The castle was emptier without about half to two thirds of the students, which was about the usual number that went home over the holidays.
It so happened that none of the Differently Shaped students left, for various and disparate reasons which Harry thought all made the same amount of sense, and all the Weasleys stayed as well. Neville went off home, as did Hermione and Dean, and the first morning after the train had gone Harry found Ron grumbling over a pile of homework.
"They do know what the point of the Christmas holiday is, right?" he asked, glancing up as Harry sat with him. "It's so we don't go stark raving mad over pressure over our OWLs."
"Does it work?" Ginny asked.
"Not with all this bloody homework," Ron told her.
He looked around, frowned, then shrugged.
"Something wrong?" Harry said.
"Oh, just that I was expecting to be told something about language," Ron explained.
"I could do it if you want?" Ginny suggested.
"Nah, it won't be the same," Ron waved her off. "Anyway, if you want to know if it works without doing any homework, ask Fred and George."
"Well, they're nutters, so it clearly doesn't," Ginny decided. "But then again, they were already nutters."
"I think that might actually just be the result of being good at magic," Harry suggested. "I know Hermione's unusually sensible, but look at Dumbledore."
"Blimey, you're right," Ginny said, in tones of awe. "If I get really good at magic I'm going to be really weird."
"There are worse things to be, though, like boring," Harry opined.
That seemed to be generally accepted, and then Ron asked for a bit of help with his Muggle Studies. They were doing what it was like for Muggles in Victorian Times, and Harry had done that in primary school so he had a sort of set of vague ideas.
There were lots of trains, factories with small children working in them, coal mines, very tall top hats… and explorers, as well, for some reason. It seemed like there were a lot of explorers in Victorian times, but most of the ones Harry could remember seemed to spend their time either naming things after Queen Victoria, naming things after themselves, or getting lost. (Or, in some cases, finding other explorers who'd gotten themselves lost. That was what Harry presumed had been involved with Dr. Livingstone, after all.)
Such was the nature of the calendar for 1995 that Christmas Eve came on a Sunday – just two days after everyone had left for the holidays, in fact – and, since the restrictions about Hogsmeade were relaxed on holidays, the village was full of children getting last-minute presents. The sweet shop was doing a roaring trade as the snow drifted down, as indeed was the book shop, and Harry saw Fred and George taking some last-minute orders for things they'd be delivering early the next morning (probably, though not certainly, in mustelid shapes sneaking around after what would have been curfew had it not been outside term time).
Harry was briefly struck by the realization that he wasn't actually sure if it was curfew outside term time, though after some more thought he decided it probably was. That led to thinking about how he'd been up late once to talk to Dumbledore about something, and that set off a train of thought which had him turning to the fireplace.
"Is it okay if I go through into Diagon Alley?" he asked Sirius, who was doing something or other on Harry's Game Boy.
"Sure," Sirius agreed. "Don't go off with any suspicious strangers or set fire to anyone who doesn't deserve it."
A quick trip into Diagon Alley turned into a slightly longer trip, because Harry had to wait to see if what he wanted done could be done and then for it to get done, but he was finished by half past four in the afternoon and was there in time to see Sirius proudly show off that he'd got a lot of points on Tetris.
Then it was dinner at Hogwarts, which was that peculiar case of 'I don't want to eat very much, because tomorrow is a feast', and everyone went off to bed to wait for Christmas Day.
Or, at least, almost everyone.
Harry waited until it was after eleven PM, after everyone else had gone upstairs to the dorms, then opened the portrait hole and left with a specially prepared package.
Checking the Marauders' Map occasionally, Harry made his way down through one of the secret passages – the one which made it so you could skip a floor on the way up or down – and put down the parcel just in front of an unassuming washbasin. Then it was right back up to the Common Room, map and picture out and mirror ready, and at midnight he tapped the blacked-out mirror he'd inherited.
"Empress?" he asked.
"You seem a little early," she said, sounding amused. "If I am keeping track of the days correctly, it is the night of Christmas Eve where it becomes Christmas Day. Is that right?"
"That's right," Harry confirmed.
"I'd thought I had such a good track of the days, until you corrected me," Empress said. "It is good to know I have made no mistakes since."
"Actually I think that's Muggles' fault," Harry frowned. "A Pope called Gregory changed the calendar hundreds of years ago, because Christmas wasn't anywhere near the shortest day of the year any more. It wasn't many days of difference, but that's probably why you got confused."
"Well… it's nothing like what Salazar was thinking of, that is certain," Empress chuckled.
"Oh!" Harry said, remembering. "Do you know where you found this mirror – I mean, when I first left it for you?"
Empress confirmed that she did.
"I left something for you there," Harry explained. "Because it's Christmas. I thought you should have a gift, like everyone else gets gifts at Christmas."
After a moment of silence, Harry went on. "Go ahead and have a look. I can wait."
There was an extended period of slithering after that, and Harry transferred his attention to the Map to make sure nobody was anywhere near where Empress was about to come out.
It seemed safe, and after a few minutes she appeared on the map. Then paused, for longer than it had taken her to reach it in the first place.
"Do you like it?" Harry asked, worried.
He thought the idea was good, at least – he'd asked the man who'd made Ron's griffin statuette to take some of the ones he'd made and make them much more durable, as well as enlarging them and making it so they didn't have to be touched by a wand to activate, just a magical creature.
It had been sort of expensive, but Bestiary Frakes had seen it as a challenge, and accordingly Harry had got Empress a three foot golden fire-lizard to brighten things up a little in the Chamber of Secrets.
"...do you know, Harry," Empress began, after several minutes of silence, "I think this is the first time I have ever had a present."
"It's not a problem," Harry tried to say, but Empress kept going.
"I think the reason it has affected me so much is that it shows how different you are to Salazar, and to the Gaunts, and to Riddle," she said. "So here is a secret."
She hissed, long and melancholy. "I am enchanted. By Salazar, since birth, and it means that if anyone gives me an unambiguous order in the language of the serpents I must obey it. That is how it was that I killed at Riddle's orders fifty-three years ago."
"And that's why it counted as him killing her, not you," Harry countered. "I already talked about that with Dumbledore, a long time ago."
He frowned, thinking about how she'd phrased that. "When you say unambiguous, you mean something that's not just a part of conversation?"
Empress told him that it was, and Harry started thinking deeply about that.
It felt like there was something there to solve that problem…
For the next half hour or so, Harry was mostly occupied with reading out a bit more of their Pern book rather than deducing a solution to Empress' problem.
He couldn't quite shake the idea that he'd read something a bit like it before, though.
They were now into The White Dragon, which Harry had suggested they should read before going on to Dragondrums, and that meant following Jaxom and Ruth quite closely. It was a slightly different sort of story, especially since with Jaxom they were following someone who was a dragonrider and wasn't one at the same time, and it was nearly one in the morning when Harry apologized and said he should get to bed soon.
He didn't go straight to bed, though. He went upstairs to his tent, but instead of lying on his hoard and going to sleep Harry instead began rummaging through it and looking for the books which reminded him of the problem Empress had.
The first was The Return of the King, where Eowyn and Merry were the ones to fight and kill the Witch-King of Angmar because there was a rule that 'no man' could kill him. It wasn't quite what Harry was after, though, and he moved on from there to one of his Dungeons and Dragons books.
The spell Geas (or Quest) was sort of right, because it was about making rules that someone could obey or disobey, but it said that either there had to be a way out of the rules or it only lasted a year or so. It was also just something that made someone feel really sick if they didn't follow it, but the way that Empress described her problem sounded a lot worse than that.
Next Harry moved on to Vows and Honor (which felt like it should be Vows and Honour, but book titles didn't get changed to British apparently) where the sword Need had a geas on it that did sometimes force the characters to do things. Skimming through Harry was mostly reminded that they couldn't work around it, though, which wasn't what he was aiming for.
About twenty minutes past one, Harry finally found what he was thinking of in The Last Command. Mara Jade had been ordered by the Emperor to kill Luke Skywalker, and she'd managed to solve it by killing Luuke Skywalker instead… which wasn't quite a solution to Empress' problems by itself, but it did sort of point towards one.
Harry decided to let the idea fizz, and curled up for a somewhat belated night's sleep.
His dreams were mostly full of Mara Jade running in with a pink lightsaber to save Empress from the Witch King.
"Morning!" Ron called. "Mind if I come in?"
"Oh, um… sure," Harry replied, shaking himself awake and yawning. "Sorry, I got a bit of a late night last night."
He stretched his wings, flexing his spine down as he did, and then his forelegs and hindlegs in sequence. That about handled his morning routine, and when he went into the kitchen of his tent Ron was already piling presents on the table.
"They left yours on your bed this time," Ron explained. "I thought I'd bring them in. Sorry if I woke you up, mate."
"It's fine," Harry replied, glancing at the clock.
Ron handed him the first one with a Harry label, and they got going in companionable silence.
Neville's present was a Bonsai tree in a special pot, which came with a label that said all the plant would need was watering once a week. Neville's accompanying letter explained that it was something he'd found in reading about Herbology, and that he knew not everyone had as much time to care for plants as him so he'd found a way to get Harry a plant that looked nice without needing much care.
Sirius, meanwhile, had managed to find a computer game that was about the Discworld. He admitted that it would be quite an adventure finding a way to play it, and that if they couldn't work out whatever it was that was stopping things like TV screens working at Hogwarts then perhaps Harry would need to play it over the holidays at Grimmauld Place, but Harry was pleased by it anyway – not least because it showed in a very pleasant way that Sirius genuinely cared what Harry liked – and there was also a small Wizarding travel board game set, which interrupted the present opening for ten minutes while Harry and Ron played two games of Fox and Geese.
It was much easier to play those odd side-games than it would have been with a Muggle set, because in the Wizarding version you just had to tell it which one of the games you wanted to do and the pieces would arrange themselves accordingly.
Ron got some good presents as well, like a Game Boy of his own from Sirius – this time along with a cartridge for a game starring a squirrel, which Harry thought was a bit on the nose but Ron just sniggered before asking to borrow one of Harry's games some time.
Harry had got him a book, and unfortunately he hadn't been able to find anything quite as good as the Ignition book about rocket science. Instead he'd opted for an annual from the Beano, which Ron had a quick look through and pronounced as very funny even if he didn't know who most of the characters were, and Harry considered that to be pretty much a win.
He'd also considered a book about chemistry with a title involving bromide, but when he'd looked through it in the second hand bookshop Harry hadn't been able to unscramble most of the oblique references to Muggle life. He didn't want to give Ron something that would probably qualify simultaneously as an Alchemy and Muggle Studies NEWT course, so the comic annual was pretty much the best thing available.
Then Ginny flew in to tell them that it was lunch soon, which surprised Harry because he hadn't realized quite how many games they'd been playing on the travel board game set.
It was sort of a Hogwarts tradition to have a snowball fight on Christmas Day, even more than the usual way in which people liked to have snowball fights when there was snow to fight with, and after a quick lunch of scrambled egg, smoked salmon and toast Harry went out to do his bit. So did almost everyone else who'd stayed in Hogwarts over the holidays, and the first warning Harry had that the Smiths were among them was when two dozen snowballs shot vertically upwards from behind a drift – then split up, and went flying in to hit every single person nearby.
"That's one of ours!" Fred shouted. "We've got patent pending on that!"
Anna replied with a scoff, then tapped the drift with her wand before vanishing back into the snow.
Melody raised a hand. "I'm new at this. Should we be worried?"
"Only if the snow starts to tremble," George informed her.
The snow started to tremble.
"Run!" Ron shouted, and then the whole snowdrift exploded.
Snow went absolutely everywhere, some of it even hitting Isaac who was flying high overhead, and the largest amount of it knocked Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail over in a chorus of shouts and barks.
"That deserves revenge, that does," Ron said.
He nodded at Ginny. "Keep an eye on them for us, will you?"
"Me?" Ginny asked. "Why me? Why not Harry?"
"Because Harry's the one who can go and recruit help," Ron explained.
He put his hands around his mouth. "Oi! Temporary truce to get the Smiths!"
"Excellent idea!" Ernie called back, shaking his own snow out of his hair.
"Help?" Harry asked, then realized what Ron had to mean.
The Smiths fought bravely (and cleverly, and cunningly, and indeed hard-working-ly), but in the end it was a little hard to compete with so many wizards and witches.
Especially when the dragons Harry had recruited got the hang of accurate bombing, which meant that in the middle of a fight about ten or fifteen kilos of snow would just land on top of someone. The downside of that was that they didn't actually stop, and once Taira and Anna surrendered what had been an 'everyone versus the Smiths' snowball fight quickly turned into 'everyone versus the dragons'.
As a dragon, naturally, Harry was on the dragon team. As far as he was concerned they did quite well, overall, and Gary, Sally, Ollie and Nora found the whole thing great fun.
He did have to remove a slightly worrying amount of snow from inside his robes, though.
The Christmas Feast was simply remarkable. All four of the dragons were in attendance, this time, lounging against the walls and on their best behaviour – Nora even hummed along with the choir performance of Simple Gifts – but that was almost like a side detail compared to the food.
Harry was no stranger to some of the ways the Hogwarts House-Elves could combine flavours, like carrots cooked underneath a roast chicken and baked potatoes filled with chopped onion, bacon and cheese, but it was Christmas where they really brought out the specialities. From roast vegetables made with Parmesan cheese, to taking Brussels sprouts and doing them in what Ron said was called a gratin, to a kind of super-sized stuffing with sausage, bread and kale.
Then there was the Christmassy gnocchi which was made of Brussels sprouts and served with a bread-sauce sauce, one of those things it seemed like only wizards could have come up with, and somewhat incongruously a giant Christmas pizza that had entire sausages and roast potatoes on top of it.
Harry had to be quite careful not to eat too much, even without his habit of occasionally biting the head off a fork, because they hadn't even got to the desserts yet.
"Do you ever wonder if House-Elves compete with one another?" Ron asked.
"I know they talk to one another," Ginny said. "Look."
She cut a slice from something in front of her and held it up for Ron to see. It smelled of something nutty, and duck, and it seemed as though there was cheese in there as well.
"...didn't I mention that to Dobby once?" Ron said.
"That's what I was thinking," Ginny agreed. "And he said he'd need six helpers to make it."
"Neat," Ron decided, taking it and cutting a slice himself.
"...you know this slice was for you, right?" Ginny asked.
"Two slices, then," Ron declared, and took it.
The desserts were just the same sort of thing. One that particularly caught Harry's eye was a three-layered cake, where each layer had a belt of squares of white and black chocolate on top (each belt three squares thick, except for the top layer which was six squares on a side), and there were dozens of fudge chesspieces hopping around in knight's moves or diagonally or in straight lines.
When Fred cut a piece, it happened to have a knight and a bishop on, and the two pieces kept hopping steadily around on the squares as though that was the whole chessboard.
"What about that one?" Melody asked, pointing to a metal dish cover that was just a little too far away for her to reach. "I think they forgot to take the cover off."
Harry reached over to see what it was, but when his paw closed on the handle for the cover it just came off.
"Didn't think you were that strong," said Lee, as Harry inspected the handle.
Then he ate it.
"Oh, I see," he said, licking at it inside his muzzle. "It's fondant. That's a novelty cake."
"Well, it had me fooled," Melody admitted, as Lee started to cut into it.
After the feast, and after Dumbledore had given a shorts speech (which, in this case, was a two minute speech about the item of clothing), and after Harry had belatedly noticed that Professor Umbridge hadn't been in attendance – or maybe she'd just left early – it was finally time to go up to bed.
The little idea that Harry had been having about Empress' problem had grown into a bigger idea, but still not a complete idea, and he decided to ask to see Professor Dumbledore the next day to ask him what he thought about it.
There might need to be an experiment done first.
Hedwig took Professor Dumbledore the message that Harry wanted to speak to him – it seemed safer to send a letter than Ruth, and besides, Harry didn't want to give Hedwig nothing to do – and Harry got a reply back around lunchtime which told him that the password to the office was currently 'Sweets'.
Harry couldn't tell if that was genius or really silly.
Deciding it was probably both, he went up there about one in the afternoon (after, of course, checking that Dumbledore was in) and Dumbledore waved to him as he came over the lip of the stairs.
"Good afternoon, Harry," he smiled. "Do you know, someone gave me something for Christmas and it's kept me quite occupied since? It's been marvellously relaxing."
Harry's ears twitched. He looked interested, or probably did, because Dumbledore lifted the object from his desk and showed it off.
As soon as Harry saw it he sort of wanted to laugh. It was a Rubik's Cube, one of those things with coloured squares on the faces and you rotated them around to line up.
"My cousin Dudley had one of those," he said. "He got it one birthday. I think it lasted about ten minutes before he threw it onto the roof, and when it fell off the roof again it came apart into bits."
"Well, I can perhaps understand his being a little frustrated," Dumbledore said lightly, twisting it around. "I believe you scramble it up and then unscramble it again?"
Harry nodded, confirming Dumbledore's guess.
"Well, I appear to be very good indeed at the first part, but the second part is giving me a little trouble," Dumbledore confessed. He took a good long look at it, hesitantly twisted one of the sides one way, then put it down. "Anyway. What was it you wanted to discuss, Harry?"
"I was speaking to Empress, just at the end of Christmas Eve and the start of Christmas Day," Harry explained. "I got her something as a present, because I thought she hadn't had one before."
At that, Dumbledore looked quite sad.
"I am most impressed with you, Harry," he declared. "Many of the people who do not like me declare me to be a sentimental old fool, and while I must confess to being old – and I quite like being described as sentimental, for I do not see it as the problem they do – it seems that I must admit to being a fool as well, as I had not thought of that."
He waved towards his desk with all the funny silver instruments on it, and now he was looking at it again Harry saw there was something new there – sort of like a pair of swimming goggles, but made of silver everywhere including the eye bits.
"I have been working on our problem with Empress, but my first attempt has not proven effective," Dumbledore explained. "These mirror goggles would permit Empress to see without directly looking at anyone, were I to expand them to her size, but – alas – she would still petrify everybody who happened by unless the goggles were painted over to render her blind as well."
Harry said that was a good effort, and Dumbledore nodded slightly.
"I can see you have been practicing in how to be a good teacher," he said, with a twinkle in his eye. "But I had not thought of getting our serpentine friend any sort of present."
"It's more than that, Professor," Harry said.
He went on, explaining about Empress' confession, and Dumbledore sat back and looked thoughtful.
The Headmaster continued to look thoughtful as Harry walked through his thoughts since then, explaining about how it seemed like things like that usually had loopholes and talking about Mara Jade's one in particular, and when he finally finished Dumbledore was silent for a long time.
"A difficult conundrum indeed," he said, slowly. "It reminds me a little of the Unbreakable Vow, which is a fearsome piece of magic and one I would not recommend using without the advice of an extremely good lawyer. In this case, however, I believe that there may be a solution."
"I've already got an idea, but I sort of want to test it," Harry explained. "Would that be all right?"
He rummaged in his pocket. "I've got the mirror, but I don't have a picture of a dragon or something to change how I speak into Dragonish."
"I believe I have you covered there, Harry," Dumbledore told him, and opened one of the drawers of his desk.
From within came a Wizarding photograph, one taken when Nora was about six or seven months old. She was tilting her head and looking at whoever was holding the camera, then lifting her head and breathing fire for a bit before flaring her wings and looking expectant.
"I think that will work?" Harry tried, then looked from the photograph to Dumbledore.
"Entirely reptilian," Dumbledore confirmed.
Empress seemed to be asleep, and Harry felt a little guilty about it but he sent Ruth down to wake her up. That worked, and though she sounded a little groggy it helped when Harry explained that he had an idea about what to do with the thing she'd explained to him.
"First I kind of want to do a test?" Harry said. "The only thing I'll be ordering you to do is to hit the wall with your tail, and then you can say if you did it. Is that okay?"
"If it will help," Empress decided, sounding resigned.
"Okay," Harry said. "So if I said 'I order you to hit that wall with your tail' in English, it would be 'I order you to hit that wall with your tail'."
Saying that felt a little weird, because it was saying the same thing twice as far as Harry was concerned – just with his eyes closed once – but that was how this sort of thing worked.
He waited until a puzzled affirmative came from the mirror, then – still with his eyes closed – ordered Empress to hit the wall with her tail.
Nothing happened for a few seconds, and then Empress said that she hadn't done anything.
"Great!" Harry replied, switching back to looking at the dragon picture now that he knew anything in a different language didn't count. "Empress, I order you to from now on consider this language to be Dragonish and not Parseltongue."
"...what?" Empress asked, sounding baffled.
"I order you to hit that wall with your tail," Harry finished.
There were several seconds of silence.
"…I… can hardly believe..." Empress said, hesitantly. "How did that..."
After a long silence, she spoke again. "Thank you."
"I take it that it worked, Harry?" Dumbledore checked, and Harry gave him an affirmative nod. "Wonderful news. And I am glad to hear it, Empress."
He put down the Rubik's Cube with a click, and Harry glanced over at it.
All six faces were now solved.
After that great result, Harry found himself a bit less satisfied with the rest of the holiday.
It wasn't entirely clear why, at first. He had several books to read, one of them the fourth proper Dragonlance book (Dragons of Summer Flame) and that should have helped a lot, but it seemed like the things the authors were doing were a bit odd. And when it was time for homework, he couldn't really focus on the homework.
It was when Ron asked him if he was all right that Harry realized what was going on, making the connection with how he'd been feeling itchy, and he told Ron that he was sorry but he was going to be vanishing into his tent and probably not coming out for a couple of days.
That led to Harry having to explain to Ron how his molting worked, and because – even though he knew what was going on – Harry was still feeling irritable that led into a digression about how he might be the only dragon in the world who had to deal with that sort of thing.
He wasn't the only person in the world who had to, probably, because of Empress. But he didn't mention that bit to Ron.
That in turn meant that he missed a couple of days of the holiday, and though it was probably better than if the same thing had happened during term time it didn't help with Harry's general mood. He shoved all the old hide into a cupboard to deal with later, groaned when he realized that now none of his robes and clothes and things fit any more, and mirror-called Sirius to let him know they'd need to go shopping to Diagon Alley in a hurry.
Really, the awful thing about molting was that it was itchy and inconvenient, and both of those things put him in a bad mood so having them both at once just made it easy to be in a very bad mood.
"Sorry about what happened, mate," Ron said, a few days later.
It wasn't the first time Ron had said the same sort of thing, and Harry chuckled.
"I don't think it was your fault," he pointed out.
"Yeah, but still..." Ron mumbled, and turned the page in the manual he was reading.
Still looking at the manual, he picked up one of the wrenches on Hagrid's table. "Mate, can you hold the caliper steady?"
Harry picked up the caliper – it was a bit of bike brake that Ron wanted to use in the control systems for his rocket – and braced his elbow against the table, so it wouldn't move.
"Thanks," Ron said, and started unscrewing. "Rotate counterclockwise until the bolt is loose..."
On the other side of Hagrid's kitchen table – which was a big table, so it had plenty of space – Hagrid turned the page of one of the big colourful children's books he'd asked Harry for.
"That's an F," he said.
"F," Nora repeated, looking closely. "Does that mean you spell Effort with an F?"
"Not at the start," Hagrid told her. "In words it's got different sounds. So F is what starts the word Fish."
"Fish," Nora said. "I see the F."
"Right!" Hagrid agreed. "And it also starts words like face, and fly."
"It's sort of like a fuh sound, sometimes," Harry contributed.
He had no idea whatsoever how that got translated into Dragonish, but Nora seemed to get that a bit. She nodded brightly, and while she was nodding Hagrid got out a piece of slate and some chalk – not for the first time.
He chalked F-A-C-E on the board. "This is the word face."
"Oh!" Nora gasped. "I know all of those!"
She poked the chalkboard. "Those make a face?"
"They make the word face," Harry explained. "It's not a face, but it's like… making it so the sound is written down."
Nora nodded solemnly.
"So you could tell someone something without being there?" she asked. "With letters and things? If you didn't have a mirror for them?"
"That's right," Harry agreed.
"Right, I think that's got it," Ron said, and Harry turned his attention back to his friend.
Ron had put down the wrench, and was fiddling with a kind of cylinder shaped thing attached to the other end of the cable.
"You can put it down now," Ron added. "I want to see if I can squeeze this enough as Nutkin."
He put the cylinder thing down, put his hands on the table, and shrank down into his squirrel form. Bounding over to the brake handle with his tail waving up and down, he took both sides of the handle – one in each paw – and squeezed.
It seemed to take quite a lot of effort, and Ron held it for maybe twenty seconds before letting go. He panted a bit, then scampered over to the edge of the table and did an odd sort of hurdle movement. For a moment his paw was resting on the edge of the table and the rest of him was jumping over the edge, then he grew back to normal Ron size and frowned.
"I'm not sure that's going to work," he said. "If I make it stiff enough to not open without being squeezed, I can't keep it squeezed for long enough."
He picked up his wand. "Maybe I need to make the handle longer?"
"What about if you use the gear thing?" Harry asked. "That holds in place."
"That's not a bad idea," Ron said, clearly thinking about it. "I think they both use a wire that gets pulled, anyway…"
"What's that?" Nora asked, looking at the current picture in the alphabet book.
"Umm..." Hagrid frowned.
Harry checked what it was, because it sounded like Hagrid didn't know that word, then looked at Nora.
"It's sort of a house made out of ice," he explained to her. "They make them where it's much colder than this, and where they don't have castles."
"Castles are better to live in," Nora announced, then poked the picture with a careful talon. "This is made of blocks too though."
"Well spotted," Harry said. "That's right!"
He wasn't sure quite when human children started learning to read – he had vague memories of a lot of it being in Primary School – but Nora seemed to be old enough to get a lot of use out of it.
The idea of a compulsion isn't strictly canon, but can be inferred.
Also, it's Christmas.