Monday, November 15, 2010

The day had become cool and breezy,

The day had become cool and breezy, and as they walked down the sloping lawn towards Hagrid's cabin on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, they felt the occasional drop of rain on their faces. Professor Grubbly-Plank stood waiting for the class some ten yards from Hagrid's front door, a long trestle table in front of her laden with twigs. As Harry and Ron reached her, a loud shout of laughter sounded behind them; turning, they saw Draco Malfoy striding towards them, surrounded by his usual gang of Slytherin cronies. He had clearly just said something highly amusing, because Crabbe, Goyle, Pansy Parkinson and the rest continued to snigger heartily as they gathered around the trestle table and, judging by the way they all kept looking over at Harry, he was able to guess the subject of the joke without too much difficulty.

‘Everyone here?’ barked Professor Grubbly-Plank, once all the Slytherins and Gryffindors had arrived. ‘Let's crack on then. Who can tell me what these things are called?’

She indicated the heap of twigs in front of her. Hermione's hand shot into the air. Behind her back, Malfoy did a buck-toothed imitation of her jumping up and down in eagerness to answer a question. Pansy Parkinson gave a shriek of laughter that turned almost at once into a scream, as the twigs on the table leapt into the air and revealed themselves to be what looked like tiny pixie-ish creatures made of wood, each with knobbly brown arms and legs, two twiglike fingers at the end of each hand and a funny flat, barklike face in which a pair of beetle-brown eyes glittered.

‘Oooooh!’ said Parvati and Lavender, thoroughly irritating Harry. Anyone would have thought Hagrid had never shown them impressive creatures; admittedly, the Flobberworms had been a bit dull, but the salamanders and hippogriffs had been interesting enough, and the Blast-Ended Skrewts perhaps too much so.

‘Kindly keep your voices down, girls!’ said Professor Grubbly-Plank sharply, scattering a handful of what looked like brown rice among the stick-creatures, who immediately fell upon the food. ‘So—anyone know the names of these creatures? Miss Granger?’

‘Bowtruckles,’ said Hermione. ‘They're tree-guardians, usually live in wand-trees.’

‘Five points for Gryffindor,’ said Professor Grubbly-Plank. ‘Yes, these are Bowtruckles, and as Miss Granger rightly says, they generally live in trees whose wood is of wand quality. Anybody know what they eat?’

‘Woodlice,’ said Hermione promptly, which explained why what Harry had taken to be grains of brown rice were moving. ‘But fairy eggs if they can get them.’

‘Good girl, take another five points. So, whenever you need leaves or wood from a tree in which a Bowtruckle lodges, it is wise to have a gift of woodlice ready to distract or placate it. They may not look dangerous, but if angered they will try to gouge at human eyes with their fingers, which, as you can see, are very sharp and not at all desirable near the eyeballs. So if you'd like to gather closer, take a few woodlice and a Bowtruckle—I have enough here for one between three—you can study them more closely. I want a sketch from each of you with all body-parts labelled by the end of the lesson.’

The class surged forwards around the trestle table. Harry deliberately circled around the back so that he ended up right next to Professor Grubbly-Plank.

‘Where's Hagrid?’ he asked her, while everyone else was choosing Bowtruckles.

‘Never you mind,’ said Professor Grubbly-Plank repressively, which had been her attitude last time Hagrid had failed to turn up for a class, too. Smirking all over his pointed face, Draco Malfoy leaned across Harry and seized the largest Bowtruckle.

‘Maybe,’ said Malfoy in an undertone, so that only Harry could hear him, ‘the stupid great oaf's got himself badly injured.’

‘Maybe you will if you don't shut up,’ said Harry out of the side of his mouth.

‘Maybe he's been messing with stuff that's too big for him, if you get my drift.’

Malfoy walked away, smirking over his shoulder at Harry, who felt suddenly sick. Did Malfoy know something? His father was a Death Eater after all; what if he had information about Hagrid's fate that had not yet reached the ears of the Order? He hurried back around the table to Ron and Hermione who were squatting on the grass some distance away and attempting to persuade a Bowtruckle to remain still long enough for them to draw it. Harry pulled out parchment and quill, crouched down beside the others and related in a whisper what Malfoy had just said.

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