly. He signalled to Hermione to go on without them, then took Ginny's hand and started towing her back in the other direction. "You see, I've got something very important to say to you, and I don't want to wait any longer."

The End

 

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