Fifteen year old Rubeus Hagrid moved hesitantly through the Forbidden Forest, stopping now and then to listen, and to sniff the air. He muttered to himself from time to time, cursing his clumsiness, cursing the loss of his wand, cursing the circumstances that led him here, heaving a sad sigh every so often. The forest was dark, even in the daytime, and dusk was not far off. He'd chosen this day because, outside of the forest, the skies were clear, and the moon would be full, making the trek safe - or as safe as it could be, given he was venturing deeper into the forest than he'd dared before.

There were tales of beasts within her boundaries - creatures he would dearly love to see, certain they could not be as dangerous as Headmaster Dippet made them out to be. "More likely misunderstood - like me," he muttered. Still, he glanced about nervously, keeping an eye out for thestrals, centaurs, vampires, and… werewolves… rumored to frequent the darker interior. He was not there to see any of those. No. He was looking for a friend.

He'd been accused of raising werewolf pups under his bed in school, the year before he was expelled. Fortunately, the Care of Magical Creatures professor had shaken his head in exasperation and corrected the student making the accusation. "There are no such things as werewolf 'pups'," he had chided. "If two werewolves were to have offspring - which, frankly, is unheard of - they'd be human. Lycanthropy is acquired, not genetic. Any fool student your age should know that!"

Later, the same boy had accused him of wrestling trolls in the Forbidden Forest. Rube snorted at the recollection, then glanced upward, looking to see the sky through the thickly interwoven branches, and hastened his step. "Where are you, ya' hairy beast?" he grumbled. He had no idea, really, where he was going. He was acting on conviction alone - that his friend had to have survived, that he would have headed to the forest, that nothing within could have harmed him.

He'd been just a wee thing, when Rube got him - small enough to easily fit into the pocket of Rube's school robes. The little fellow had been entrusted to him by a traveler he'd met, the first Hogsmeade weekend he'd been able to go, as a third year.

He'd been making friends with a rather feisty hinkypunk at a street stand operated by Magical Menagerie - or so the wizard guarding the stand had claimed - when he'd overheard the stranger talking to the proprietor about dragons. He couldn't help but listen in. "I'd love to see one o' them!" he'd exclaimed. The stranger had eyed him curiously, then nodded to himself. He motioned the 13 year old closer, opened a travel case, reached in arm-pit deep, and pulled out the most beautiful dragon egg the boy had ever seen - not that he'd seen any. In his excitement, he'd peppered the man with questions, with the result that the man - Newt Scamander was his name - had invited him to the Three Broomsticks for tea and treacle tart. When they parted, hours later, the older wizard had entrusted him with the care of his friend.

"Aragog, where are you, ya bloody beast?" he called, forgetting his plan to slip in and out of the forest quiet and unnoticed.

Bushes crashed to his right, and he spun to face the sound, huge paw of a hand going to his side before dropping ineffectively: the wand sheath at his side was empty. "Blimey!" he exclaimed a moment later. "Look a' tha'! Yer a centaur, you are!"

The beast in front of him reared up, pawing at the air angrily before dropping its hooves down nearly on the boy's toes. "You trespass, wizard child!" it spat.

Rube narrowed his eyes. "I don' seem ta' recall any signs sayin' I should stay out!" he stated more bravely than he felt. "Don' suppose yeh got a deed or sumthin' to prove this part o' th' forest belongs to yeh, do yeh?" His accent always thickened when he was anxious.

The centaur pawed the forest floor, but the boy held his ground.

"Where is your wand, wizard child?"

"That would be none o' yer business," Rube blustered angrily.

The centaur shifted and pawed the ground again. "It is not safe for one as yourself to be in the forest. There are dangerous beasts abroad - not just this night, but all nights."

"I jus' may be lookin' fer one o' them so-called dangerous beasts."

The centaur stood still and glared at him. "Do not think you are a match for the beasts of the forest, wizard child - with or without your wand!" He eyed the boy a moment. "What beast do you seek, to venture so deeply into the forest on the night of the full moon?"

The boy glanced to his right and left. "So it's true, then - werewolves live in the forest?"

The centaur snorted and reared back angrily, bringing its hooves down so close to Rube's boots that he finally backed up. "Some of your kind, turned wolf, are dangerous - even to one as large as yourself. I ask you again - what creature do you seek?"

"He's not dangerous. He's probably scared. He might not e'en be alive anymore," the young wizard admitted. Then, realizing he had not answered the centaur's question, he added, "He's an acromantula. But he's not wild!" he hastened to add. "He's a friend. Least ways, he was…" He trailed off forlornly.

The centaur considered a moment. "I have spoken with this beast friend of yours. He lives deep in the forest, in a hollow. But it is far from here, and -"

He was cut off by an eerie howl.

"You must leave, friend of acromantulas. The forest is not safe this night. If you seek your friend again, make it in the morning light - and not at the full moon." He looked up at the sky. "We will meet again, wizard child. May you survive the encounter. Now - begone, or I cannot promise you will survive this one!"

The howl sounded again, and was answered by another.

"Go!" the centaur ordered, and Rubeus turned to comply. Then he turned back. "His name is Aragog. If you see him… if you see him, tell him… tell him I'll come visit." Then he turned and trudged back the way he had come, guarded, though he knew it not, by the centaur at his back.

Mid-morning the following day found the boy chopping wood behind the rough cottage he'd been allowed to use as his home these past several months. His breath puffed out of him in great clouds. Despite his bulk, and the animal skin coat he'd fashioned for himself that fall, he was cold. Without magic to keep it going, the fire in his hearth had gone out overnight, and he'd woken to icicles in his scruffy beard, and his breakfast of muffins frozen solid. He'd fought back tears, wrapped his great mitts in torn bits of blanket, and left to fetch more firewood.

He had to be careful - he had only so many matches, and his meager pay was barely enough for food, and the lake was frozen over, so he could not fish… and his newly planted garden had barely yielded a month's worth of vegetables, and he was still learning to use the bow he'd made. His aching stomach was empty, and his toes, fingers, and nose were frozen, and he could not remember ever having been so miserable - not even the day he'd been expelled and his wand snapped, or the day his da' had died, two years past.

If only he had family to go to - but his mother had abandoned him and his da' when Rube was only two, to return to her clan. His father, who Rube had adored, raised him alone, and they loved each other. It was his father who had taken to calling him "Rube", when he was still small enough that his da' could muss his hair as he said it. It was a shock when he'd died from a backfired spell, Rube's second year at Hogwarts. Rube had returned home that summer to find that the house they had shared was being sold to pay his father's debts. The buyers had considerately allowed him to stay until the start of school. He'd thought to travel a bit, the following summer, maybe find his mother's clan, earning his way by doing work that required more strength than magic, since he was still a minor, but that plan had been scuttled when he was expelled - for something he was not guilty of.

It had all come down to the word of a prefect against his - and who would believe a half-giant third year with a known fondness for rare and unusual beasts rather than the word of a well-spoken, top student like Tom Riddle - no matter that the older boy was as slick and slippery a Slytherin as the school had ever seen. He had the Headmaster wrapped around his little finger. And no matter that Professor Dumbledore had championed the third year. Dippet had condemned Rube to expulsion. It was Professor Dumbledore whose pleadings had afforded Rube the opportunity to at least stay on the grounds, provided he kept the grounds neat and free of any vermin the cats, owls, and other allowed beasties didn't catch.

A tear slipped down Rube's cheek and froze before it met his beard. But he turned sorrow to anger, and anger to power to fuel the swing of his axe. He split the last bit of wood with a vengeance, thinking of splitting the head of the bloody prick who had gotten him expelled. Then he shook himself out of it, shrugging away what couldn't be changed, and began dragging the wood to the cottage, where he piled it against the back wall, wishing he could spell away the rats and snakes that liked to make their home in the woodpile - just far enough away to not bite him when he reached through the window to snag a piece.

Shortly after returning to his cabin, having used two of his meagre supply of matches to start a fire in the grate, he was munching on his thawed-out muffin and drinking a spot of weak tea when a knock sounded at his door, startling him. He pushed back the stump he used as a stool and strode to the door, listening.

Not a single soul had bothered to visit Rube in the months since his expulsion - except once Headmaster Dippet came down to lecture him on his responsibilities, and to caution him against attempting any wandless magic. Rubeus had taken that to be a threat of expulsion from the grounds. And Professor Dumbledore had come down twice to check on him, before the year had gotten him busy with teaching and Head of House duties. Wishing for the thousandth time that he had his wand, Rube picked up a long staff that leaned in the corner nearest the door, held it protectively in front of him, and cautiously cracked the door open.

"Professor Dumbledore, sir!" he exclaimed.

"Ah, Mr. Hagrid! You are in! I wonder if I might impose on your hospitality for a spot of tea. I was out by the lake, consulting with the merpeople, and seriously underestimated the chill. I thought I might stop by to warm up."

"Er…" Rube narrowed his eyes in confusion. "What abou' a warming charm, Professor?"

"Ah! So good to see your studies remain in the forefront of your mind, my boy! Perhaps we could discuss what else you remember over that cup of tea?" Dumbledore peered hopefully past Rube's bulk into the small cabin.

"Oh! Of… of course, Professor. Ah… come in! I'm afraid I... " Rube was about to apologize for the lack of seating when Dumbledore drew his wand and, with a wave, conjured a comfortably stuffed chair. He sank down into it with a relieved sigh, and raised his wand again.

"I hope you will forgive an old man his foibles, but my bones are beginning to feel the chill more than when I was younger, I'm afraid," he said, and the fire burned brighter, filling the room with warmth.

Rube stifled a sigh, knowing he'd have to chop more firewood. He swung his small kettle over the fire to warm the water - it was fuller than it had been moments before. He tried to squelch the mixed envy and anger at the Professor's oh-so-casual display of the magic that was denied him. He busied himself making tea in the cup that had also appeared on his rough table, Dumbledore having noted Rube had only the one. Finally, when he could avoid it no more, he sat down himself, to a reheated cuppa.

Dumbledore heaved a satisfied sigh. "That is ever so much better, Rubeus. You don't mind if I call you Rubeus, do you?"

"I can't stop you, so I suppose it don't make no difference," Rube muttered.

Dumbledore frowned.

"Sorry, P'fessor," Rube said, uncomfortably aware he was treating his only defender with disrespect. "I ain't had many visitors down here. Matter of fact, ain't had any, other 'n you."

Dumbledore nodded sadly. "That is quite unfortunate, my boy, though…" Here he paused and seemed to stare off into nothing. "Certain of our students will be leaving us, come June. I should…" He paused again. "I should like to invite you up to the castle," he went on, regret tingeing his tone, "but… it is not quite safe for you there, yet, I am afraid."

Rube's heart sank, and he sighed, and looked down at his hands, trying to avoid Dumbledore's eyes. He could not help the sniffle that escaped him.

"I know, my boy, I know. I feel much the same way."

They were silent some minutes. Finally, Dumbledore said, "Now, tell me, young Hagrid - how much of your studies do you remember?"

There followed the strangest conversation Rube could ever recall having. The Professor touched on every class Rube had taken before being expelled, questioning his recall of generalities as well as specifics. Finally, Dumbledore sat back, eyes unfocused again, tapping his lips with one finger.

"Er… top off your tea for yeh, P'fessor?" Rube asked after a few long moments of silence.

"Ah - pardon me, Rubeus. Yes, please - if you would."

Rube scraped the stump back from the table and lumbered to his feet. The kettle had gone cold, and needed to be refilled to boot. "I'll be jus' a moment," he said and, lifting the kettle from its hook, headed outside to the water pump. He shook his head while pumping fresh water into the kettle. Dumbledore was often obscure at the best of times, but the purpose of his visit this morning eluded Rube. Shrugging, he gave up trying to make sense of it, and returned to the cabin. Dumbledore contemplated him from where he sad, and Rube felt awkward as he set about hanging the kettle to boil once more.

"I was wondering," Dumbledore, lightly and seemingly casually, said to his back, "whether you might have retained possession of your wand."

Rube gripped the handle of the kettle tightly. "They snapped my wand," he said gruffly, not turning around.

"I am aware of that, Mr. Hagrid," the Professor said quietly. "I wonder, though, if the pieces of it remain in your possession…"

Rube had turned as the Professor spoke, and now his eyes betrayed him, darting to the shelf above his bed, and the rough wooden box that sat there so innocently.

"Ah," said Dumbledore. "May I… I realize this may be painful for you, my boy, and I am sorry, but… may I see it?" It was asked gently, carefully.

"Yer not goin' to take it from me?" Rube asked. "I ain't done nothin' with it. It don' work anymore. I'm not hurtin' nothin', keeping it. I jus' -"

"Rubeus, Rubeus," Dumbledore interrupted Rube's desperate rambling. "I assure you, I have no intention of taking it from you! In fact, if I may be so bold, I am of a mind to do the reverse." His eyes twinkled slightly, though his face remained somber. "I had thought to return it to you."

Rube frowned in confusion, but Dumbledore said, "May I?" and when Rube nodded his wary consent, held out his hand. The box flew to his hand, summoned wordlessly.

"Sit, please, my boy," Dumbledore said absently.

Rube did so, watching with trepidation as Dumbledore set the box on the table.

"Nicely fashioned," Dumbledore said, running his hand over the box and turning it to admire the hand-hewn wooden hinges. "I may commission you to make me something similar, if you are amenable."

Rube nodded in mute, if astonished, agreement.

"Fine, fine," Dumbledore said. He pulled the peg that held the hasp closed, and opened the box.

Two bits of oak lay within, tenderly arranged on a bed of soft cloth, aligned as if they could be joined by force of will alone. A delicate white strand connected the two bits, slightly bent, so that no jarring of the box would strain or break it.

"Unicorn hair," Rube said, unnecessarily.

Dumbledore nodded. "So I see. Well, that confirms my thinking," he said, as if to himself. His eyes flicked sharply to Rube's. "What we do here must never be revealed," he said. "Do you understand?"

"Er… what'r' we doin'?" Rube asked.

"Do you trust me, Mr. Hagrid?" Dumbledore asked.

"A course I do!" Rube said.

"You must be very sure," Dumbledore insisted. He held Rube's eyes until the boy nodded again.

"I do, P'fessor. I trus' you more 'n anyone. Least ways, anyone still alive," he amended.

"Fair enough, Mr. Hagrid. Then I must ask your word - as a wizard - that you will never reveal what we do here."

Rube's lips quirked in momentary amusement before he sobered. "I give you my word, P'fessor, tho I ain't much of a wizard, am I?"

"You are as much a wizard as I am, young Hagrid, and likely a better man."

Before Hagrid could protest this, Dumbledore drew his wand. He caught Rube's eyes with his until Rube nodded. "I promise, P'fessor," he said again.

"Then… let us see…" and Dumbledore tapped his wand lightly on the pieces of Rube's broken wand, murmuring softly, "Reparo!"

There was a flash of light so bright it blocked Rube's vision for a moment. Then, slowly, the bits of his broken wand drew together, as if pulled by the strand of unicorn hair, and, before their eyes, knit themselves together so tightly that no trace of break, no wound, no scar remained.

"I… is it… How did you…?" Rube stumbled over his words, then lifted disbelieving eyes to Dumbledore's.

For just a moment, he thought Dumbledore looked troubled, but then the man raised twinkling eyes to look at Rube and said, jovially, "Well, that went rather better than I had expected!"

Astonished, Rube looked from Dumbledore to his wand and back again. "P'fessor… you're… you'll be in trouble, if the Ministry… Yeh shouldn't'a' done that, P'fessor Dumbledore, sir! I ain't worth it… an'... an'... an' they'll jus' take it away, if they see me wavin' it around."

"True. True," Dumbledore said, as if he hadn't thought of that before. "Best to hide it, I think, wouldn't you say?" He looked around Rube's cabin. "Perhaps…" He summoned a thin stick of

firewood to his hand. "I think this should be sufficiently obscure…" He winked at Rube, and waved his wand. The stick of firewood transfigured into a blue parasol. He waved it again, and the parasol turned pink, with a bit of frill at the edges.

Rube's eyebrows disappeared into his hairline. "P'fessor, I can't…"

"Now, now, Rubeus, who would ever question a man's parasol, after all?" Dumbledore said. He twisted the parasol's handle and it came off, revealing a hollow tube. Humming contentedly, he went to take up Rube's wand, but stopped when he noticed Rube's fingers twitching. "I suppose we had better make sure it works, don't you think?" he said kindly, gesturing to the wand. He waited courteously as Rube stared at the wand as if afraid to pick it up. "Go on, my boy. I imagine it is as eager for your touch as you are for its."

Trembling from head to toe, Rube raised his wand hand and held it over the box. "Accio!" he whispered, and the oak and unicorn hair leapt to his hand. Tears formed in his eyes and fell down his cheeks - tears of shock and joy, this time. "P'fessor…" he gasped, gripping his wand and gazing at Dumbledore with something like adoration.

Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Now, now, Mr. Hagrid - just righting a wrong, I suspect," he said, but he pulled a pocket square from his robes, blew his nose, and wiped his eyes. "Now," he said, "I suggest you try a few more spells - just to make sure your knowledge is still intact," he insisted. "Perhaps you could transfigure that stump you are sitting on into a chair? I suggest something rough-hewn that you might have fashioned yourself, given time and tools."

Rube shook his head in shock. "I might be a bit rusty," he said, hesitant to try and fail in front of his benefactor.

"Not to worry, young Hagrid," Dumbledore said reassuringly. "I will be happy to help you along the way, should you require any aid. Please - " and he gestured that Rube should stand and begin.

It took several tries before they were both satisfied. Rube's first attempt yielded a bundle of sticks, and his second collapsed before he could put any weight on it at all. His third was sturdy but awkwardly shaped. His fourth too polished by half. Finally, on the fifth try, he produced something both rustic and sturdy enough to support not only his current bulk, but his likely growth.

"Well done, my boy, well done!" Dumbledore beamed in satisfaction, while Rube wiped the sweat from his face. "Now," he continued, "I suggest that you make additional improvements to your living quarters. But remember, Mr. Hagrid, technically, you are not allowed to do magic, and as I am not yet Headmaster -" and here he winked at the boy, "my ability to protect you, should you be discovered, is limited. However, I trust your discretion." He smiled warmly at Rube, who continued to wipe at his eyes, which could not seem to keep from watering.

"Sorry, P'fessor - it mus' be th' smoke from th' fire," he said, though the cabin air was clear.

"I'm sure, my boy, I'm sure. Now - I wonder if you would allow me…"

Rube handed over the wand without hesitation. Dumbledore fitted it into the hollow shaft of the pink parasol, sealed shut the handle, and handed it to Rube. "Well - go on! Give it a wave!" he suggested quietly.

Rube swung the parasol inexpertly, pointing it at the fire. "Incendio minima," he whispered. The fire flared briefly before dying down to its former level. He smiled. At Dumbledore's nod, he pointed the wand at various other objects, trying out a cushioning charm on his bed, a straightening spell on the items hanging from his rafters, and a cleaning spell on the floor.

"Enough for now, I think," Dumbledore said at last, and Rube lowered his wand - er - parasol, reluctantly. "Remember, Mr. Hagrid, you are not to use your… parasol… where the use of magic would be detected as out of place by the Ministry. You are safe here, I think, provided you use discretion and do not become overly dependent on your magic for daily chores and such. The ambient magic of the castle, her inhabitants, and the grounds should sufficiently protect you. Be especially careful if you leave the grounds," he cautioned, "but I do not think it wise for you to be without your magic at all, so take to carrying your parasol. Perhaps you could claim a slight sun allergy… Let me know if we need to conjure up some spots or blotches."

Rube listened earnestly, nodding emphatically at each point. "I understan', P'fessor," he reassured Dumbledore. "I won' do nuthin' to put you in danger."

Dumbledore smiled sadly. "Thank you, Mr. Hagrid. However, I am more concerned about your own safety. If you have any concerns, please come to me forthwith. Use a school owl, if need be."

"I will, P'fessor. I will!"

"One last thing, I think, and then I must be back at the castle for dinner. Gabby!" he called softly.

A crack sounded in Rube's small cabin, and a house elf appeared. "You called, Master Dumbledore, sir?" the small being said.

"Yes, Gabby. I wonder if it might be possible to bring Rubeus a serving or two of that wonderful meal you and your brethren are preparing for this evening?"

"Of course, Professor! Gabby will be right back!" A crack announced the elf's disapparition. Mere seconds passed before the elf returned, laden heavily with a tureen of stew, fresh-baked bread, vegetables, and treacle tart, which it lofted to Rube's table with a wave of its hand.

Warm things steamed in the cabin's cool air, and delicious scents wafted their way to Rube's nose. His mouth watered and his stomach rumbled embarrassingly. Dumbledore smiled sympathetically. "It does smell good, does it not?"

"Does Master Dumbledore or Master Hagrid require anything else?" the elf squeaked.

"I ain't no master!" Rube protested.

"Master Hagrid is guardian of the beasts and beings of the Forest," the elf said, eyeing Dumbledore slyly. "House elves is beholden to all who work for Hogwarts, so Master Hagrid is a master to the elves."

Dumbledore twinkled madly. "There you have it, Rubeus! If the house elves say it, it must be so! Gabby," he said, turning to the elf. "You will answer Master Hagrid's call, should he need anything, and see to it that he is provided with appropriate food and drink."

"No," he said, forestalling Rube's protest. "I trust you will make it at least appear that you are supplying your own table," he said, gesturing at Rube's bow and then to the pitiful remains of his garden, seen out the window. "But for now, at least, you will allow me this. We cannot have the guardian of the forest starving, now, can we? Gabby will inform a select few other house elves, who we can trust to be discrete, that you are to be afforded full access, should you need or desire anything."

"Gabby will be doing that, Masters!" the house elf reassured them, and then, snapping his fingers, disapparated again, with a sharp CRACK!

"Now," Dumbledore said, clapping his hands and hoisting himself to his feet, "I believe that is enough for us to be getting on with, Mister Hagrid." He smiled warmly at the boy and held out his hand. Rube stared at it a moment before taking it in his own huge paw.

"Thank you, sir," he whispered, choking back tears.

"I hope you will have a very Happy Christmas, Mister Hagrid," Dumbledore replied. "Happy Christmas." He turned back at the door to the cabin, and waved his wand at the plush chair he had conjured an hour or so earlier, and it banished with a soft pop!

Rube stood where he was, frozen in disbelief at what the last hour or more had brought about, before his rumbling stomach and twitching nose recalled him to his dinner, steaming softly on the table. He turned and sat himself gingerly in his new chair, which held his weight admirably. He laid his parasol on the table, patting it protectively.

"Great man, Dumbledore," he murmured to himself. "Great man!" Then he tucked into his dinner, feeling, for the first time in many, many months, something like hope.

The next morning dawned cold and crisp. Rube looked out his windows, checking that no one was about, then hesitantly waved his parasol at the fire, warming it and the leftover stew he had placed under a stasis charm the night before. Before he could eat, however, a knock sounded at his door, for the second time in as many days. Expecting Dumbledore again, he opened the door, a "Good morning, P'fessor!" on his lips, then halted, shaking his head in confusion. A tall, thin, blond-haired wizard dressed in teaching robes concealed under a stout winter robe and hood stood on the top step to his cabin.

"P - P'fessor Boot, sir?" Rube stammered, opening the door wider. "What can I do fer ya? Er - I mean… come in?" he said. He backed away, making room for the man to enter.

The charms professor looked around the one room that held all of Rube's belongings. Rube noted that the man's look sharpened when he caught sight of the parasol, but then he turned back toward Rubeus, his face carefully cheerful.

"Er… can I help you wi' sumthin', P'rfesser?" Rube asked again. Professor Boot stuck his hands in the pockets of his robe, and for a moment, Rube went still, certain he was about to be spelled or hexed. Had the bit of magic he had performed been discovered after all?

"Yes, Hagrid, I was hoping you could," the professor said. "I've been charged with decorating the Great Hall for the holidays, and I was wondering if you could assist me."

Rubeus' mind sifted rapidly through the ramifications of the professor's request. On the one hand, it would be bloody awful to decorate the Great Hall, given he was not allowed to set foot inside it otherwise. And no doubt, he'd have to face his fellow students, whom he had been avoiding as much as they had avoided him. And the professors. And probably the caretaker… and the school's healer. All of whom thought he was guilty of harboring a beast that had murdered a classmate.

On the other hand, it would give him a chance to be truly warm for at least a while, if the task the professor wanted his help with took him inside. Of course, it might not… He sighed. What choice did he have, really? He supposed he had to obey any order, if he wanted to stay. He turned his attention back to the professor, who was bouncing lightly on the tips of his toes.

"Of course, P'fessor. Er… what did you need?"

Professor Boot waved a hand nonchalantly toward the forest. "Christmas trees. Or Yule trees, if you prefer. A dozen should do it, I should think. Find good ones and bring them up to the castle. Or if you prefer, I could go with you… help a bit with a levitation charm." He frowned a bit. "At least until we're in sight of the castle…" His face cleared up. "Yes - that should be easy enough. Nothing Armando need know about." He nodded to himself.

"Uh… pardon me, P'fessor. Not meanin' to question you, but… if Headmaster Dippet…"

Professor Boot waved off his comment. "Nothing to worry about, Rubeus. Any questions and I'll cover for you." He winked and put a finger aside his nose. "Dumbledore is a reasonable man, don't you think? I should imagine decorating will take us right up to the start of dinner. You might as well stay - can't have you traipsing about after dark, now, can we? I'm sure Headmaster Dippet will want to assure your safe return to your cabin, and given you're not allowed to do magic…" He winked again. "And the professors will all be ready to tuck into dinner..."

"Er…"

"Get on with you, lad! Grab your cloak and boots and gloves. And that parasol Dumbledore was telling me he gave you for Christmas. Time's wasting! Must have the trees up and ready to decorate before the evening meal!"