"The library does not sell its books, Mr. Weasley," Madam Pince said dryly. "Now if you don't intend to read it, please be a good fellow and return it to its proper location, will you?"

"But...you don't understand!" Ron protested a little too loudly, judging from the scowl the librarian shot at him. He waved the letter he'd just received that morning in front of her long, severe nose. "I ordered this book from Flourish and Botts two weeks ago. I only found out today they're out of stock!"

"Please control yourself, Mr. Weasley," Madam Pince retorted. "There's no good reason you can't order the book elsewhere, say WhizzHard or Obscurus, if you really want your own copy so badly."

"It's not for me!" Ron explained in a slightly lower tone. "It's a Christmas present for a friend, and there's no time to order it again, I'd never get it by tonight, even if they did have it!"

Madam Pince's eyebrows raised. Ron thought he saw a look of amusement play ever-so-briefly across her stern features. "Well then, Mr. Weasley," she said, "Might I suggest that you plan your holiday gift-giving with a little more care next year."

Bloody Hell, Ron thought, stuffing the letter back in his pocket and storming off to return the book. What was he going to give Hermione now??

He glanced around the crowded library. Normally he'd take a quandary such as this to Hermione, but he didn't think that would be terribly wise in this case. But if Ginny was around...

He wandered throughout the library looking for his sister, to no avail. Great, he thought, what can I get in a few hours?

"Hello, Ronald," said a vague and dreamy voice behind him. He turned around to see Luna Lovegood sitting at a small table near the library fireplace. She was working on a strange little object that slightly resembled a seal. Ron was thankful her gaze was for once concentrated on something other than himself.

"Er...hi Luna," he said hesitantly. Despite how Harry and Hermione obviously felt about her, the odd little Ravenclaw still made him uncomfortable. Try as he might, he just couldn't get used to the girl.

He'd been about to leave when an idea flashed in his mind. Luna and Hermione had become surprisingly good friends since the previous year, he knew very well. He wondered if...

"Um...mind if I sit here?" he asked rather awkwardly, grabbing the back of the chair. She looked up at him, and he immediately regretted having said anything. Her large misty eyes stared at him intently, his sense of uneasiness increasing markedly with every passing second. At long last she nodded serenely and returned to her work.

Ron took a closer look. She was working on some sort of small dried-flower sculpture of a seal, a light scent of honeysuckle and sandalwood permeating the air. Well, no matter. He couldn't afford to be picky about who to turn to for advice now.

"Nice seal," said Ron, trying to jumpstart the conversation.

Her large silvery eyes flicked up at him, though her head remained motionless over the little figurine. "It's an otter, actually," she said.

"Oh...uh, sorry. Nice otter." Ron added hastily. Luna's gaze dropped back to her work.

"Thank you," said Luna serenely.

Ron was both uncomfortable and confused. He was getting the distinct impression that she was only tolerating his presence, nothing more. He recalled last year how strange she'd behaved whenever he was around, her tendency to laugh hysterically at random comments he made, and coming over to wish him luck just before his first Quidditch match. Now that he thought back, he suddenly realized she'd been rather quiet towards him since the start of term. Had he done something wrong? He knew she'd saved his life in the Department of Mysteries from what Ginny had told him, but that event had remained a blur to him ever since. Had he said something wrong at the time?

Well, that doesn't matter right now, he decided. He had more urgent matters to attend to.

"Er...can I ask your advice on something?"

Luna delicately pinned a tiny marigold. "Of course," she said dreamily, her eyes not deviating from her miniature otter.

"Um...I, uh, need to get Hermione a Christmas present before tonight," Ron said. "I thought that, well, maybe you'd have an idea for something she'd like..."

At that, Luna drew up from her otter, finally giving him her full attention, though that hardly gave him any comfort. "You didn't get Hermione anything?" she asked, her dreamy voice taking on a tone of surprise.

"I did!" Ron corrected. "Uh, well I tried - I ordered a book, Magical Menagerie, by Bathilda Bagshott. She's been talking about it all year, I figured it was her way of giving me hints for what to get her for Christmas...anyway, I just got an owl this morning that the bookshop is out of stock, and there's no way to get another one in time!" Luna stared at him for several agonizingly long seconds.

"That's it," said Ron. "End of sentence. Period."

She continued to gaze at him as though he hadn't said a word. Ron shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

"That's a good book," said Luna at last, vigorously nodding her approval. "It's rather interesting, you know. Actually, it would be just the perfect thing for Hermione. Good idea, Ronald."

"It is?" he asked. "You've read it?"

"Oh yes," she nodded knowingly. "I have a copy."

"Whoa!" Ron exclaimed. "I couldn't buy it from you, could I?"

"No," she answered to his surprise. "It disappeared months ago, actually."

"Oh..." Ron said, his hopes going down in flames. Harry had told him that the other Ravenclaws made a habit of hiding her belongings, but why did they have to go and take that particular book, of all things?

"You could make her something," Luna suggested. "I'm making her an otter; it's her Patronus, you know. And it's not very hard, really. I'm sure Professor Sprout would let you have some of her dried flowers, or - "

"Uh, thanks, but I'm not any good at that stuff," Ron answered dispiritedly. Crafts were definitely not his thing. Great, he thought, his desperation rising exponentially, Maybe I can buy a lifetime membership in S.P.E.W. or something...

He crossed his arms on the table and buried his face in the nook of his elbow, hoping the darkness would help him concentrate. No, he thought, the S.P.E.W. thing wasn't a good idea...he needed something tangible...

His copy of Quidditch through the Ages? No, even he wasn't that blind.

His Cleansweep Eleven? Much as he hated to part with it, it might be his only -

No, he thought, shooting down that idea as well. Hermione hated broom flying, having never touched the things since their first year.

Besides, it probably wasn't a good idea to give her something second hand, no matter how good it was.

Think, Weasley, think! he commanded himself.

What was there? What could he find, here at school...his thoughts blurred as he drifted off...images of otters fluttering through his head...

He woke up with a start, jerking up with such force that his knee hit the underside of the table painfully. He glanced around in embarrassment, some of the other students ogling him with amused expressions. Go ahead and laugh! He thought. If he caught them after hours in the corridors...

He glanced up at the clock over the far wall. Ack, he thought, I've been here nearly four bloody hours!

Luna was nowhere to be seen. He decided to go to the Great Hall, in the hopes of catching Ginny there, maybe she'd have an idea.

As he stood, he caught sight of something on the table which had been buried under his sleeve. He reached down and picked it up, bringing it up to his face for closer examination.

Staring back at him and seemingly smiling, was a beautifully intricate, flowery figure of an otter.