Harry slammed the top of his trunk down and looked around in panic. He knew he was alone in his dorm room, but the thought of anyone seeing him with...it was enough to make him paranoid. He glanced at the dark fireplace and to both windows. Nothing shone through but light from the full moon. Taking a deep breath, he opened the trunk again. He was going to be in so much trouble when Snape realized it was missing. Besides, what would he say? Someone had just put it in his trunk? That was true. Not that the truth would matter to Snape once he got started. Just when Harry was considering burning the damn thing and scattering the ashes in the lake, the door opened behind him and he jumped as someone walked in.

"Oi!" said Ron, "you got something to eat? I'm starving." Harry surreptitiously slid it under his dress robe. He shrugged in a way that he hoped was nonchalant. Ron walked closer. "What ya got there?"

"N-nothing," Harry stammered, but Ron was not fooled. He made a grab for Harry's trunk, pulling away the dress robes and revealing what lay underneath.

"You didn't?" he gasped in a voice that was both awed and horrified. "Bloody hell, mate. Snape's going to murder you!"

"Thanks, Ron," Harry snapped. He began to pace, dread setting in. "That's helpful- not a conclusion I could've come to on my own."

"Then why did you do it?" Ron whispered, looking around to make sure the dorm was still empty.

"I didn't! It was an accident!"

Ron looked sceptical.

"How d'you steal something like that by accident?" he demanded. "You must've picked it up for a reason."

Harry reddened. "Well, yeah," he admitted. "How could I not be curious when I saw what was written at the top? You'd've done the same if you'd had the chance."

Just then, Harry felt an odd sensation on the back of his neck- almost an itch, but not quite. He reached up to scratch it, but then noticed his hands. "MERLIN'S NIPPLES!" A light blue rash was spreading across his skin.

"Er... don't move, okay?" Ron said, panicked. "I'll go get Hermione."

By the time Ron returned, flushed and breathless, with an equally breathless Hermione in tow, the rash was covering Harry's face and arms. They found him staring at the mirror in horror.

Hermione turned him around and regarded him dispassionately.

"Looks like a Protection Curse," she said matter-of-factly. "Unfortunately I have no idea what to do about it. I'll go to the Library."

She left as quickly as she had arrived, leaving the boys alone.