He threw the package across on to Ron's bed, where it joined a small pile of them that must, Harry assumed, have been delivered by house-elves in the night.
“Cheers,” said Ron drowsily, and as he ripped off the paper Harry got out of bed, opened his own trunk and began rummaging in it for the Marauder's Map, which he hid
after every use. He turfed out half the contents of his trunk before he found it hiding beneath the rolled-up socks in which he was still keeping his bottle of lucky
potion, Felix Felicis.
“Right,” he murmured, taking it back to bed with him, tapping it quietly and murmuring, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” so that Neville, who was passing
the foot of his bed at the time, would not hear.
“Nice one, Harry!” said Ron enthusiastically, waving the new pair of Quidditch Keeper's gloves Harry had given him.
“No problem,” said Harry absent-mindedly, as he searched the Slytherin dormitory closely for Malfoy. “Hey ... I don't think he's in his bed ...”
Ron did not answer; he was too busy unwrapping presents, every now and then letting out an exclamation of pleasure.
“Seriously good haul this year!” he announced, holding up a heavy gold watch with odd symbols around the edge and tiny moving stars instead of hands. “See what Mum
and Dad got me? Blimey, I think I'll come of age next year too ...”
“Cool,” muttered Harry, sparing the watch a glance before peering more closely at the map. Where was Malfoy? He did not seem to be at the Slytherin table in the Great
Hall, eating breakfast ... he was nowhere near Snape, who was sitting in his study ... he wasn't in any of the bathrooms or in the hospital wing ...
“Want one?” said Ron thickly, holding out a box of Chocolate Cauldrons.
“No thanks,” said Harry, looking up. “Malfoy's gone again!”
“Can't have done,” said Ron, stuffing a second Cauldron into his mouth as he slid out of bed to get dressed. “Come on. If you don't hurry up you'll have to Apparate
on an empty-stomach ... might make it easier, I suppose ...”
Ron looked thoughtfully at the box of Chocolate Cauldrons, then shrugged and helped himself to a third.
Harry tapped the map with his wand, muttered, “Mischief managed,” though it hadn't been, and got dressed, thinking hard. There had to be an explanation for Malfoy's
periodic disappearances, but he simply could not think what it could be. The best way of finding out would be to tail him, but even with the Invisibility Cloak this was
an impractical idea; he had lessons, Quidditch practice, homework and Apparition; he could not follow Malfoy around school all day wilhout his absence being remarked
“Ready?” he said to Ron.
He was halfway to the dormitory door when he realised that Ron had not moved, but was leaning on his bedpost, staring out of the rain-washed window with a strangely
unfocused look on his face.
“I'm not hungry.”
Harry stared at him.
“I thought you just said—?”
“—Well, all right, I'll come down with you,” sighed Ron, “but I don't want to eat.”
Harry scrutinised him suspiciously.
“You've just eaten half a box of Chocolate Cauldrons, haven't you?”
“It's not that,” Ron sighed again. “You ... you wouldn't understand.”
“Fair enough,” said Harry, albeit puzzled, as he turned to open the door.
“Harry!” said Ron suddenly.
“Harry, I can't stand it!”
“You can't stand what?” asked Harry, now starling to feel definitely alarmed. Ron was rather pale and looked as though he was about to be sick.
“I can't stop thinking about her!” said Ron hoarsely.
Harry gaped at him. He had not expected this and was not sure he wanted to hear it. Friends they might be, but if Ron started calling Lavender ‘Lav-Lav', he would have
to pui his foot down.
“Why does that stop you having breakfast?” Harry asked, trying to inject a note of common sense into the proceedings.
“I don't think she knows I exist,” said Ron with a desperate gesture.
“She definitely knows you exist,” said Harry, bewildered. “She keeps snogging you, doesn't she?”
“Who are you talking about?”
“Who are you talking about?” said Harry, with an increasing sense that all reason had dropped out of the conversation.
“Romilda Vane,” said Ron softly, and his whole face seemed to illuminate as he said it, as though hit by a ray of purest sunlight.