Harry made his way up the unusually still flights of stairs like a sleepwalker. When he reached the entrance to Gryffindor, he muttered the password dryly and crawled through more slowly than usual, and then paused to stretch his arms above his head and wipe some smudges off his glasses once he got inside. With his arms flat against his sides, he started walking up to the boys' wing of the dormitory.

But then he noticed that someone had started a fire, and that one of the tallest easy chairs had been moved over to face the fireplace. From the chair suspended an iron rod with two pieces of bread toasting on it.

"Allright over there?" Harry called.



Walter Birdman indeed. His face, bearing its calm, forward expression, peered around the massive backboard of the chair. "Yup."

"How...how did you get here?" Harry asked incredulously.

"Si'down," Walter offered. "Want some toast? I stole an entire loaf from the kitchen on my way up here, I know I can't eat it all."

"Um." Harry hesitantly sat down in the second easy chair facing the hearth that, he observed, Walter must have placed there, as if he had been patiently awaiting company. "I guess I am pretty hungry."

With a friendly grin, Walter handed Harry another skewer with a slice of bread on it.

"So, anyway...I hitched a ride with a couple Hufflepuffs that were talking too much during the tour guide's speech," Walter bluntly explained.

"What did *you* do?" Harry asked.

Walter looked at him blankly. "...Nothin'. Just hitched a ride. Museum got bloody boring after five minutes. I had to 'answer to Dumbledore', who assumed I'd been sent home but hadn't received notice of why, so he just had me sit there through the lecture those other kids got, and then sent me off. Assumed it was pot, probably, and he's already given me that lecture a dozen times."

There was a suspended pause, and then Walter became matter-of-fact, and said, "But *you*, however, probably lost us some points, man. Thanks." He smiled in his sarcasm, obviously not very bothered. "So what did you do?"

Harry thought for a second, wondering if he should explain the misunderstanding or just the fact that he'd sat on a painting.

"I saw Granger come through here a minute ago. Does that answer my question?" A moment later he interrupted, "No, it couldn't be that, you're not even blushing."

"We were in a closet that we shouldn't have been in," Harry explained, realizing just how uninteresting the story was. "But we weren't doing *that*."

"You two are always stirring up something, it seems," Walter plucked a piece of bread off his skewer and crunched into it. "You and that Ron. Have people learned to trust you yet? You'd all seem stupid as shit if you weren't saving the whole damn school on a yearly basis."

Harry was a trifle stupified at this. Walter was in his element of almost seeming able to read minds. This guy had everyone figured out so well, but Harry knew he dwelled on himself very little; his self-esteem was bland and empty and it was no wonder he was one of the only people in Gryffindor that did any drugs.

"You know, Walt...," he said after a long pause. "You're kinda creepy."

Having gotten their fill of toast, they moved the easy chairs so they were facing eachother, having felt a little view-obstructed from the rest of the room.

"You wanna play chess?" asked Walter, looking over at a wooden set Ron and Harry regularly left sitting out in the common room.

"Not really," Harry said, then admitted, "I play all the time, but Ron always wins. It gets boring..."

"Ah. You know, I had this-"

But Walter's voice fell. He was looking across the room, and when Harry gave him a curious look he jerked his head, gesturing for him to look over his shoulder.

Harry looked to see Hermione emerging from the girl's half of the dormitories. She had un unmistakably gloomy look on her face, and the look of having just woken up out of anxiety. If she hadn't noticed Walter before, she didn't seem surprised when she saw him.

"Doll...?" Harry was immediately concerned. Hermione ignored him, in a more protective than cruel way, and grabbed a book of medicinal potions from the ovular table in the middle of the room. She flipped the book open to a page that had a bookmarking, bearing the label "headaches".

"Hermione." Harry sat up attentively. "You allright?"

"Yeah," Hermione sighed, obviously lying. She walked over and took a glass tumbler out of a cabinet on the wall, and started digging through another cabinet that held an assortment of basic potion ingredients. Then she mumbled in the same defeated tone, "I lost the petition."

For only a second Harry and Walter exchanged a look of dreadful concern, and then he stood up. "...How?"

"I left it...," Hermione's voice wavered. "It's on the steps...outside the museum."

Harry looked stunned, and he closed his eyes, overwhelmed. He could only stand there as Hermione dropped some herbs and powders into the glass, added half a vial of a rose-colored liquid, and gently shook it up. Then she walked past him and set the glass next to the fire.

"It should be ready in an hour, but it has to stay warm," she told Harry tiredly. "Just make sure it doesn't tip over for me, okay?"

She started to walk past him, but with sudden instinct he grabbed her hand, and was very surprised when she turned, her face in a heartbreakingly helpless pout, and said, "I'm really sorry."

"Hermione, it's okay," he pulled her over and held her reassuringly. He couldn't remember her ever looking so sad. "It's not your fault. It's okay..."

"All that work...We can't do it again, you know we can't."

"It doesn't matter, we'll think of something," Harry looked over at Walter as Hermione rested her head on his shoulder. Walter hadn't even been sober long enough to give them a signature before, but he looked about as whipped as they did.

"I'm going to bed," Hermione said just above a whisper, and pitifully retreated back to her room. Harry rested his hands at his waist, searching in his head for a curse word that would do the situation any justice. These thoughts were interrupted when he heard a gradual eruption of people arriving outside the entrance to the Gryffindor hall. Some ecstatically hyper voice yelled out the password, and a sudden stampede of Gryffindor children came bustling into the common room.

"That restaurant was so wicked," Dean Thomas was saying to a friend. "No waiters, the food just floats out to you. The owner must be rolling in dough since he doesn't have to hire much help."

"Yeah, but they got my order wrong. I felt stupid enough telling a tray I didn't want whipped cream on my pie, and it just came back with more cream piled on top."

After a minute Ron found Harry sitting in the easy chair, and if he was as wise as, say, Walter, he might have concluded that something was awry when Harry was in bad spirits enough to immediately start blaming him for his and Hermione's punishment.

"It wasn't my fault. I was just trying to keep you from getting caught," Ron said defensively after a brief episode of getting yelled at.

"But if you hadn't panicked so much I probably wouldn't have broken anything," Harry replied, though he seemed a little dissinterested in arguing now. "Besides, it was your stupid mouth that got us in that storage room, anyway."

"Well, maybe you shouldn't go doing things that you need to keep from Hermione anymore, did you ever think about that?" Ron snapped.

Harry didn't have a chance to make peace.

"YOU LITTLE SHIT!" Some boy had noticed Harry and was waving an infuriated finger at him. A lot of faces looked up. Harry then realized that not all of them had heard of the two Gryffindors that were sent home, and some were about to find out.


The silence that had broke out after the first verbal attack was now threaded with surpised murmurs. Harry couldn't respond with anything but a devastated blank stare. The pleasant train ride home and the uplifting conversation with Walter was completely erased from his mind.

It seemed that the remaining kids were only complaining amongst themselves, but one voice loudly proclaimed, "A hundred points? It took us all semester to get that...!"

But Harry wasn't personally confronted again, and didn't say anything until he saw a group of pissed-looking girls marching with apprehensive conviction toward the dormitories.

"Hey!" he ran over to them. "You can chew me out all you want, but if ANY of you even WAKE UP Hermione I'll-"

"You'll what?" one responded.

He smiled cynically and said, "I'll lose the next Quidditch match."

It was the most arrogant thing Harry had ever said. But it worked.

The griping tones of many students ensued for another five minutes, but after a while people seemed to have accepted it as something they'd just have to win back some way before the House Cup was awarded (maybe they'd only come in second this year), and the noise level became less excited.

"What's that?" Ron said, pointing to the cup next to the fire. His argument with Harry had been forgotten over the commotion.

"Oh, Hermione's headache potion," Harry said, going over to rotate the glass, knowing that probably wasn't even needed.

"Headache?" Ron said curiously. "Hermione never gets sick."

"Well, you know...stress..."

"Is she *that* worked up over what happened today?"

With an intake of breath, Harry said, "Well...not exactly."

After Harry and Walter again exchanged understanding looks, Ron asked, "What is it?"

"You better sit down," Harry said, and let Ron have his chair.

"What's wrong?" Ron demanded densely.

"Look, if you blame Hermione I'll kill you..."

"What is it?!"

And for some reason, Walter took the liberties of explaining everything to him, while Harry stood by with his arms crossed. To Harry's surprise, Ron didn't do so much as curse. But his face did fall quite a bit.

"I don't get it...We were all there, you were sitting right next to her, weren't you?"

Harry nodded, and with guilt added, "But you know how it is...she's like a mother to us, we're not used to having to watch things when she's around. And now she made like, the one mistake I can even remember and it just happened to be really important."

They all sighed deeply. Walter simmered up another offer for a game of chess, and Ron accepted.

They set up a coffee table between the two easy chairs and put the wooden set on it. Harry lent his chessmen to Walter and gave him some tips on how to get along with them, which he apparently didn't need. Harry had never seen Ron lose, but a half-hour later they were on their second game and Ron was looking dumbfounded and bitter. Harry had nothing to do but watch. Ron didn't like to make conversation over chess because it broke his concentration, and through the entire game Walter was on the edge of his chair staring intently at the gameboard, his chin rested on his knuckles.

Then Hermione came to get her medicine, which had brewed to a luke- warm musky liquid. The potion must have had an ingredient for sleep aid as well, for the last Ron saw of Hermione that night was Harry carrying her up the stairs, getting strange looks from other girls.

Of course, the behavior in the common room was ten times more active than usual. People seemed to have forgotten that they had arrived back from the field trip and were still wearing their street clothes, or else were changing into even more unusual things. Ron wondered if they too should lighten up; it was Friday and they were facing a weekend without any school work, thanks to the field trip.

So Ron went up to the dormitory entrance, noting the surrealness when he passed by Harry coming from the girls' side. For a moment he had the awkward instinct to say something, like before pointing out to someone that they are indeed in the wrong bathroom, but then realized with stupidity that Harry was blatantly breaking the rules.

"Hey, Ron," Harry said tiredly.

"Hi," said Ron shortly before heading through the boys door.

Harry returned to the easy chairs, finding Walter deep in thought about his next chess move. He wanted to suggest a move but felt it was too obvious, and Walt seemed a better player than he and Ron combined.

Right then Harry overheard with amusement a game of "What Wizard Am I?" being played by a group of boys sitting at a window. The game had been created by Professor Binns the day he not only finally realized that he was dead, but that he had been teaching his class in the exact same fashion for almost a hundred years. The game was boring as hell in his class because they never went over the cool wizards or witches, but it soon became an extremely popular study hall game among the students, who picked everything from misleadingly obvious legendary wizards to people they knew personally.

"So...," one kid recapped, "You're male; you're not from Ravenclaw; you`re not an Animagus; you were imprisoned in Azkaban for more than ten years; you weren`t alive before 1900; you`ve never taught at Hogwarts and you were not banned from Gorway for magical misconduct? What...are you Sirius?"

"Of course I'm serious, I'm not making this guy up," the other player replied.

"No no, Sirius Black."

"....OH! No, guess again."

When Harry was smirking at this overheard dialogue, Ron had returned. It was obvious to everyone that he had not intended to wear his same pants two days in a row, but Ron was hopeless as far as organization and doing things mothers usually do, like remembering to pack a full change of clothes for a following day. Now, however, he had suffered a couple stains on the plaid pants and had changed into a different pair that were slightly bell-bottomed like the others but were solid brown, and a long-sleeved shirt with a psychedelic blue and green pattern.

Ron took a brief glance at the battleground still awaiting him where the chess set lay, and shuddered slightly at how things were looking for his pieces. He sighed tiredly and told Walter, "You can have this one. You`re winning anyway."

Walter reacted as if he`d done some great favor for him, smiling bigly. "Hey thanks, Ron."

Ron sat down beside Harry, who was being quiet and inactive. He simply nodded, acknowledging his presence. They sat in silence for a while when Ron finally blurted out his thoughts.

"OK, what`s up with you?" he demanded. "You didn`t even laugh at my retarded shirt that I bought for two bucks with mold on the sleeve."

"Oh." Harry looked up, actually looking sorry for not noticing. "Yes, that`s very nice."

"Idiot." Ron rolled his eyes; obviously that wasn`t what was actually concerning him. "What`s up your ass?"

"What is up my ass?!" Harry repeated the question, not as much in anger as in confusion at Ron`s sudden new kind of thick-headedness. "We`re stuck with Linus for the whole year and maybe for the rest of our education because our petition attempt - which was a really dumb idea anyway - has failed miserably. And even though it probably wouldn`t have worked, Hermione especially became really determined about it and got really involved in it. So now that the whole thing blew over she`s upset, and it`s my fault for suggesting we do something so pointless." He decided he should stop before he got another it`s-not-your-fault lecture, and then briefly wondered if a shrink would consider it an improvement that he was at least conscious of when he was being that way now.

"But...the petition was *her* idea," Ron reminded.

Harry gave him a look that said "Shut up" and was given back a look that said "Sorry."

"Is that it?" Ron asked. "It seems like there`s something else bugging you, too."

"No, Ron," Harry said in annoyment. "Look, I had a bad day. Like, a *really* bad day for not actually being in grave peril for once, but still not quite normally - Did you really buy a shirt that had mold on it?" he interrupted himself, Ron`s past remark just now registering and starting to bother him.

In answer Ron showed him the place on the inside of his right sleeve. Harry wrinkled his nose at it, accepting the proof. Then there was a long stretch of silence between them, filled in with murmers of speech from the surrounding crowd, and then Harry finally sighed.

"You`re right. There is something else bothering me."

"I knew it," Ron said. "What`s up?"

"Oh...It`s stupid," Harry said, rubbing his eyes under his glasses lenses. "Dumbledore just said some weird stuff when I went to see him today."

"What kind of weird stuff?"

He shrugged. "I didn`t really get it. It was like when you open a fortune cookie and read it, and then you read it again, and a couple more times, and you`re just kind of like 'What the hell does that mean? This makes no sense.' "

Ron raised an eyebrow. "What`s a fortune cookie?"

"Christ, Ron. You know 'Mick Jagger' but not 'fortune cookie'. They`re these stupid Chinese cookies with messages in them - only they were invented in San Francisco, not China - God, never mind."

There was little conversation after that. While Harry`s mind was dwelling on his pathetic problems Ron was only thinking about how having messages in cookies seemed kind of advanced for Muggles, and concluded that these "fortune cookies" must have once been used to deliver messages during wars without anyone knowing about it, because his father had said once that most of the very good Muggle inventions had come about as a result of wars.

Eventually Harry got either bored or tired enough to go up to his dormitory, where he found Hedwig waiting in the window for him and gave her a petting on the head as a greeting, and had soon fallen back on his bed sloppily and fallen asleep.