You wouldn't expect to be lucky enough to get one in the middle of November, but on perfect sunny days like the one they were having now, the students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry loved nothing better than to lounge around the school grounds, milling about on the grass, swapping stories and complaining about teachers and pieces of homework that only got them a four out of ten. Some people elected to stay indoors, playing Exploding Snap in their common rooms or sleeping in. Nobody ever wanted to work on days like this. Not Harry Potter, certainly (who for all his fame and greatness was at the moment trying extremely hard to beat his best friend Ron Weasley in their seventh consecutive game of Wizard's Chess; he'd lost spectacularly in the first one and was getting better and better as they went along — if your definition of "better" included avoiding a checkmate for longer than ten minutes), and not Draco Malfoy (he had taken over one corner of the courtyard with his fellow Slytherins, who made it a point to laugh in appreciation at everything he said). Nobody sane would waste a gorgeous Saturday surrounded by tottering piles of books or furiously scribbling the fifteen different ways to cure severe acne. Nobody — except, perhaps, Hermione Granger.
Which wasn't to say that she disliked sunny days or was simply hard-wired to function only for work. As hard as it was for others to believe, she enjoyed relaxing as much as the next person. Studying was very, very important, but as a human being she knew that she had her limits. Or rather, she'd realized that after her exhausting third year, during which she had attempted to take all twelve subjects.
But maybe she could save that lazy day for tomorrow; she couldn't possibly afford to laze around today — not when she had several essays to start and needed a lot of books that she couldn't get because they'd already been borrowed. In addition, as her fifth year education consisted of taking the O.W.L.s, it was unthinkable to put off studying for them. The O.W.L.s and the N.E.W.T.s were both vital to a student's future (as the teachers were so wont to remind them), and she wanted to do well. Her classmates, however, weren't in as much of a hurry as her — they weren't supposed to hand in the essays until the week after, and the O.W.L.s wouldn't take place until last two weeks of the second term.
Hermione's year had started preparing for their O.W.L.s ages ago, of course, but she began her own, more serious studying (if studying more seriously than she had before was even possible) since buying her books from Flourish and Blotts during summer vacation. In spite of all this, the very last thing she wanted was to be behind on her homework too, and if Professor Binns wanted three rolls of parchment on the fall of the Icarus the Idle, she'd better get it done right away — especially since Professor Sinistra wanted four feet on the precise positions of all sixty-three of Jupiter's moons during the winter solstice, as well.
Hermione flitted between the shelves, muttering to herself as she browsed for alternative references to use. She was already balancing three heavy-looking tomes precariously on one arm when she reached up for a fourth. It was wedged in between two other books about the size of large cinderblocks, and though she tugged and pulled as hard as she could, it simply wouldn't slide out. After about a minute's fruitless effort, she put her remaining ounce of strength into giving one last mighty pull, and it finally popped out — but she would have toppled over from the sheer weight of it had it not been for the person who happened to walking down the same aisle, squeezing himself behind her. As he drew level with her, the boy caught the book just in time to keep it from falling onto her face.
"Thanks," said Hermione, looking very flustered as she tried to take the book from him clumsily with her free hand.
"I don't think you're going to be able to lift this like that," said the boy, sounding amused.
Hermione lifted her head and found herself looking into the freckled face of Fred Weasley. Although it may have been George. He and his twin (whichever twin this one might be) were identical in every way, so it was almost impossible to tell them apart; even their own mother had a hard time with it. But Hermione always thought that Fred was lopsided, somehow — whether it was his posture or smile or something else, she couldn't say.
"Sorry… Fred," she said. "I hadn't noticed it was you."
"Yeah," said the twin with a sigh. It was Fred, then. "That might have something to do with the fact that I've only ever been in here once — and that was when in my first year, when someone had tipped George and I off about there being a book in the Restricted Section that told you how to find and get into the vanishing door on the fifth floor. You can imagine how that went."
"Oh. So what are you doing here?"
"Looking for a book, obviously," said Fred, taking another of Hermione's and leading the way to the nearest table — without mentioning, of course, that going any farther than the nearest table would probably make him pull a tendon or something. He figured that the book must have weighed half a ton, and suddenly he had a newfound appreciation for Hermione. He never talked to her much, but he knew for a fact that she usually lugged stuff like this around on her back every single day. Being able to carry three of them on one arm alone was pretty impressive, and he made a mental note to compliment her for it.
"That much I could tell," Hermione said coolly, pulling up a chair. She drew out a roll of parchment, her quill, and a bottle of ink. As she unscrewed the lid, she said, "What kind of book, exactly?"
"Oliver Wood's trying to devise new game strategies and wants to consult one," he answered, rolling his eyes.
"Angelina's starting you a bit early, though, isn't she?" she said distractedly, picking up one of her books.
Fred looked at her questioningly.
"What d'you mean?"
"Well — you said Oliver Wood's trying to devise new game strategies. I think you got him mixed up with Angelina."
"I wish," said Fred grimly. "Nope, you heard right. Oliver really is here."
"Oh — but he's already graduated, hasn't he?" asked Hermione in surprise as she looked up. Oliver Wood had been Captain and Keeper of the Gryffindor House Quidditch team, but had left two years previously. "I thought he got signed as a reserve for Puddlemere United."
"He has," said Fred. "But he had some time to kill, so he wrote McGonagall and Dumbledore and Hooch and just about every other teacher to ask if he could come back and train us for a bit." He sounded almost depressed. "Wanted to see how we'd gone on without him and make a few improvements; Angelina took it as a personal insult. Still, though, he was pretty pleased with her for being made Captain. Hasn't Harry told you anything?"
"No." But then again, she'd been visiting the library so often these days that he might simply have had no opportunities to let her know. "I didn't even notice him arrive."
"Yeah, well, he came in at the crack of dawn about a week ago with all his stuff and an even more determined attitude than the one he left with."
"Then where's he been staying?"
"Not at the Tower. No room, since he can't stay in his old dormitory. I think he'll only be here for about two months so he's probably just set up someplace. Spends most of his time on the pitch, anyway, holding his broom and staring off into the distance like some tragic hero. It's been a couple of years, but he hasn't changed at all. I'd nearly forgotten that manic look he always got in his eyes…"
"Wouldn't it be unfair for a reserve of a professional Quidditch team to coach students, though?"
Fred nodded fervently.
"That's what we thought. As much as we want to win, it's just not the same when you cheat at Quidditch. Well, granted, Beaters get fouled a lot because we tend to be pretty —"
"I was going for aggressive, but yeah, that too. Anyway, it's part of the job description."
"But from experience, we should've remembered that Oliver's an unstoppable force of nature when he wants to be. I don't even want to think about what he had to say — or do — to get Dumbledore to let him in. I mean, he was a handful before, and Angelina's been hard on us enough — but getting him back?" He shook his head. "We think he's a brilliant Keeper and all that, but honestly, I thought we'd been shot of him for good."
"I'm sure it can't be that bad."
"You must not know him very well, then. Our last match isn't even until May. We aren't due to start practice till after the New Year! Thank God Dumbledore's restricted him to scheduling and watching practices only. You know, to be fair to the other teams."
"Oh. That's fine, I guess."
"Does us a lot of good too, or he'd keep us going for days. But if you ask me, no book can ever hope to outdo his mad schemes, so I don't see the point. I don't even know why he's made me do this. He must've borrowed every single book about Quidditch that the school has to offer. Maybe even the ones outside Hogwarts too."
"But why isn't George with you? Wouldn't it be easier to do this if you were together?" Hermione couldn't recall ever having seen one twin without the other.
"Oliver caught up with us on our way back from breakfast, ordered me to deal with this, and then he told George he needed someone to throw Quaffles at him for practice. Says he doesn't want to 'neglect his duties as a member of the second ranking team in the league.'" He rolled his eyes again. "Then what's he doing back in his bloody school instead of training with them? I tried convincing him to let me join George instead, but he told me off and said that if we wanted to beat Ravenclaw and do him proud I'd better put some effort in."
"Well, he just wants us to win, that's all," said Hermione as she opened her book.
"Hasn't he even heard that we just beat Slytherin in the first match of the season, two hundred and thirty to forty? Best match we've had in a long time! Cup's pretty much in the bag now. I think he's just punishing us for trying to knock him off his broom the other day for a joke, and I got the brunt of it. Then again, I was the one who made sure he would land in a great pile of —"
"Yes, all right," Hermione said rather hastily before he could go on, feeling a bit queasy; she didn't really want to find out exactly what Fred had placed underneath Oliver. "Anyway, I really do hope you find one. There's bound to be one he hasn't read yet…" She pondered for a moment. "Try Quidditch Matches of the Twentieth Century: Fouls and Fair Games. It was brought in just last Tuesday from Madam Hooch's office. Apparently she borrowed it ages and ages ago and only just remembered to return it. I'm surprised Madam Pince hasn't reported her to Dumbledore yet."
"Didn't think you'd be keeping tabs on sports," said Fred, eyebrow raised.
"I don't," she said with a sniff, now gliding her finger down the table of contents for the chapter she was looking for. "It just so happens that I was in here at the time." But her cheeks were tinged slightly pink, and Fred got the feeling that it was because she'd made it her life goal to read her way through the entire library before she graduated.
"All right, then, don't let me keep you," Fred grunted as he stretched widely and ruffled his bright red hair. "Thanks for the advice. He'd better be happy with that book, because if he's not, I'm bewitching it to look like a Quaffle so I can chuck it at his head."
"It's the second aisle on the left side from the back," she said as she found her page. "It should be black with yellow lettering."
"Right. See you." He was about to leave when he suddenly turned on his heel and stared long and hard at her, his brow furrowed. "Come to think of it, you wouldn't happen to know where the book on the vanishing door is, would you?"
"No." Hermione smiled, now beginning to write her essay. "But you can always give it a go, if you're feeling up to it. Madam Pince is in a particularly horrible mood."
"Why?" asked Fred warily.
"During her usual daily inspection she discovered a tiny ink dot on the first page of From Wizard to Warlock: A Student's Guide to Higher Magics and threw a fit. She's over there yelling at Terry Boot, if you want to see."
"I quite like having my head attached to my neck," said Fred after peering through a bookshelf to get a look, "so I think I'll pass."
He strode off in the direction Hermione had pointed him in and she bent down over her parchment. For a while, she could hear nothing but the soft scratching of her quill and Terry Boot calling Madam Pince various names under his breath as he put away his things a few tables over. Several paragraphs in, however, she heard the unmistakable sound of Fred stomping back towards her. Looking up, she saw that he looked very grumpy.
"Is anything the matter?" she asked, startled.
"Yeah," he said in a disgruntled sort of voice. He slumped into a chair opposite her and placed his bag at his feet, drumming his fingers on the tabletop. "It wasn't there. Looked for Pince and asked for it, and she said Hooch's took it out again because she realized that she'd given back her own copy and not the library's by mistake. What kind of person gets two copies of the same bloody book?"
Hermione blushed at this. She'd actually bought two copies of Hogwarts: A History herself — in case one of them got lost. And as it was one of her favourites, it only made sense for her to want an extra copy around for such an occasion. Then she remembered that she hadn't actually said anything to Fred about it and didn't have any need to be so defensive.
"I tried looking through the other books too," said Fred, who didn't seem to have noticed her internal struggle and was going on with his story, a disgusted look on his face, "but Oliver's got his name in every damn one at least three times. I knew this was all some stupid joke. He's stuck his nose in every book that makes even a single mention of the word 'Quidditch.'"
As much as she wanted to continue doing her homework, Hermione had never seen Fred look so upset about a book. She might even have found it funny if he didn't look so serious about it.
"What'll he do if you turn up without one?"
"Probably tell Angelina to make me take care of all the broomsticks for a month," he replied dully. "Mine's been looking dreadful for days, and Alicia's has started losing twigs."
"Then maybe you can tell him you hadn't found anything? I mean, he'll understand, won't he?"
"Yeah, I'll tell him. If I ever want him to use me as a Bludger target for George, that is. Honestly, it was just a bit of bowtruckle droppings, you'd think he hadn't learned a cleaning spell or two —"
"I wouldn't call a massive pile of bowtruckle dung the size of an anthill a 'bit'," said a voice from behind Hermione. She turned her head and saw that it was Lee Jordan.
"What're you doing here?" said Fred, seeming to have forgotten Hermione was there at all.
This suited her perfectly well, however, and she returned to her essay as Lee then went on to explain what he had been doing before discovering Fred. But she'd left her quill on the parchment for too long, and it had left a large blot at the end of her lengthy discussion of Icarus the Idle's failed attempts at starting a rebellion against the Ministry with only three other participants. She waved her wand and it disappeared.
"…went to visit George at the Quidditch pitch when Katie told me what was going on," Lee was saying, "and the minute I got there Oliver yelled at me to look for you in the library because you were taking too long finding whatever it was he wanted you to find. Just like the good old days, eh? I wasn't sure if he was being serious or not, though. What's he want a book for, anyway?"
"Hell if I know, I'm the last person you want to ask."
"When he told me he'd sent you off to the library I was kind of worried that you'd already died of boredom."
Fred glanced sideways at Hermione and grinned slightly.
"I had a bit of company to keep me alive. But I'm going back to the Tower, I couldn't find anything."
"Oh, good, let's go," said Lee. "I missed breakfast so I nicked a few things from the kitchens and left them in our room, I'm starving."
"Okay. Well, we're off, Hermione. Thanks for the help."
The two boys walked away and left Hermione feeling somewhat grateful that she could now continue her work in peace. They had just closed the heavy library doors behind them when she bent down over her essay again and, crossing her legs, felt her foot hit something soft underneath the table. It didn't take her long to figure out what it was.
She sighed; Fred had forgotten his bag.
She reached for it and pulled it out. It was bulky and oddly-shaped but very light. Or maybe she was just so used to having Hogwarts: A History (along with her Arithmancy book, Spellman's Syllabary, and various other rune translations) with her at all times that a bag with anything less in it seemed light to her. She was quite tempted to peek inside, but her good sense told her otherwise — something about looking into the contents of one of the Weasley twins' bags unnerved her. But Fred would have to wait to get his bag back if he wasn't planning on returning for it; Hermione was behind schedule already and she really didn't want to waste any more time.
And by then she was so focused on being productive that she hadn't noticed Fred's bag twitch — almost as if something alive were inside.
I've been working on this one for months, and it's finally finished. ;v; I'll be putting up a new chapter every week, so I hope you'll stick around!