Author: Meltha

Rating: PG for mild language and innuendo

Feedback: Yes, thank you.

Spoilers: For Deathly Hallows

Distribution: The Blackberry Patch and . If you're interested, please let me know.

Summary: The trio are hungry on their horcrux hunt, and Hermione tells them the story of Jack and the beanstalk to pass the time. Eighth in a series of crazy Muggle fairy tales.

Author's note: The version of Jack and the Beanstalk (or Jack the Giant Killer) I'm using is an amalgam from different sources, but all the facets of it do show up in one or another of the traditional stories. Disclaimer: All characters are owned by J. K. Rowling, a wonderful author whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy. Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you. Thank you.

Jack the Giant Kill(-Me-Now!)-er

"Nothing," Harry said dejectedly as he closed the tent door behind him.

"Nothing?" Ron said, his tone edging towards anger. "Again?"

"Every shop is locked," he said, wringing the rain out his soaking invisibility cloak before flopping down on the couch.

"What about a pub?" Ron asked.

"Those places are too packed to be sure I wouldn't get trampled by someone," Harry said, getting aggravated. "You know that!"

"But I'm hungry!" Ron whined.

"We're all hungry," Hermione said, not looking up from her book, though Harry could almost swear she was on the same page as when he'd left three hours before. "It's not like Harry's taking food out of your mouth for himself, Ron."

"Whatever," Ron said, curling up into a miserable ball on the couch.

Harry frowned, a sharp retort on the tip of his tongue, but he shook his head instead, keeping quiet. Nerves were frayed enough as it was, and there was no point in adding to the general bickering. Hermione, for her part, was glancing back and forth between the two boys, a thoughtful look on her face that bordered on embarrassment.

"Care for a story?" she ventured, turning a bit pink.

Ron shrugged non-committally, but Harry said, "Why not? It's better than picking each other to pieces."

"Well, with that glowing encouragement, who could resist?" Hermione said, making a sour face.

"What was that one you mentioned the other night?" Ron said, sitting up a little straighter. "The one about magic tomatoes?"

"Magic beans, you mean," Hermione said, and her features smoothed into a smile.

"Yeah, I knew it was some sort of vegetable," Ron said. "Let's have that one, then."

"Technically, tomatoes are fruits, but we'll leave off on it," Hermione said indulgently. "All right then. Once upon…"

"…a time," Ron cut in, and Harry could tell he was already starting to become less petulant.

"Yes, Ron, in a country far away, there lived…," Hermione began.

"A king whose wife dies?" Ron asked.

"No," Hermione said.

"A fairly dunder-brained girl who was very pretty?" Ron suggested.

"No," Hermione said, giving him a quizzical look.

Ron looked even more puzzled than Hermione did.

"See, I thought there was a pattern to these things," he said, shaking his head. "I guess not. Go on, then."

"There lived a very poor mother and her son," Hermione said.

"Mark my words," Ron said, turning to Harry. "He's going to wind up being a right idiot."

"Apparently some things do have a pattern," Harry heard Hermione say quietly before going on. "They lived in a very small house with almost nothing to their names except a cow named Milky White."

Ron blinked in surprise.

"Seriously?" he said, sounding stunned.

"Yes, what's so odd about that?" Hermione asked, completely puzzled.

"What's odd is that it isn't odd at all," Ron said. "That's a perfectly understandable name for a cow. I mean, it makes perfect sense for the cow to be called Milky White. No, wait… was it a brown cow?"

"Not that I know of," Hermione said.

"A sensible name? There's hope for the Muggles yet," Ron said to Harry, beaming in pleasure. "I was beginning to doubt it."

"Well, be prepared for a double shock because the boy's name is Jack," Hermione said.

"You've been holding out on us," Harry said, "giving us all the odd ones first. Is this story really going to be normal?"

"Because that might be boring," Ron said, then immediately grinned sheepishly when Hermione shot him a disgruntled look.

"Anyway, one day Jack's mother no longer had enough money to buy food or pay their rent, so she told her son, 'You must go into the village and sell Milky White. Get the best price you can for her, for that money will be all we have to live upon for the rest of our lives,'" Hermione said, adopting a rather McGonagall-like tone for the mother's voice.

"Well, it's not much of a plan, but it does work out logically," Ron said. "So far, so good."

"Jack, who was rather an odd boy…," Hermione said.

"I think this is the point when maybe things get less logical," Harry chimed in.

"… took Milky White down the road to the village, unhappy at the thought of having to sell the cow at all and worried that he would make a mess of the whole business and ruin their lives," Hermione said.

"I know how he feels," Ron said, grimacing. "Scary, all that responsibility."

"At least you're not alone in it," Hermione said, giving him an encouraging smile.

"Suppose so," he said, still looking glum. "So what'd our boy Jack do?"

"Well, he fully intended to go into town, but on the road he met a tiny little man who seemed very interested in the cow," Hermione said. "'What are you going to do with her?' the little man asked, and when Jack said he was going to sell it, the little man offered to buy it."

"Bit of good luck there," Ron said, brightening up.

"Yes, but the little man had no money," Hermione said. "Instead, he said, 'I have with me a great treasure: three magic beans! They will bring you fabulous wealth if you plant them. I will give you these beans in return for the cow.'"

Ron looked at Harry.

"The nitwit took the bait, didn't he," Ron said knowingly.

"If you mean did he trade the cow for the beans, then yes, he did," Hermione said. "Jack went running back to his mother, overjoyed at the deal he had made, believing it to be a wonderful bargain to trade the cow for three magical beans."

"If they were magic, the little man would have planted them himself and gotten rich rather than trading them for an under-fed cow," Ron said.

"Maybe, but maybe not," Hermione said mysteriously. "Jack's mother was of your opinion though and yelled at him quite a long time, telling him that now they had no food and would starve to death."

"Pity's sake, Mum, lay off the kid a bit," Ron said defensively. "He's not the one bilking people out of cows by shoving worthless beans at naive farm boys. He's just a bit… dim. Like every other fellow in these stories. You know, I think that's the real moral of these things: all males are genetically stupid."

"Perhaps Jack wasn't quite so stupid as you think," Hermione said. "Jack's mother ended by throwing the beans out the window in a fit of temper and telling her son to go to bed."

"Makes me a little homesick," Ron said wistfully. "Replace the beans with Puking Pastilles and you've got a typical day at the Burrow."

Harry gave his friend a sympathetic slug to the shoulder, hoping that Hermione's story would cease to resemble Mrs. Weasley quite so closely.

"However, during the night, a very strange thing happened," Hermione said, using her very best melodramatically secretive tone. "The beans grew."

"Why's that so weird?" Ron said. "All of 'em grow."

"But not all of them grow thousands of feet into the air overnight!" she said triumphantly.

"Thousands of feet?" Ron asked, perplexed.

"Yes, a great, giant beanstalk grew right up through the clouds," Hermione said. "You see, they really were magic beans."

Ron twisted his head one way and then the other as though trying to decide something.

"So… they ate beans the rest of their lives?" he finally asked. "They'd need rather a lot of anti-flatulence potion, wouldn't they?"

"Boys," Hermione grumbled. "No, Ronald, they didn't eat giant beans. Jack climbed the beanstalk!"

"What'd he want to do that for?" Ron said, honestly puzzled, and Harry had to admit that he was with Ron on this one. "I mean, it's not anchored to anything on top, so wouldn't it just fall over and send him toppling to a very messy and bean-covered death thousands of feet below?"

"Actually, the physics behind the beanstalk are rather interesting, now you mention it," Hermione said. "I suppose it would have to be a fairly rigid stalk to permit climbing in the first place, and regardless of circumference, unless it was extremely wide in radius, the wind currents found at upper altitudes would tend to make it sway and, if it was overly rigid, snap. Of course there's always the possibility that the top was anchored to something…"

"Like what? The pearly gates?" Harry said with a giggle.

"Be an interesting way to arrive in heaven, wouldn't it? 'Oi, St. Peter! I'm not dead, just visiting via beanstalk. Care to go out for pint?'" Ron said, laughing.

"What he saw was even more bizarre, because Jack stepped off the beanstalk and onto a cloud…" Hermione began.

"And then fell to his death because clouds aren't solid objects and won't withstand the weight of a human," Ron said firmly.

"Normally, I'd agree with you," Hermione said sympathetically, "but you have to remember that long ago Muggles didn't know that."

"Yeah, I suppose not having flying broomsticks would tend to create some false impressions about clouds," Ron said. "Okay, I'll let the Muggles off the hook this once."

"Thanks ever so," Hermione said coldly. "Anyway, Jack looked around and saw that he had wound up in a green country filled with rolling hills and trees."

"On the clouds?" Ron asked.

"On the clouds," Hermione said.

"Okay, I take it back. The Muggles are idiots," Ron said firmly. "Who in their right mind not only thinks that people can walk on clouds, but that there's a forest up there? I mean, wouldn't they expect to see roots coming down and waving about in the breeze like so much wooden spaghetti?"

"Odd image," Harry said, frowning in consideration. "That'd make Quidditch a good deal harder. Might be interesting, actually."

"Hey, yeah!" Ron said excitedly. "Especially if the roots were charmed to go after Beaters!"

Hermione stared at the two of them as though they were a pair of particularly dunder-headed trolls.

"Everything boils down to Quidditch, doesn't it," she said with a note of disgust.

"Yeah, if you try hard enough," Ron said, utterly unaware of her rising aggravation. "Like this one time, Fred and George reckoned they could try replacing bludgers with dung bombs when we were playing Slytherin. They figured it might make Flint smell better, but Wood wouldn't hear of it, even though he did seem rather intrigued."

Harry laughed at the mental image (not to mention the accuracy of Ron's assessment of Marcus Flint's olfactory problems), but he quickly settled down when he noticed Hermione getting red in the face with anger at the interruption.

"Ehm, sorry," Harry said apologetically. "Anyway, a land of green rolling hills up in the clouds actually sounds a bit more like what Ron suggested, sort of a heavenly image, doesn't it?"

Hermione took a deep, calming breath, then appeared to regain her composure.

"Yes, it would suggest paradise-like connotations normally," Hermione agreed in a surprisingly normal tone, "but that wasn't quite the case for poor Jack. He began to follow a path that led straight over the hills, wondering where it would lead him, and eventually he saw a very large house in the distance."

"A big, old palace up in the clouds, eh?" Ron said. "Are you absolutely sure Jack didn't topple off the beanstalk and split his head open instead? Because being dead really would sort of explain all this."

"No, it wasn't a palace. It was a truly enormous cottage, dozen and dozens of feet tall with a gigantic doorway. Jack walked many miles until he stood on the stone step in front, gaping in shock and disbelief at the sheer size of the door, which seemed nearly as tall as a mountain," Hermione explained.

"Big house equals big person in the house," Ron said, shaking his head. "Pretty basic logic there, and once again Jack has lived up to my expectations and turned out to be boundlessly idiotic. Let's all go stare at the huge house and not even consider what might be living inside it."

"Actually, you're quite right, Ron," Hermione said, looking impressed. "It was the home of a giant and his wife, but the husband wasn't home just then. The wife, who was somewhat smaller and perhaps part human, was in, though, and she happened to look out the door and see Jack standing there, staring up at the house."

"Part-giant wife, eh?" Ron said, and started smothering a laugh.

"What's so funny?" Hermione asked.

"Just… I'm picturing Hagrid in one of Mum's house-robes, maybe adding a flowery apron, bit of a lacy bonnet on top," Ron giggled, then lost it completely. "His umbrella would look smashing with it!"

Harry had already joined in as well, adding, "Yeah, but I can't get the beard off, even in my imagination. Do you suppose Hagrid actually has a chin?"

"The world may never know," Ron said. "On the other hand, we've never met a female giant. Maybe a beard's part of the deal whether you're a bloke or a bird."

Hermione stared from one laughing boy to the other with a look of patented disbelief, but as Harry looked closer, he could swear that he saw the corner of her mouth twisting as though she were fighting back a laugh too. It felt good to think about Hagrid, though he couldn't help wondering how he was doing, if he was okay.

"Yes, well, the giantess came running through the front door, saying, 'Good gracious, young man, what're you doin' here? Me 'usband'll surely eat you up if 'e finds you,'" Hermione said, giving the giantess a voice that sounded oddly like something out of a movie he'd seen on TV once, something about a girl who couldn't speak properly and a doctor who was trying to pass her off as a duchess. Mashing together Hagrid with Audrey Hepburn in his brain made the fit of laughing threaten to return.

"Nice of her to give him some warning, at least," Ron said approvingly.

"Yes, it was, wasn't it?" Hermione said. "She's really at least a bit decent. Anyway, Jack said, 'Oh, I'm so hungry! Could you not give me something to eat?'"

"Dumb as a post," Ron said, shaking his head. "She tells him to run and he wants a nice breakfast? Talk about priorities!"

"Yes, who would complain about being hungry all the time when his life is in constant danger," Hermione said, giving Ron a rather significant look. "The giantess, though, felt sorry for Jack and told him he could come in and have a quick bite."

"Very decent of her, but if she makes tea cakes like Hagrid, he'd better watch his teeth," Ron said.

"As Jack ate, the giantess explained that each night her husband went out to see if he could catch some fresh meat—a cow or a pig, or a little boy or girl if he could manage it," Hermione said.

"Ah, I knew we'd get a bit of good old-fashioned fairy tale cannibalism in here again," Ron said. "Should have known you wouldn't let me down, Hermione."

"I'm glad the story has the appropriate level of violence for you," Hermione said. "Now, as I was saying, the giantess was a bit fond of talking, and she rarely had visitors…"

"What with living on a cloud, I should say so, unless she liked conversing with the odd hippogriff," Ron said sagely.

"…and she started talking a bit too much. She showed Jack her husband's three greatest treasures: his sack of gold, his harp, and his goose."

"The sack of gold I can understand, obviously, but a harp and a goose?" Harry asked.

"Well, they weren't just an ordinary harp and goose. They were both magic. The harp could play by itself and sing along in a lovely voice," Hermione said, then paused, shuddering. "I just realized something."

"What's that?" Harry said.

"Quirrell," Hermione said. "He used that same trick on Fluffy, remember? The harp that was enchanted to play by itself?"

"Haven't thought about that git in a long while," Ron said frowning, "but yeah, it could definitely be where he got the idea."

"Little too much of a coincidence for my taste," Harry said, then frowned. "Do you suppose he was Muggle-born, then? I mean, it's a Muggle story. Ron, have you ever heard of any wizarding stories with harps that play on their own?"

"Nope," he said. "It'd be weird, that, if he really were Muggle-born and still consented to work with… You Know Who."

"For pity's sake, Ron, his name is Vol…!" Harry began rather angrily, but Hermione clapped a hand over his mouth before he could finish.

"Let it be, Harry," she said, and Harry looked over at Ron to find him blushing in embarrassment.

"Fine," Harry said. "Old Snake Face, then."

"I suppose if you offer some people enough power, they'll do anything, even sell out their own families," Hermione said, grimacing. "Quirrell might really have been that greedy."

"Yeah, and he had bad fashion sense, too," Harry said, trying to lighten the mood a little. "That turban never matched anything."

"What about the goose?" Ron asked. "What was so special about that?"

"Oh, the goose laid an egg of solid gold every day," Hermione explained.

"Blimey, now that's a pet that beats a Niffler any day!" Ron said, grinning broadly. "Of course, it wouldn't work, though. I mean, the basic rules of magic state you can't change things into gold unless… unless you've got the Philosopher's Stone."

Ron looked at Harry. Harry looked at Hermione. Hermione looked at Ron.

"I'm sure it's just another coincidence," Hermione said hurriedly. "Anyway, the giantess was talking entirely too freely and too long, and the next thing she knew, the earth was shaking."

"Cloud," Ron said at once.

"What?" she said, confused.

"The cloud was shaking, not the earth. There's no earth on a cloud. At least, not normally, but then again, those trees do have to be growing in something, don't they?" he said thoughtfully.

"Yes, well, the cloud started shaking," Hermione said, "and the giantess cried, 'That's me 'usband, fer sure, a-comin' 'ome! You'd best 'ide in the copper pots 'angin' from the ceilin'!' And with that she scooped him up and set him inside one of the enormous copper cooking pots dangling from a rack on the ceiling."

"You know, if I were going to hide from a man-eating giant, I don't think I'd choose to hide in a cooking utensil. Bad luck, that," Ron said.

"Still, it was a good thing she did it, because only a few moments later the husband, who was much larger and uglier than his wife, came crashing through the door, a pair of dead oxen tucked into his belt. Jack was stunned by how huge he was, when suddenly the giant started to sniff the air suspiciously," Hermione said.

"He's got a pair of decaying oxen on him and he's complaining how the kitchen smells?" Ron asked.

"No. The giant said, 'Fee, fie, fo, fum! I smell the blood of an Englishman! Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread!'" Hermione said in her deepest voice, which actually wasn't all that deep.

"So the giant was not only a man-eater but a rotten poet," Ron said, nodding.

"You forgot to mention the great sense of smell," Harry said.

"Okay, yeah, a man-eating poet with a splendid nose," Ron said. "Apparently part giant, part bloodhound. Interesting mix, that."

"The giantess said, 'Oh, dear, you're only smellin' the bones of that last toddler you brought 'ome yesterday. They're still in the oven,'" Hermione said.

"On the plus side, a good cover story. On the minus side, that's disgusting," Ron said, making a face. "It's almost killing my appetite."

"A feat magic has as yet been unable to perform," Hermione said, giving him an arch smile. "The giant was, thankfully, not too bright and believed her. He watched as she roasted the oxen whole, then they each ate one for dinner. After the dishes were cleared away, the giant took out his bag of gold and counted each piece just for the joy of it. Then he put the goose on the table and yelled out, 'Lay!' and the goose immediately laid a solid gold egg that the giant tossed high in the air and put in his pocket."

"That is one well-trained goose," Ron said, impressed.

"Finally, he took out his magic harp and said, 'Play!' and straightaway the harp began to play and sing a lilting lullaby," Hermione said.

"Can this giant only speak in rhyme? 'Lay!' 'Play!'" Ron boomed in his take on a giant's voice, which was several octaves deeper than anything Hermione could manage.

"Hmm… now that you mention it, I'm not sure," Hermione said, and she seemed to be really considering the question before she shrugged and went on. "The lullaby put the giant to sleep at once, and Jack saw his chance and jumped out of the pot and on to the table. Then he grabbed the giant's bag of gold, jumped to the floor, and ran out the front door, down the path, and climbed down the beanstalk."

"Wait a second! He robbed them!" Ron said.

"Well, he's murdering toddlers on a fairly daily basis, so I'm not that upset about it," Harry said.

"True, but the giantess was pretty nice to him," Ron said, still not quite sold. "Ah well, I don't suppose it's that important anyway since the story's over."

"But it's not!" Hermione said. "Jack gave his mother the bag of gold, but there were so many debts on their farm that nearly all the money went for that, and they were left nearly penniless again."

"Not exactly thrifty, are they?" Ron said.

"So Jack went back up the beanstalk, down the road, and up to the giant's front doorstep," Hermione said.

"Why doesn't he just go get a job?" Ron said.

"Because then there wouldn't be any story," Harry said reasonably.

"The giantess was angry when she saw him and said that her husband had been furious ever since he realized the bag of gold was missing, and she told Jack he'd best run home right away, but then the grou… I mean, the cloud started to shake, and Jack hid once more in the copper pot," Hermione said.

"I still say he needs a better hiding spot," Ron said dismissively. "Did hubby bring home a couple chubby tots this time?"

"No, a pair of cows, and the wife cooked them up as quick as a wink. Everything happened just as before: the giant smelled something wrong, the wife covered for Jack, the giant ate, then made the goose lay an egg, and finally brought out the harp to make it sing. As soon as the giant was asleep, Jack jumped out of the pot, grabbed the goose, and ran out the door, his hand clamped tightly over the goose's bill to keep it from alerting its master," Hermione said.

"Well, that should fix the money troubles," Ron said brightly. "Back down the freakish beanstalk?"

"Yes, and Jack gave the goose to his mother, who was very pleased. But Jack was still thinking of the magical harp," Hermione said.

"Don't tell me. The genius decides to pay a visit to Mr. and Mrs. Giant again," Ron said.

"Exactly, only this time things didn't go quite so smoothly. The giantess was very, very angry that Jack had stolen from her husband again, and when the cloud began to shake, she went outside to tell her husband the thief was there," Hermione said.

"Well, serves the idiot right, really," Ron said.

"Jack quickly dashed into the oven to hide, and the giantess took her husband straight to the copper pots hanging from the ceiling. When they had gone through every one, they decided the boy had run away home," Hermione said.

"And Jack was cooked to a cinder, the end," Ron said.

"Not really, because Jack had a stroke of good luck and the giant hadn't caught anything at all that day," Hermione said.

"That's just cheating!" Ron said indignantly.

"I suppose so, but it's the way the story goes. Instead, the giant took out the harp and told it to play, and then he fell asleep," Hermione said. "Then Jack ran out of the oven, grabbed the harp, and made for the door."

"It's a bad sign that I'm actually feeling rather sorry for the poor child-eating giant and his wife right now, isn't it?" Ron said.

"Things didn't go quite as Jack had hoped, though, for the harp started to cry out. 'Help! Master! Thief! Help!'" Hermione said in her best imitation of a harp, which sounded oddly like Fleur.

"Didn't see that one coming, did he?" Ron said, grinning. "So what happened?"

"The giant got up from the table and began to run after Jack, but Jack had a head start on him," Hermione explained.

"Yeah, but the giant can cover, what, three or four times as much ground as Jack in one step, so he had to catch him before he went very far," Ron said.

"Actually, he didn't. Jack got all the way to the beanstalk and started to climb down," Hermione said.

"But that doesn't make any sense! Mathematically, the giant should have caught him unless he kept tripping over his own feet or something stupid," Ron said.

"In one cartoon version Jack ties the giant's shoelaces together, but then he has two friends with him to help: a duck and a… actually I'm not sure what Goofy is. Some kind of dog with a speech impediment, I suppose," Hermione said.

Ron looked at Harry.

"That made no sense at all, Hermione," Ron said.

"Oh, skip it," Hermione said. "Jack gets to the beanstalk first…"

"Breaking every rule of science, math, and what all in the process," Ron added in.

"…and calls to his mother to bring him an ax," Hermione said.

"An ax?" Ron said, then realization dawned. "That's not possible."

"In the story, it is. Jack raced down the beanstalk with the harp, grabbed the ax, and chopped down the beanstalk," Hermione said.

"All before the giant, who is, well, gigantic, can get close enough to the ground to jump down and squash him flat as a bug?" Ron said in disbelief.

"Apparently," Hermione said.

"And how large is this beanstalk again?" Ron asked suspiciously.

"I would guess pretty large. At least a few meters across," Hermione said.

"So unless the beanstalk was made out of papier mache or whipped cream or Chocolate Frog wrappers, that should take several hours to chop through!" Ron said.

"In the story Jack manages to do it while the giant is still pretty close to the top of the stalk," Hermione said somewhat apologetically. "I know, I know, it makes no sense."

"Jack needs to try out for the Olympics," Harry said. "Sprinting and wood chopping, if there were such a category."

"What's an Olympics?" Ron asked.

"Oh, it's a multi-national athletic competition Muggles have every four years where they give medals to the winners," Hermione said. "They carry a torch around the globe from Greece to wherever they're playing that year to start it off. It's really quite interesting."

"What happens if it runs out of batteries?" Ron asked seriously.

"It's not that sort of torch. It's the kind that's on fire," Harry explained.

"Muggles run around carrying fire for fun?" Ron said, giving Hermione a look of deep confusion. "You people are weird."

"Yes, well, you should be able to tell that already from our stories. Anyway, Jack chopped through the beanstalk, the whole thing toppled over…"

"Totaling Jack's mother's house and wiping out farmland and sundry little old ladies, chubby-cheeked toddlers, and innocent bystanders for a hundred miles in every direction," Ron supplied.

"… and the giant died. Jack gave his mother the harp, and they showed it at fairs. The little man brought back Milky White and explained that the giant had killed Jack's father years before and stolen the gold and the goose and the harp from him, so they were all rightfully Jack's to begin with," Hermione said.

"Convenient bit of morality, that," Ron said.

"And they all lived happily ever after, well, probably with the exception of the widowed giantess," Hermione said, folding her hands primly in her lap. "Well, what did you think?"

Ron and Harry looked at each other, then Ron adopted a much more serious face and turned to Hermione.

"I think it sounds a bit like Death Eater propaganda," Ron said.

"Huh?" Hermione and Harry said together.

"They stereotype giants as witless, violent, sub-human creatures who deserve to be stolen from and killed in order for the 'more human' classes to profit from them. The only thing missing was making the boy upper class," Ron said, and Hermione stared at him.

"Actually, in some of the versions it turns out that Jack was the son of a king and the cottage in the clouds is actually a castle the giant stole from Jack's father, so there really could be an issue of class as well," Hermione said, nearly dumb-founded. "That's really very, very astute, Ron."

"I do listen sometimes," Ron said, giving her a mock bow.

"Well, goodnight," she said, smiling as she went to her part of the tent, and Harry noticed she smiled a little longer at Ron than was strictly necessary.

"Ron," Harry mumbled quietly a little while later after they had gone to bed. "Where exactly did you get that from?"

"Occasionally, mate, I just stumble on the right thing. Honestly, though, I nearly said the whole point was stealing is fine if the person you're stealing from is ugly enough, but I don't think she would have gone for that," he said, rolling over and plumping up his pillow more.

"Good instincts, Ron," Harry whispered back, ignoring the rumbling in his stomach and hoping for pleasant dreams that most certainly did not involve Hagrid in a pink and white polka dot ensemble with matching pumps and handbag.