|SIYE Time:3:19 on 24th February 2018|
Along Came A Man-Spider
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Characters:Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley
Genres: Action/Adventure, Comedy
Story is Complete
Summary: It's the last Hogsmeade visit before Christmas during Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts. When he gets to the village, he finds a puzzle that needs to be solved. Can Harry and his friends solve the mystery?
Hitcount: Story Total: 2513
Disclaimer: Harry Potter Publishing Rights © J.K.Rowling. Note the opinions in this story are my own and in no way represent the owners of this site. This story is subject to copyright law under transformative use. No compensation is made for this work. Any similarities between original characters, places or objects found in this story and real-life couterparts are purely coincidental.
The idea behind this fic is that it's a "missing moment" (I use quotes because it obviously didn't happen) that can be inserted into HBP between chapters 14 & 15 and is compatible with canon. It's also a tribute to one of my favorite TV shows from when I was a kid.
And, as always, many thanks to my betas for their time, energy & support!
There were less than two weeks before Christmas and Harry Potter was absentmindedly picking through his breakfast. Across from him, one of his best friends, Hermione Granger, was completely ignoring hers as she read her Transfiguration textbook. Today, like most Hogsmeade weekends, should have been met with excitement and anticipation, but so far it had only stirred feelings of melancholy and discontent. Unlike previous excursions to their favourite wizarding village, they would be spending the day without the final third of their trio, Ron Weasley. Due to his nascent relationship with Lavender Brown, he and Hermione were not on pleasant terms (to say the least). Harry blew a puff of air upwards in frustration, displacing the fringe of hair that partially covered his infamous scar. At least he would get a chance to do some much needed Christmas shopping.
“Is this seat taken?”
Harry looked up from his plate and was surprised to see Ron looking down at him.
“Ron! Why aren’t you with–never mind, have a seat!” said Harry as he shifted over to make room.
“Thanks, mate,” said Ron as he sat down. He began to pile food on his plate and looked over to see if Hermione would object to his presence, only to find that she had not even looked up from her book. Harry thought he saw a glimpse of disappointment on Ron’s face, but chose to ignore it.
“So,” said Harry, “getting an early start for Hogsmeade?”
“Actually, that’s why I came over here. Would you mind if I went with you two?”
Harry thought he saw Hermione stiffen momentarily, but he could not be sure. She did not look up, but shrugged her shoulders ever so slightly in a noncommittal manner. Harry took that as a sign of acquiescence and was about to try to steer the conversation towards a neutral topic when they were joined by another unexpected redhead.
The three sixth-years were quite surprised as Ginny Weasley sat down beside Hermione in an obvious state of annoyance.
“Would it be all right if I went to Hogsmeade with you lot?” the younger student continued.
Predictably, Hermione let her curiosity get the best of her and posed the question that was on everyone’s minds.
“Is everything all right, Ginny? Weren’t you going to Hogsmeade with Dean?”
“I’d rather not be around him right now. We got into a little tiff over the scarf I knitted for him.”
“You knitted him a scarf?” Ron asked in surprise.
“Yeah, I even made it in the colours of his favourite football team,” said Ginny as she produced a burgundy and white scarf, with some light blue trim, from her rucksack. Harry noticed both ends seemed to come to a point, and it was only half as long as it needed to be, but held his tongue. Ron, on the other hand, was having much trouble keeping a straight face.
“I know… I know… I’m not as good as Mum, but it’s not that bad, is it?”
Ron quickly filled his mouth with food, while Hermione returned her focus to her book, leaving Harry to fend for himself.
“I… uh, that is… I think it’s brilliant.”
“Thanks!” she responded enthusiastically. “I knew it couldn’t be that bad. Will you wear it as we walk around Hogsmeade just to prove to Dean that it’s not that bad?”
“Um… I… that is–of course!”
Ron started choking, but the only thing capturing Harry’s attention at the moment was Ginny’s delighted expression of gratitude. He did not even protest as she tied it around his neck into something resembling an ascot.
Hermione raised her book to hide her face, but Harry still heard a muffled giggle escape from her lips.
After breakfast, the four Gryffindors made their way to the front gates of the school grounds, the Weasley siblings followed by Harry and Hermione. Harry was doing his best not to stare at Ginny, but was having a difficult time with it. He could sense the smirk on Hermione’s face, and was about to say something to her when they ran into one of their favourite faculty members on the path to the village.
“Hagrid! Are you heading into Hogsmeade too?” asked Ron.
“`ullo, Ron!” replied the half-giant cheerfully. “Ginny, Hermione, Harry…” he continued as he nodded to each one in turn. “Maybe later, I’ve got some business in the forest to take care of first, but–hey, could you lot do me a favour?”
The four students exchanged looks, wary about agreeing to do their friend a favour without knowing the details first. Knowing Hagrid, it could be something as simple as feeding Flobberworms or as dangerous as milking a Blast-Ended Skrewt.
“Would you mind lookin’ after Fang for a bit? He’s a little under the weather and I’d be able to get everythin’ done faster without `im taggin’ along. I could meet you in front of the Three Broomsticks some time after lunch.”
“Is that all?” said Ron, after exhaling in relief.
“No problem,” said Harry quickly, as he gave Ron a look. “We’ll see you in a few hours.”
“Thanks. G’wan now, Fang. You behave yerself now.”
As the boarhound happily bounded after the four Gryffindors into the village, Hagrid called over his shoulder one last time, “And, Harry?”
Harry stopped and turned around to see what else his friend might need.
When they got to Hogsmeade, Harry had to play the role of peacemaker almost immediately as Ron wanted to go into Zonko’s Joke Shop while Hermione wanted to enter Scrivenshaft’s Quill Shop. As their row began to escalate, it was obvious that Ginny was starting to have second thoughts about joining them, so he quickly suggested going to Dervish and Banges as a compromise. Although no one bought anything, Harry was satisfied that he had at least prevented Ginny from coming up with an excuse to wander the village with some of her other friends. After exiting the magical equipment store and deciding that they would visit both Zonko’s and Scrivenshaft’s after lunch, they were puzzled to find a gathering of villagers and students outside of the post office.
Ron tapped Harry on the shoulder from behind and said, “Any idea what’s going on?”
Harry shook his head and looked at the two girls, who gave him equally clueless looks. Fang whimpered piteously from Ron’s waist. Harry walked up to the nearest person in school robes and tapped them on the shoulder. “Excuse me, can you tell me what’s going on?”
“Oh, it’s you, Harry!” It was Cho Chang. Harry stifled his reflex to step back, and was pleased to note that Ginny had stepped up beside him. The corners of Cho’s mouth tugged downwards momentarily before she said, “It’s Mr. Wagler, the manager of the owl office. Someone or something has been bothering the birds, and he’s upset.”
Harry chanced a look at Hermione and was not surprised to see that her curiosity was piqued. She gave him a small nod and he began to plow his way through the crowd to get at the centre of the commotion. Once there, he found a middle-aged wizard holding Seamus Finnigan by the ear.
“C’mon, admit it! It was you, wasn’t it?” bellowed the irate man.
“Ow! Let go, you old codger! I haven’t done anything!” Seamus yelled back.
Harry stepped forward to help his roommate. “Sir! Please, perhaps we can find a way to resolve this quietly.”
“And what would you know ab–” said the man, as he turned to look at Harry. It was quite obvious that his eyes had found Harry’s scar. “Oh, it’s you!”
For once, Harry did not shy away from his fame and pressed his advantage. “Why don’t we go into your office, and you can tell us all about it?”
“What about him?” asked the older wizard, nodding in Seamus’ direction.
“I told you, I was in my dormitory the entire night. How could I have sneaked out of the castle? And even if I did, why would I waste my time bothering your owls?”
“It’s true, sir,” said Harry, hoping to keep his roommate’s tirade to a minimum. “I can vouch for his whereabouts last night.”
The older wizard grunted, and let go of the young Irishman before turning to enter the owl office. As Ginny, Hermione, Ron and Fang followed Mr. Wagler into the post office, Seamus caught Harry by the shoulder.
“Thanks, mate. I really had nothing to do with it.”
“I believe you. Don’t worry, we’ll get to the bottom of this.”
Seamus nodded his head and began walking away. Just as Harry reached the doorway his friends had already entered, he heard Seamus call out, “Nice tie!” Harry immediately turned red, thankful that Ginny was already inside.
Harry stepped into the rear office to find his friends standing around Mr. Wagler, who was seated at his desk. Harry was thankful that Hermione had decided to take charge.
“Would you mind telling us the problem, sir?”
The proprietor of the owl office nodded as he exhaled, apparently preparing for a lengthy explanation. “It started a few nights ago–Wednesday, I think. I noticed as I was closing up for the evening that the owls were very restless, especially the Scops. It seemed a little unusual, but I didn’t give it much thought until I made it outside. Once outside, I could hear some faint screeching noises coming from somewhere in the woods behind the building. I was a bit spooked, so I Apparated home right away. I hoped that might be the end of it, but I was wrong. The next day, they were still quite agitated. One of them even refused to let Madam Rosmerta tie a letter onto its leg.”
“Did any of the owls deliver any letters that day?” asked Hermione.
“Well, a few of them did, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why some owls were willing to deliver their letters, while others weren’t. For example, Mr. Zonko and Mrs. Flume were able to get their letters sent with no problems, while Mr. Jones, the caretaker of the railway platform could not.”
“Is that everyone who came in that day?”
The older wizard leaned back and pondered the question. “I think so. I remember it was a fairly slow day for custom. Things haven’t been right since then, either. It might be kinder to send these owls to another office or donate them to the school than to keep them here where they’re obviously uncomfortable.”
“Thank you, sir. I think we’re going to see Madam Rosmerta and Mr. Jones to get their impressions. We’ll get back to you if we learn anything,” said Hermione.
“But we’re going to the Three Broomsticks first, right?” asked Ron in a hopeful manner.
Ginny gave Harry a smirk that made his knees go weak. If Hermione saw this exchange, she gave no indication as she rolled her eyes and said, “Yes, Ron. I suppose we can grab some lunch as well.”
Despite the unsolved mystery before them, lunch was an awkward affair. Harry wondered if he preferred Hermione’s cool indifference from breakfast over the snippy remarks she had begun to throw at Ron throughout the meal. He tried desperately to think of a way to break the building storm, but could come up with nothing. Luckily, their lunch orders arrived sooner than expected and silence finally settled on their table. Unfortunately, even this brief respite was doomed to end.
“Hey! Those are my chips,” said Hermione.
“But, I’ve run out,” protested Ron.
“Well, you wouldn’t have if you hadn’t fed all yours to Fang.”
“But he was hungry! You can’t just let him starve. It’s inhuman.”
“Since when are you a champion of creatures’ rights?”
“Not all of them–just Fang. For some reason I can sympathize with him.”
Hermione was about to say something else when she made eye contact with Harry. Seeing the unease in her best friend’s eyes, she held back her retort and shoved a chip into her mouth instead. She chewed it very vigorously.
Taking advantage of the rare silence, Ginny turned to Harry and said, “So, do you have any ideas as to what’s going on at the owl office?”
Harry was somewhat surprised (but thankful) that she was starting a conversation, and stumbled a bit over his reply. “N-no… that is, not really. It seems a bit odd, though, doesn’t it?”
“Shall we go ask Madam Rosmerta about it?”
“Oh… of course!”
Shoving his last chip into his mouth, he rose from his chair and waited patiently for Ginny to rise as well. When she stood from her chair, he bowed slightly and motioned with his arm for her to lead the way, earning him a small smile. She turned before he could notice the slight tinge of pink in her cheeks. When they arrived at the bar, they found Madam Rosmerta cleaning a drinking glass.
“Excuse me… Madam Rosmerta?” said Ginny.
“Hello, Ginny… Harry… nice tie!” Ginny beamed at this last remark. “Need more butterbeer?”
“Er… sure…” said Harry. “Four butterbeers, please.”
As the barmaid began to fill his request, Ginny winked at Harry, causing the monster in his chest to purr, just before she began her subtle inquiry. “Shame about Mr. Wagler…”
“Been having some trouble with his owls. Said he might have to move to another village if things don’t change,” continued Ginny. Harry raised an eyebrow, but otherwise gave no indication that he had noticed her exaggeration of the problem.
“Really? I knew he was having some problems recently, but move to another village altogether? I didn’t know things were that bad.” There was no mistaking the surprise and concern in Rosmerta’s voice.
“Do you know something about the problem, then?” asked Harry.
“Well… I tried to send off a letter earlier this week, but none of the owls would let me tie a letter onto them. Mr. Wagler had to do it for me, and even then he did it with a considerable amount of difficulty.”
“Did anything unusual happen to you before your visit to the owl office that day?” asked Ginny.
“Not really. I did see Velcher Jones leaving the owl office on my way in.”
“The caretaker at Hogsmeade Station?” asked Harry.
Madam Rosmerta nodded. “Yes, that’s him.”
“Did he mention any problems with the owls?”
“No. Just tried to convince me to let him take me out for tonight, like he always does.”
“Oh… uh, I see,” said Harry, unsure of how to continue.
Ginny laughed silently to herself at Harry’s discomfort and picked up the conversation. “So, there was nothing unusual in Mr. Jones’ behaviour, then?”
“Well, he did seem more confident than usual. I sort of had to push him away when he got too close. But, really, it was nothing.”
“All right then,” said Ginny as she picked up two mugs of butterbeer. “Thanks for the drinks!” Harry smiled at Madam Rosmerta politely as he picked up the other two mugs and turned to follow Ginny across the pub.
When they returned to the table, they were not surprised to find Ron and Hermione looking anywhere in the pub but at each other. Hermione noticed their return first.
“Did Madam Rosmerta have anything interesting to say?” she asked hopefully.
“Not much,” said Ginny, with a slight frown. “Mr. Jones got a little too ‘up close and personal’ with her on the High Street before she made it to the owl office, but that’s about it.”
“Some people!” said Ron. “Just don’t know when a little privacy is called for, do they?” His remark was met by looks of disbelief from his three companions.
“Um… let’s just finish our butterbeers and go talk to Mr. Jones,” offered Harry. “If that doesn’t pan out we’ll have to go to Zonko’s and Honeydukes.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Ron as he lifted his mug to his lips, oblivious to the murderous look Hermione was giving him.
When they reached Hogsmeade Station, they were disappointed to find Mr. Jones not there.
“Well, I guess that’s it, then,” said Ron. “Let’s head to Zonko’s.”
“Honestly,” said Hermione, “Mr. Wagler needs our help.”
“Yeah, but what else can we do about it here?”
“Let’s just look around a bit,” said Ginny. “Maybe we can find something around the station that can easily explain the owls’ behaviour.”
“I suppose… What do you think?” said Ron as he turned to Harry.
“Well… having a quick look around isn’t a bad idea.”
“Thanks, Harry,” said Ginny with a triumphant grin.
“Thanks, Harry,” muttered Ron under his breath in a falsetto voice.
“Would you feel better if I gave you some of Mum’s secret recipe biscuits?” asked Ginny.
“You have some?” asked Ron hopefully.
“Just got them by owl yesterday. I left most of the batch in my room, but I’ve got a couple here with me.” She then took out a couple biscuits from her pocket and tossed them to her brother.
“C’mon, Fang, let’s look around this side of the station,” said Ron as he turned away from his friends and tossed one of the biscuits into Fang’s open mouth.
A half hour later, Ron and Fang had searched their half of the station twice, but to no avail. They had just finished a half-hearted search of the edge of the woods next to the station when Ron stopped and ran his fingers through his hair in frustration.
“I’ve had it! At least they won’t be able to say we didn’t try, eh Fang?”
“Right. Let’s go see if the others f– did you hear that?”
Fang turned his head to look at a point deeper into the woods. Whatever Ron had heard, he apparently wasn’t imagining it. He turned to peer in the same direction as Fang and let about a minute go by before releasing a breath he didn’t know he was holding.
“Guess it was nothing. Let’s get back to the others.” He looked down to see Fang whimpering with his paws over his eyes.
His only response was a pitiful whine, which was followed by an ugly roar in the distance. Looking back up at the forest, Ron saw what appeared to be a half-man, half-spider monstrosity striding towards him. At Ron’s yelp, Fang removed his paws from his eyes only to find that Ron was already halfway back to the station. As the boarhound caught up to the lanky teenager, he could barely make out the words Ron was spouting.
“Spider… puff, puff… bloody… hell… puff, puff… it had to be… a spider!”
Ron and Fang found the others kneeling on the ground, examining some red leaves a few paces away from the northern edge of the platform. They didn’t stop running until they were within arm’s reach of their friends.
“What happened to you two?” asked Hermione.
“We-we… puff, puff… we’ve got to… puff, puff… go… puff, puff… before it gets here.”
“Before what gets here?”
“What monster?” asked the three teens on the ground in alarm.
“The one that was chasing us… puff, puff… walked like a man… puff, puff… head of a spider.”
The two girls and Harry subconsciously looked to Fang for confirmation. His weak whimper was not very reassuring.
“All right,” said Ginny finally. “Let’s say you did see a… a–”
“Man-Spider,” said a gruff voice behind them.
All four teens turned to face the stranger. He was a middle-aged wizard with greying hair and a false smile. Harry immediately didn’t trust him, and he could tell that none of his friends did either.
“Velcher Jones,” he said, as he offered his hand.
Cautiously, Harry took it. “Harry P–”
“I know who you are. I know who all of you are. But, what’re you doin’ around here? Shouldn’t you be in the village drinking butterbeer and eating licorice wands?”
“We’ve volunteered to help Mr. Wagler figure out what’s wrong with his owls,” explained Hermione.
“What does that have to do with Hogsmeade Station?”
“Mr. Wagler explained that you were one of the first people to have trouble with the owls,” said Harry.
“And we were hoping there was a simple explanation for it,” finished Ginny.
“Of course there is,” said the caretaker.
“There is?” said the four teens in unison.
“Aye. The Man-Spider. It’s been makin’ all sorts of noise at night in these woods here–the same woods that run along behind the owl office.”
“There you go, it’s all explained,” said Ron. “Now we can go back to Hogsmeade and–”
“We’ll do nothing of the sort,” said Hermione to him before turning back to the caretaker. “I’ve never heard of this Man-Spider. I think we need to get more information before we talk to Mr. Wagler again.”
“I agree,” said Ginny. She looked to the caretaker and said, “Do you have any idea where in the woods we might be able to find it?”
“Rumour is it’s been staying at the Creepy Cottage,” said the caretaker, as his eyes wandered back to the woods behind the station. “But I wouldn’t recommend going there.”
“The Creepy Cottage?” asked Ginny.
“I’ve never heard of it,” said Harry. “I suppose it’s the second most haunted building in Britain?”
“Of course not,” said Hermione. “It’s twenty third.”
“Twenty-third?” asked Ron.
“Yes. Behind the Haunted Hovel, the Mysterious Manor, the Dreadful Dwelling–”
“And what bit of ‘light reading’ did you learn all this from?” asked a flabbergasted Ron.
Hermione gave Ron a hard stare, which he did not return. She let him stare at his shoes for a few seconds before saying, “For your information, it was in the latest edition of Hogwarts, a History. There’s a new appendix on Hogsmeade. But, I don’t understand… Nothing suspicious has happened with that building in decades. Why now?”
“I don’t know,” said Harry as he rubbed his chin, “but we’re going to find out.”
“B-but… the Man-Spider!” protested Ron.
“He’s got a point,” said the caretaker.
“After facing a nest of Acromantulas, you’re afraid of the Man-Spider?” asked Harry.
“If that was supposed to be reassuring,” said Ron, “it didn’t work.”
It took an hour of wandering about the woods, but eventually the four Gryffindors and Fang found a dilapidated old residence that could only be the Creepy Cottage. Harry had to admit, it wasn’t nearly in the same class as the Shrieking Shack, and he even knew the truth about the Shack. This place looked just like any other neglected dwelling, much less a haunted one.
“That doesn’t look so bad, does it?” Harry asked his best friend encouragingly.
“I-I suppose not,” replied the lanky redhead.
“Look, Ron,” said Hermione, “I’ll go with you and Fang this time. We can check out the cottage while Harry and Ginny take a look around that shed back there.”
Harry’s eyes widened as he surreptitiously shot a look at his bushy-haired friend. He was about to protest the proposal when Ginny spoke up.
“That sounds good. We can cover more ground faster. The sooner we figure out what’s going on, the sooner we can get back to Hogsmeade.”
As Harry followed the pretty fifth-year to the garden shed, he couldn’t help but look back at Hermione. He was surprised to see her looking at him, but not surprised to see the smile in her eyes.
“Why don’t we start at the top floor and work our way down?” suggested Hermione as they entered the cottage.
When Ron only shrugged his shoulders, she turned to go up the stairs, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of seeing her frown. Harry better thank me for this, she thought to herself.
“What are we looking for, anyway?” said Ron as they entered the first bedroom at the top of the stairs.
“Any evidence that proves the Man-Spider isn’t real.”
“But it is real! Don’t you believe me?”
When Hermione turned from the armoire she was searching, she saw the redness in Ron’s face along with his clenched fists, and she suddenly realized how bad an idea it was not having Harry around as a peacemaker.
“It’s not that I don’t believe you…” she said cautiously, “I’ve just never heard of such a beast before. I’ve read several books on magical creatures, in addition to Hagrid’s textbooks, and none of them ever mentioned anything remotely like what you described, except for centaurs and werewolves.”
“All right then. What did I see?”
“Well, there are a few possible explanations,” said Hermione as she led Ron and Fang into the other bedroom. “Remember my Polyjuice accident our second year? Or, what about the partial transfiguration Viktor did for the second Triwizard task?”
“Oh, of course, can’t forget about Vicky.” Ron practically spat the last word.
Hermione’s retort did not leave her pursed lips. Harry not only needs to thank me, he needs to buy me some Sugar Quills. “Let’s go back downstairs,” she said, the venom in her voice barely concealed.
“Great! I’ll check out the kitchen. C’mon, Fang!”
Lots of Sugar Quills… and a new book.
About five minutes later, Hermione re-entered the sitting room, after searching the mostly empty library. At the same time, Ron and Fang were exiting the kitchen.
“Did you find anything?” she asked.
“If by ‘anything’ you mean pork pies, then yeah we found something.”
“Oh no. You didn’t…”
“What? It’s not like they were old or anything.”
“They tasted fine–didn’t they, Fang?”
Suddenly, the expression on Hermione’s face changed from aggravation to one of triumph. Despite his annoyance at having missed whatever it was that had changed her mood, Ron’s question shot out before he could think about what he was doing.
“What is it? You’ve got that look.”
“The one you get when you’ve figured something out which is going to remind the rest of us of how brilliant you are.”
“Whoever the Man-Spider is,” said Hermione as she fought the rising flush in her cheeks, “he’s not a real monster. What monster eats fresh pork pies?”
A light dawned in Ron’s eyes as he caught on. “You’re right! Let’s go tell the others. Is there anything left to do in here?”
“I don’t think so… the only room we haven’t looked over thoroughly is this one, and there’s nothing here except for two couches and those empty sacks of Floo Powder in the corner of the room.”
“What did you just say?”
“I said there’s no reason to stay here.”
“No, I mean what did you say you found in this room?”
“Some dusty furniture and a few empty sacks of Floo Powder. Why?”
Ron quickly rushed over to the empty cloth bags and began searching them.
“What are you doing?” asked Hermione.
“Don’t you get it?”
Hermione could only look at Ron with a blank look on her face.
“Is this what if feels like then?”
“What are you talking about?” spat Hermione, her irritation reaching dangerous levels.
“To know something that no one else does,” replied Ron. “No wonder you always act so superior… it’s kind of intoxicating, isn’t it?”
When he saw Hermione go for her wand, Ron quickly decided that his moment was over. “There’s no fireplace anywhere in this house. What do they needs sacks of Floo Powder for?”
Hermione’s hand stopped at the base of her wand without taking it out. She blinked twice and looked around the room in astonishment. No fireplace. “Jinkies! You’re right!” she exclaimed.
Ron was about to ask her what the bloody hell “Jinkies” meant when he heard a pop behind them, followed by a menacing growl.
“The Man-Spider!” cried Ron.
Before she could turn around to face the menace, Ron grabbed Hermione by the waist, hoisted her onto his shoulder, and ran out the front door. Fang was not far behind.
The shed was further away from the house than he thought, giving Harry ample time to settle his nerves as they crossed the grounds. He tried to reassure himself that there was no reason to be anxious, but it was easier said than done. Ginny is just a friend, he told himself. A caring… thoughtful… warm… gorgeous–
“You seemed to lose yourself there for a tick.”
“Sorry. I was… thinking about Hedwig,” he lied. “I’m just glad that she doesn’t have to worry about this mess.”
“Mmm… she’s lucky to have someone who cares for her so much.”
“She’s not the only one,” said Harry under his breath.
“N-Nothing…” he replied bashfully.
“Honestly, you really need to learn how to take a compliment.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well… watch your step there,” she said as she opened the door to the shed. “When someone says something nice about you, it wouldn’t hurt to just accept it with a little grace rather than trying to deny it.”
“Sorry, I guess I never really thought about it that way.” He sat down on a large overturned planter next to some pieces of trellis. As she turned to explore the shed, he allowed himself a few minutes to admire her.
Ginny let him “brood” for a few minutes while she searched through some bags of potting soil, and then interrupted his reverie. “Are you going to help me search this shed, Potter?”
Startled, Harry shook his head and looked around. “Sorry. It’s not like there was much to look through anyway, was there?”
“No… but I do wonder…”
“All of these gardening supplies are new. I thought that Hermione said the building has been abandoned for decades.”
As Ginny’s revelation sunk in, a wide grin formed on Harry’s lips. “That’s brilliant!”
“Yeah.” Harry got up and took a step towards the doorway. “We need to find the others and see if they–OOF!”
Harry got his wish, although not quite the way he expected it. Ginny could not help but laugh at the sight of Hermione on top of Ron on top of Harry. The only one who seemed to be unaffected by the unusual scene was Fang, who was happily licking Hermione’s face.
“You all right, mate?” asked Ron.
“I will be as soon as you get off of me.”
Hermione didn’t even wait until they finished untangling themselves before saying, “You’ll never guess what we found!”
“Food?” said Ginny.
“Well, yes… that too, but how did you figure that out?”
“Ron’s not grumpy.”
Ron scowled at his sister, but before he could retaliate, Harry cut in. “Never mind that now. Did you find anything interesting?”
“Yes, we found some empty bags labelled ‘Floo Powder.’”
“Tell him, Ron.”
“What do they need Floo Powder for when they don’t have a fireplace?” said the tall redhead with a wry grin.
“Hmm…” said Harry as he rubbed his chin. “So, those bags probably weren’t holding Floo Powder…”
“I think they were holding some of these,” said Ron as he pulled something out of his pocket. It looked like a small black stone, but the unusual thing about it was the noise emanating from it. It sounded like there was something rattling around inside of it, but it was lying quite still in Ron’s hand.
“Why didn’t you show me that earlier?” asked Hermione.
“Well, I was about to when the Man-Spider showed up.”
“He’s here?” asked Ginny, grabbing her wand.
“Where is he now?” asked Harry.
“I’m not sure. I lost track of him as I was getting Hermione to safety.”
“You were what?” screeched Hermione.
Just then, they heard a horrible growling noise coming from outside the shed. Harry turned to Ron and said, “Quick, help me move some of these large planters and stuff. We’ll get you and Fang to lure him in here and–”
“Are you a wizard or what?” said Ginny forcefully. She pushed past the trio through the doorway and pointed her wand at their would-be attacker.
Th e ensuing thud told them the danger had passed.
“ Er… right… nice work,” said Harry sheepishly.
Coming out of the woods behind the post office, the four teenagers were relieved to find Hagrid conversing with Mr. Wagler. Fang barked a greeting to his owner and bounded happily to the half-giant’s side.
“`ullo, Fang! Did you behave yerself?”
“He was fine,” said Ron, “unlike our friend here.”
It was then that the half-giant finally noticed that his favourite students were accompanied by what appeared to be a man with the head of an Acromantula bound in magical ropes. Both girls still had their wands trained on the stranger.
“Mr. Potter, would you care to explain what’s going on?” asked Mr. Wagler, his confusion clearly written on his face.
“Yes, sir. As you know, we set out to discover what was spooking your owls. Our queries led us to investigate the noises coming from the Creepy Cottage and the Man-Spider.”
“Of course, we knew right away that he wasn’t a real one,” added Ron. Behind him Hermione and Ginny rolled their eyes, while Fang barked his support.
“Well, I can see that as well,” said the owl office manager, “but who is it?”
“Velcher Jones,” said Harry as he pulled off the caretaker’s disguise.
“The station caretaker?” asked Mr. Wagler.
“I don’ understan’,” said Hagrid. “Why did he do it?”
“Gold,” answered Ginny.
“… and lots of it,” completed Ron.
“Woof,” added Fang.
“He recently discovered a patch of wild Venomous Tentacula somewhere between the station and the Creepy Cottage,” continued Ron as he pulled the single seed they had found and handed it to Mr. Wagler.
The owl caretaker examined the pod in his hand and noticed the faint humming sound emanating from it. “Is this why the owls didn’t want to go near him?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” replied Ginny. “We’re guessing something of the seeds must have gotten on Madam Rosmerta when he talked to her right before she entered your office.”
“I still don’t understand what’s so special about these things,” said Mr. Wagler.
“These seeds are a Class-C Non-Tradeable substance and therefore valuable,” explained Harry. “Mr. Jones created the Man-Spider persona to help explain the noises coming from the Creepy Cottage. He hoped his rumours and the occasional appearance of the Man-Spider would be enough to scare people away to make sure that no one else discovered the Venomous Tentacula.”
“When we discovered a supply of empty bags in the cottage,” said Hermione, “we realized that he was harvesting the seeds and selling them illegally, using the ‘Floo Powder’ labels as a cover.”
“It wasn’t a bad plan,” admitted Ginny. “Just a couple more days and he would have finished replanting all of the Venomous Tentacula at another location. Then he could have continued the operation in seclusion.”
“And I would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!”
Hagrid stepped up to the angry wizard and grabbed him by the scruff of his neck. “You forgot Fang.”
Hagrid turned to the four Gryffindors and said, “Why don’ you lot head back to the castle for dinner? I ken finish things up here.”
“Thanks, Hagrid!” they said in unison and they began the return trek to Hogwarts.
As Harry followed his friends towards the Gryffindor common room, he couldn’t help but wish that the day could continue as it had for the past hour.
After leaving the would-be Man-Spider with Hagrid, he and his friends had gone directly to the Great Hall, where they shared a pleasant dinner that was far different from the first two meals of the day. The conversation between Ron and Hermione was actually civil and bordered on being warm. To Harry’s delight, Ginny seemingly hadn’t given any thought to find Dean, but chose to reminisce the day’s events with him over some roast lamb. But now, as they gave the Fat Lady the password, it seemed their idyllic break from reality was about to end.
As soon as Ron was through the portrait hole, he was greeted by a shrill voice. “Won-Won!”
Ron crossed the room into his girlfriend’s arms while Hermione looked on in frustration. Behind her, Harry and Ginny regarded their bushy-haired friend with sadness. While they loved Ron dearly, his current talent for being a right git knew no bounds. Just as Hermione began to rush up the stairs, Harry caught her by the wrist with his Seeker reflexes.
“Hey… I… Look, he’ll…” Harry’s voice trailed off while he tried to come up with the right thing to say.
The young witch stared at a spot on the stairs in front of her for a moment before lifting her face to meet his eyes. “Don’t worry about it… today was–”
“Oh, Won-Won, I just know you’re going to love the Christmas present I bought while you were with your friends.”
Hermione’s head snapped to face the source of the annoying squeal, and then regarded Ron with an icy glare. “I’ll be fine,” she said without breaking her stare. “I was just going to retrieve my books, and… well, the library’s closed so I guess I’ll have to find an empty classroom to study in.” And at that, she shrugged out of his grip and stomped up the stairway.
Harry exhaled deeply as he shook his head. He turned to face the common room and was dismayed to see that Ginny had found Dean. They were sitting in separate chairs across from each other by the far side of the fireplace with her hands in his. They appeared to be speaking quietly, though neither was looking at the other. Harry quickly decided that maybe Hermione had the right idea and rushed up the stairs to his dormitory.
As Harry bounded back down the stairs with his satchel of books, he chanced a glance to the other side of the common room and was surprised to see Ginny sitting alone. He suppressed a hope that perhaps her earlier conversation with Dean had ended in his favour and approached her.
She turned from staring at the fire and smiled warmly at him. “Hey… Heading off to find Hermione?”
“Um… yeah, I thought it would be a nice quiet way to finish the day.”
She nodded knowingly in response.
“Where’s Dean?” he asked before he could stop himself.
If Ginny found the question suspicious, she didn’t show it. “He and Seamus just went up to borrow an Exploding Snap deck from Colin. I’m surprised you didn’t see them. Want to join us?”
Harry briefly considered torturing himself for the remainder of the night, but thought better of it. “No thanks. I… I think Hermione could use a little company, you know?”
Ginny tilted her head to the side and the warmth in her eyes made him weak in the knees. “You’re a good friend,” she said.
“Thanks,” he eventually replied. He hoped she couldn’t tell how difficult it was for him to respond when she looked at him like that.
“You took a compliment with grace. If you keep that up, I may have to give you another one.”
Harry’s cheeks did their best Weasley imitation, and he looked at his shoes. “I-I better get going. I don’t even know which classroom she’s in.”
He turned and walked to the portrait hole, trying desperately to hide his wobbly gait. Just as he put one foot through the doorway, Ginny called out to him. “And, Harry?”
Harry paused and looked back. “Yeah?”
“Keep the scarf,” she said with a softness in her voice that wasn’t there earlier. She opened her mouth as if to say something else, but then seemed to change her mind.
Harry smiled and nodded, more to himself than to her, and shuffled through the exit.
Author's Note: Second disclaimer: I don't own Scooby Doo either. And if you couldn't figure out the references to Scooby Doo, I'm a worse writer than I thought. Hope you enjoyed it anyway.
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