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Chapter Twenty-Six: Hufflepuff Risotta and Peeves' Reminder

Looking around the hospital wing that day, any visitors would have thought there had been a war at the very least. Everybody in there had black eyes, busted noses, bruised lips, and sprained or broken limbs. The Potter/Malfoy/Weasley team had probably come off the worst in the equation. All the Slytherins were a bit bruised and battered, and Zabini still smelt like fish no matter how many times they gave him cleaning charms, but Harry's gang were pretty badly injured. Draco was restricted to bed, and to Ron's disgust, Madam Pomfrey made him fetch anything the Slytherin wanted. Harry was opposite from them with Hermione on one side and Kainda on the other (Madam Pomfrey thought it wise to have Kainda as far from Blaise as possible). He and Draco had severely annoyed the matron by throwing fruit from their bedside cabinets back and forth across the room to practice Quidditch, but apart from that, they were all incredibly bored.

Gradually, the Slytherin side all were allowed to go, but even after a few days, Harry's gang were still bedridden. The end of the Christmas holidays were approaching, and Madam Pomfrey was full intent on getting them all back to school in time for their first lessons. She kept trying to give them odd potions that Harry found himself fairly suspicious off, as when Draco drunk one, he suddenly started saying that he wanted to go out for a run, despite having a broken leg in plaster.

It was about six o' clock, and the rest of the school were probably still finishing their evening meal. In the hospital wing, Harry, Ron, Draco and Hermione were all awake and talking, whilst the others slept.

"Potter," Draco said, throwing a quick look down the ward.

Harry said, "Yep, ready."

Draco pitched an orange across the ward quickly before Madam Pomfrey could come out and catch them. Harry caught it in one hand and threw it back. Draco got it, and put it back in the fruit bowl quickly as Madam Pomfrey came out of her office. She shot a suspicious look at them.

"What are you doing?"

"Nothing," said Harry, innocently.

"Hmm." She swept back into her office, shutting the door, and the orange made another two trips back and forth across the ward.

"So you two are on form, huh?" said Ron.

Draco nodded, leaning right to the side to grab the orange as Harry did a fast pitch to the left. He snatched it out of the air quickly, just in time to avoid it hitting the water jug. "We'll all be out of here by the time the Quidditch match comes, there's no worry about that. And the other team haven't got much of an advantage, three of their players were in the fight, including the captain. He's the one you tried to strangle, Potter."

"Mark Erith," Harry hissed, his face suddenly darkening into a frown that held a malicious glimmer not unlike the evil clown's. "We have to win this match. If it's the last thing I do. And Malfoy, if you don't catch that Snitch - "

"Okay, okay," said Malfoy, pitching the orange back to Harry. "I get it, Potter. I'm not the secondary Seeker, I'm just as good as you. I hope you can handle something bigger than a piece of fruit though. Quaffles are heavy."

"I know," said Harry. He snatched the orange out of the air, and flung it back. "All the Chasers on our team can handle a Quaffle."

Draco cast a worried look at the slumbering Neville, and was clearly still worried about their new Chaser's skills. Ron frowned and opened his mouth to snap at Malfoy, but Harry cut in quickly with, "Ernie sent me an owl this morning, he's got you as a Quidditch card, Ron."

Ron's face suddenly lifted in delight. "Honestly? What's my biggest skill? Did he tell you they gave me as ratings?"

Harry shook his head. "No, but he should be coming to visit today, so - "

The doors opened, and to Harry's great surprise, Ernie came to visit quite sooner that he'd expected, but he didn't look happy at all. He and Hannah Abbot were supporting Justin Finch-Fletchley, and Professor Sprout was hurrying in front of them with a bucket. Justin's lunch was apparently eager to re-meet the world again.

They were followed by a crowd of Hufflepuff first years, who didn't look very healthy either. Harry cast a look over their ale green and clammy faces, and he knew pretty much instantly that there looked to be a new form of Risotta in school.

"Chicken nuggets and chips," said Professor Sprout, as Madam Pomfrey came hurrying out of her office. "Albus is just trying to calm everybody down. Mr Finch-Fletchley only ate about three and then he was affected. It looks serious, Poppy."

Madam Pomfrey sighed. "Right, everybody who feels ill, please lie down in a bed and I'll be over in two ticks." She turned to the group at the end of the ward. "Potter, you look fine to me, go on. We need the beds. Weasley, Miss Granger, you all look in perfect health, pack up your bags and you can return to your common rooms. Malfoy! Oh, no, you have a broken leg... you'll have to stay. Wake up the others and if they feel alright, let's get them out of here. Any infected Hufflepuff students, get into beds. Come on, stop blocking the doors! Move along now!"

Harry, Ron and Hermione woke Neville, Ginny and Luna, and they all hurried out of the hospital wing with a hurried goodbye to Draco, as the Hufflepuffs continued to stream in. People were leaving the Great Hall talking worriedly, being lead by the prefects and teachers back to their house common rooms. Ron and Hermione hurried off to shepherd the first years back to Gryffindor Tower, while Harry, Neville and Ginny started fighting through the crowds to catch up.

With all the people in the corridor, it took about twenty minutes to get back to the common room. Twice, somebody stood on Neville's foot and Harry found himself terrifed that they would have to carry him all the way back to the hospital wing through all the crowds, but he was okay, and although he limped the last corridor to the portrait hole, he managed it.

Professor McGonagall stood in the middle of the common room, looking round at the assembled students with a very serious expression on her face. "Hurry up there, I need to speak to you all," she called. "Is everybody here? Good. Now, as you all know, the food poisoning epidemic in the school has just struck Hufflepuff house. This issue cannot be ignored any longer." She swept her hawk-like gaze over them all. "The headmaster and the rest of the staff are completely and utterly convinced that this is no accident. The house elves are not making a mistake and the food supplier for the school insists that his produce leaves his premises in perfect condition and none of his other customers have noticed any odd effects at all. This means that somebody within this school is purposely tampering with food."

A shiver ran down the spines of everybody in the room. They'd all known it for so long - but to hear Professor McGonagall, strict, logical Professor McGonagall confirm it... it hit home to every heart that they were in danger.

"I beg you all, that if anybody has any information," she continued, "to please come and see me in private. You will not be named and anything you tell me will be held in the closest confidence. I'm sure we would all like just to sit down and eat without worrying what our meal will do to us." She looked around at every face, her expression serious and yet concerned at the same time. "Please do not be scared of your food. You all need to eat, and it is highly unlikely that anybody will be foolish enough to eat a whole plate of something that contains poison. All the fatal poisons taste very strongly of unpleasant things. No doubt Professor Snape will be starting poisons will all of you because of this."

Nobody looked very comforted by this news.

"Good night - sleep well," she said, opening the door of the common room and stepping out. Everybody immediately burst into conversations, all of them whispering and muttering.

Harry picked his way through the crowd to Ron and Hermione. Ron raised his eyebrows. "Well. We're all going to be poisoned."

"There's no proof of that, Ron," she said, hurriedly. "Don't go around telling the first years things like that. It might just be somebody playing a prank, they'll stop now."

Harry paused, and then said, "Hermione... I don't think this is just a joke... whoever it was would have stopped about the Gryffindors. That wasn't fun to see at all. And it can't be a Slytherin, because they've had the Risotta, so it's not somebody with a grudge against Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs."

Ron bit his lip, and then said, in a very dramatic way, "Then there's only one house left... it must be a Ravenclaw. I woudn't have thought them capable of it. There all serious and clever though, aren't they? They're not evil, it's the Slytherins who are evil."

"No, Ron," said Hermione, frowning. "Hasn't being friends with Draco taught you anything?"

Ron snorted. "Who said I was friends with Malfoy?"

Hermione acted as though she hadn't heard him. "Slytherins aren't evil. If a person's evil, they aren't automatically put in Slytherin, and not all Slytherins are evil. Look at Kainda, she's lovely! It's ambition and cunning, not evil."

"I think it's evil," said Ron, sniffily.

"Hagrid told me when I was eleven that there wasn't a wizard who went bad that wasn't in Slytherin," said Harry, raising his eyebrows.

"Oh, what rubbish," Hermione scoffed. "That was before we knew Sirius was a good man, and he wasn't in Slytherin."

Ron shrugged. "I don't know what I think... it's a Ravenclaw or a Slytherin doing it. Probably a Ravenclaw. Maybe it's that Mark Erith, upset because Cho still loves Harry."

"She doesn't still love me," Harry said, darkly. "She never did."

"But - " Ron began.

"Don't," said Hermione.

"But - "

"Just don't."

The next morning, it wasn't surprising that nobody really had much of an appetite. The eggs and bacon looked delicious, but everybody didn't know just how safe they were. Nobody touched a morsel except Dumbledore, and even the bread rolls were treated with suspicion. The hall practically sat in silence, staring at their plates, everybody wishing it didn't look quite so good.

Harry pushed his plate away vaguely after ten minutes of sitting staring at it, feeling as though he was about to throw up. "I can't even look at this anymore."

"Me neither," said Ron. He stabbed vaguely at a sausage with his knife, swirling his fork in his egg and blending it all together in a pale lemony mess. "I don't want Risotta again."

"Was it really that bad?" said Hermione, concerned.

Ron nodded vaguely. "I hate food. I hate food so much. I never ever want to eat anything again."

"You don't feel sick, do you?" she said.

"No," said Ron. He sighed, tapping his fingers on the table absently. "Just hungry and tired. We're supposed to keep ourselves well-fed and fit and healthy for the match, we're going to be falling of our brooms half-starved at this rate." He picked up the pumpkin jug, splashing some into his goblet and drinking deeply for a moment. "I wonder how long the wizard body can survive without food."

"It varies on which human it is," said Hermione, promptly. "Around forty-five to fifty days for them to become ill. If they have plenty of body fat and are drinking plenty of water, they can live for far longer though."

Ron groaned. "Forty-five to fifty days. And I was eating a lot right up until people starting getting Risotta, so I've got some puppy fat. So I have about sixty days to live."

"Oh, Ron, don't be stupid," said Hermione. "It won't take that long to catch the culprit, and we can start eating again."

Ron stared mournfully into space. "We need some back-up plans. Firstly, I'll get Fred and George to send us more sweets, and send us food from home. Then, on every Hogsmeade trip, we buy as much fresh food as possible, and some preserving potion so it will last us longer. Lots of water for everybody. If the worst comes to the worst, we'll eat Errol and Pigwidgeon, then Malfoy's owl Sylus, then Crookshanks, Cupid, Hedwig, then Neville."

"And what," said Hermione, sarcastically, "are we going to do once we've all turned into cannibals and eaten Neville?"

"Maybe Luna," said Ron, with a faraway look on his face. "No, she's a bit... thin and bony. Maybe we'll hunt down one of the Slytherins and eat them... no, they're more muscle than fat." He eyed the table vaguely. "Is wood edible?"

"No," said Hermione, sniffily.

"I suppose we'll find out soon," Ron said, vaguely, taking another swig from his goblet. "What if somebody poisons the water supply?"

"Then we'll be very ill in a week," said Hermione. "Dead soon after."

"Oh good," said Ron, pleasantly. "Harry, if somebody poisons the water supply, I think we should just kill each other and make it quick."

Harry nodded. "Alright. I'm not drinking from toilets. I don't care how bad the water gets, no way am I drinking from toilets, or puddles, or the lake."

"I wonder what giant squid tastes like," Ron mused, smiling pleasantly, apparently caught up in his own little world.

"Get a stick," said Harry. "Let's go find out."

Hermione tutted. "Oh, honestly."

Ron slumped forward onto his hands, content to just moan and mutter into his elbows for a while. "I hate... whatever day it is now. And I hate food, and I hate Gryffindor Risotta. And I hate house elves."

Hermione slammed her book down angrily. "This is NOTHING to do with the house elves, Ron! They haven't done a thing!"

"Apart from try to kill us all," Ron muttered.

"I heard that!"

"I don't care."

Harry frowned, and said "Stop fighting. Ron, it's not the house elves. Hermione, you're obsessed with the house elves. Both of you shut up. I'm hungry and annoyed enough as it is."

They fell silent, just glaring at each other across the table. For a moment, everything was fairly quiet as the students murmured to each other, and the click of Dumbledore's knife and fork could be heard pleasantly clinking against his plate.

And then there was a swishing noise, and a great white mass burst into the hall through one of the walls. Several people jumped and cried out in surprise as Peeves emerged through a tapestry, grinning wickedly. Harry rolled his eyes and looked away. Peeves wasn't technically allowed in the Great Hall, and Filch had done everything he could in his power to stop Peeves getting in, but apparently the poltergeist had found a gap in the security at last.

"Out, Peeves," said Professor McGonagall's voice from the staff table.

Peeves cackled, spinning round in a circle and then swooping over the heads of all the students. A group of Ravenclaw first years recoiled in fright as he bobbed down in front of them, grinning from ear to ear. "How's breakfast, ickle firsties? Are we all still alive?"

"Peeves! OUT!" Professor McGonagall stood up, angrily. "You know very well that you're not allowed in the Great Hall! The students are trying to eat!"

Peeves turned to her, beaming widely. "Oooohoohoohooh, somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed today!"

"OUT!" she barked. "The Bloody Baron will be called, Peeves, if you don't - "

Peeves cackled again, swooping down to seize a plate of bacon and eggs from one of the first years. They all huddled together in fright as Peeves turned to McGonagall again. "Can't I stay? Just for a while? Everybody else is here. Why's Peevesy not allowed, hmm? Talking about Peevesy, are we?"

Professor McGonagall eyed the plate of eggs in his hand suspiciously, her eyes flashing. Absolutely everybody was watching now. "Out, Peeves, or you shall be taken out forcefully."

What Peeves did next made everybody gasp in horror, as he pulled back his arm and squashed the whole plate into Professor McGonagall's face. A hush went over the hall as the plate fell to the floor with a clatter, and a fried egg peeled slowly from McGonagall's face, hanging limply. Everybody just stared, absolutely amazed at what Peeves had done.

Next second, Peeves had cackled, swooped up into the air and flailing his arms, he brought the Ravenclaw table up into the air, revolving over and over, so that the whole hall was showered in breakfast, plates, cutlery and juice jugs. All the students leapt out of their seats and screaming, running away to avoid the barrage from above, but Peeves wasn't done. The table dropped with a clatter, and he shot along it, seizing eggs and toast and bacon, chasing after a group of students trying to run. They were all pelted with eggs and food, and everybody screamed even more.

It was pandemonium. The whole hall was up out of their seats and running to escape Peeves's rampage. The poltergeist grasped a third year Hufflepuff by the back of the neck, pouring porridge down the back of his robes, and then he was zooming towards the Gryffindors, scooping up plates as he flew. They all screamed and ran the other way, he cut them off and they ran back. Harry turned around just for a split second to see whether Peeves was still chasing, and a fried egg hit him in the face with a splatter.

Harry shook his head, pulling most of the slimy, cold egg off his face, feeling it dripping all down his cheeks. Peeves was harrassing the front of the Gryffindors now, cackling wildly and showering them all in eggs and beans, but Harry noticed that across the hall, the Slytherin table were under attack as well. Eggs were zooming out of nowhere, splattering down the wood like bullets from a machine gun in an aeroplane, over-turning plates and jugs, sending a stream of food all over.

"How did he do that?" Harry shouted over the mayhem to Ron, still wiping remains of the cold egg off his face.

"Do what?" yelled Ron.

"He made - " but Harry was cut silent as another egg splattered all over his face and Peeves shot over head, cackling delightly.

"Sunside up!" he quipped, and no less than four first years were pelted with eggs in fast succession. Harry noticed through the confusion and chaos that the Slytherins were under attack from flying sausages now, but surely Peeves couldn't throw that far and that fast?

One of the chandeliers gave way above the Hufflepuff table, and they all leapt up, running screaming for the door. Harry felt Peeves ripple past as the now invisible poltergeist shot after them to squash eggs in their hair.

"Ron, help me!" Hermione shouted, jumping up and drawing her wand to save the first years. Ron didn't hear her, too busy peeling the syrupy pancake off his face. Draco wasn't bothering with his wand either, and was just flinging eggs back at whatever it was bombarding him with plastic tubs of jam. Most of them were missing and hitting the Ravenclaws, who were retaliating by tossing whole plates of toast across the hall at Draco. A riot was going to break out soon.

Professor McGonagall had joined the fray, yelling at the battling tables to stop pelting each other with their breakfast, but nobody heard a word of what she said. Peeves's work was being done for him as the whole school got into the fight. Even Ron seized the opportunity to pour a whole bowl of porridge down Zacharias Smith's back before rushing off to help Hermione, still tugging pancake out of his eyebrows. Only Luna Lovegood seemed unaffected by the war around her, emersed deeply in a copy of The Quibbler and eating toast with a very placid look on her face.

Ginny ducked a low-flying plate of bacon and grabbed Harry's arm, yelling, "Let's get out of here!"

Harry had to admit it was the best course of action, and they both sprinted frantically for the door, hands over their head as the brunch continued to rain from above.

"Wait!!" Harry yelled, suddenly remembering something. "You go ahead, go!!"

Ginny didn't need telling twice. She ran for the door, leaving Harry to fight his way through the mass of people around the Slytherin table. Draco looked absolutely numb with shock, now painted with various toppings. Harry grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, bellowed, "You owe me!!" and dragged him from the hall, only stopping to skid on a pool of pumpkin juice and regain his balance.

Once they got out into the corridor, Harry let Draco go and they fell against the wall, panting. Harry glanced across, and Draco looked back, and they both tried not to laugh as they caught sight of each other. Draco had a patchwork face of marmelade, jam, butter and chocolate spread, whilst Harry was wearing a rather fetching wig of rice pudding and a fried egg as an eyepatch.

"Join the circus," Harry suggested, grinning.

"I'll see you there then," said Draco, coolly.

Ginny appeared next to them, her nose wrinkled as she untangled a spoon full of nectarine jam from her bright red hair. "What happened to you?" she said, eyeing Draco.

"Oh no, this wasn't the food fight," he said, wryly. "I actually decided to make myself look like this, I think it's going to be the next big trend to spread your face with what you normally leave to your toast."

Ginny ignored the comment, turning to Harry. "Peeves is a good shot to hit the Slytherins at that range. Did you see? He was hitting like eight people at once on different sides of the hall, at the same time."

"I don't think it's just Peeves in there," said Harry.

"Oh, how clever of you to notice," Draco mused.

There was a faint whistling noise as the sarcasm flew over Harry's head.

"So which of the ghosts has he roped in to help?" Ginny wondered aloud.

"No idea," said Harry, shrugging. "Somehow I don't think it's The Bloody Baron."

"That fat monk?" Draco suggested, innocently tapping a tentaculus jinx through the door at some of the Ravenclaws.

"No, he's not the type," said Harry. "Maybe Peeves is just working really hard... can poltergeists do two things at once?"

"Who cares?" Draco scoffed. "As long as we're out of there, Peeves can do what he likes as far as I care."

"Aren't you a prefect?" Ginny said, frowning.

Draco chose to ignore this particular fact.

Harry was about to suggest showers would be a good idea, when out of the corner of his eye he saw an egg heading rapidly in their direction and shouted, "DUCK!!"

It soared over their heads, missing them by inches, and splattered on the back wall.

"Close one," said Ginny.

"Yeah," agreed Harry.

There were two quick splats in succession, as the second egg and a pancake hit Draco in the back of the head.

Apparently, it took more than half an hour to put an end to the mayhem, and even then, it wasn't because of teacher control. There was simply no more food left to throw. The Bloody Baron was called to reprimand Peeves, a few people were lead away to the Hospital Wing with sausages bunged up their noses and everybody else was sent up to their common rooms to get changed.

Ron fell into the common room, quite literally. He lay sprawled in a sticky, jam-covered heap on the floor by the portrait hole, staring upside down at Harry, who smiled pleasantly down from his armchair. "Hi," said Harry.

"H'lo," Ron managed, as a trickle of semolina dripped down his nose.

"How did you manage to get out alive?" asked Harry. "You're not even that messy, and you were guarding the first years."

Ron staggered wearily to his feet with a groan, looking as though he was about to collapse, grasped the bottom of his jumper and held it out. Several bowls worth of porridge hit the floor with a satisfying slap. "Not that messy?" said Ron, incredulously, as a dollop of marmite fell from his fingers into the porride onto the floor.

Harry chuckled. "You didn't see Draco's jammy face-mask and pancake beret." Harry smiled as Ron staggered across the common room towards the bathroom, squelching pleasantly on every other step. "Don't use the first shower, the plug hole's still blocked with baked beans," Harry called after him.

"Thanks for the advice, Harry." Squishing to the door, Ron pulled it open and sniffed tentatively. "Ah, the sweet smell of steam and breakfast clogging up the plug holes. Just the thing you want. Oh, by the way, I can't come to Quidditch tonight, and neither can the rest of the team."

Harry's face fell in horror. "Why?"

"We were trying to herd the first years out of the hall," said Ron, bitterly. "And Snape caught us, he accused us of running away when the staff still needed assistance to stop Peeves. And I got angry, and he gave me a detention, so I squashed a piece of toast in his horrible greasy face and he gave me, Hermione, Ernie, Neville, Ginny and Draco detention. You're on your own, mate. By the way, where did you scuttle off to? Draco says you suddenly started scratching your neck and gabbled that you had to use the bathroom."

Harry frowned. "No reason, I did need the bathroom. Just because my col- my neck got itchy, that doesn't mean anything. So no Quidditch practice..."

"No, go on your own," said Ron. "My detention might finish before dark anyway, there could still be time. Don't lose faith, mate."

He smirked, stepping into the bathroom and shutting the door behind him, as Hermione clambered into the common room wearing a great deal of tomato sauce and a frown.

"Absolutely disgusting," she said, ripping pancakes covered in jam off her robes. "I don't know why Dumbledore keeps Peeves in the school, he's just a complete nuisance. And I have a detention just because Ron slapped Professor Snape with a piece of toast. Has he come back yet?"

"Yeah, he's just in the shower," said Harry, turning the page in his book. "I'm sure you can yell at him when he gets out. Hermione, did you notice anything weird about Peeves?"

Her eyes narrowed, very reminiscent of Professor McGonagall. "You mean apart from the fact that he was being brutally cruel and foolish, and attacking first years?"

"Yeah," said Harry. "When he was attacking us, the Slytherin table were getting hit too. But he can't throw that far and at the same time, can he? I don't know what the difference between poltergeists and ghosts is."

"There isn't much really," she said, vaguely. "It's just pick of the draw. Most people pass away and don't return as ghosts or poltergeists, but people who do could be either. Poltergeists are a little rarer though... some people think that it's in the blood lines whether people are going to be poltergeist or ghost. Generally, poltergeists exist to cause mayhem, they like bright colours that clash and chaos, lots of noise and fright. Ghosts are quieter, more sombre."

Harry shrugged. "Maybe Peeves can throw really well. I mean, he can levitate tables and move things without touching them, he can probably throw without really throwing too." He turned another page in his book, annoyed at having to go and practice Quidditch on his own. "I can't believe Snape gave you all detention. We've got to practice... I'm still worried about my throwing. I can't get it just right and it needs to be perfect..." He sighed. "Draco said he'd practice with me with the Quaffle."

Hermione tutted loudly. "Honestly. I'm standing here dripping in ketchup and oatmeal, and all you can worry about is Quidditch?" She turned to the door of the bathroom, hammering on it with her fist. "Ron! I'm coming in to get a shower, you'd better be in your own cubicle on the boy's side!"

There was a halt to the loud singing, rapid footsteps and the slam of a cubicle door. "Yeah I am, what do you think I'm doing, running around the bathroom? There's food everywhere and I could slip and kill myself, I'm not completely stupid you know."

Hermione sighed, opening the door and strolling in. Harry listening to them arguing for a while, apparently over why Ron's clothes were spread all over the floor, not really interested, until Ron said something that made him stop.

"Hey, Hermione! Did you bring a squeaky toy in here?"

"What?" she yelled back.

"There's like a rubber ball just rolled into my cubicle, it's got a jester or whatever on it. Is it yours?"

"Why would I have brought a squeaky toy in here, what do you think I am, six?"

Harry slammed his book down and rushed into the bathroom. There was a squeal from Ron as he shot back into his cubicle. "Most people KNOCK, Harry!"

"Where's the clown?" said Harry, very pale in the face.

Ron frowned, and handed him something over the top of his cubicle door. "There... is it yours? What have you got a clown toy for?"

"What did you see it do?" said Harry, his eyes wide and fixed on Ron.

"It just... rolled into my cubicle and looked at me... why? It's not a big deal." Ron smirked at the rubber ball still grinning at him. "Come on, it's like a dog ball or something. You're not attached to it or anything, are you?"

Harry shook his head vaguely, and turned the ball over to look at it. It smiled wickedly up at him. There was something just so sinister and sickening in that smile. Its eyes seemed to be glimmering.

Ron snorted. "What's the big deal? It's just some stupid toy." He snatched it off Harry. "Not bothered about it, are you? It's not precious or anything?"

Harry shook his head again.

"Great," said Ron. He wrapped a towel firmly around his waist, strolling out of his cubicle to a window. He pulled back his arm and pitched the clown right out of it. Harry saw it sail away, arcing right over the grounds and disappearing somewhere into the Forbidden Forest far below. "There," said Ron. "No more clown. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a shower to attend to."

Harry nodded, his eyes lingering on the spot where the clown vanished for just a moment more, before he turned and left. If he'd stayed just a couple more seconds, he would have seen a tiny puff of smoke come out of the trees, float up into the air, form the shape of a skull with a serpent twisting out of its mouth, and then vanish completely in the breeze.


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