Chapter Three

A Meeting of the Minds

"No, no, no!" Pucey exclaimed, tutting over Crabbe and Goyle as they dumped their armloads of acorns in the hollowed out log. "They should go in the other corner."

Crabbe narrowed his eyes and glared at Pucey. "Why?" he demanded. "They're fine here."

"Yeah," Goyle agreed. "We even made sure to put them where they won't get wet if it rains," he added, obviously proud of himself.

Pucey crossed his arms over his chest and stared down at them over the top of his glasses. "Did you calculate the trajectory at which the rain, based on the seasonal wind patterns, is likely to enter the log?" he demanded, his tone condescending.

Crabbe and Goyle stared at him, their faces blank. "Trajector-what?" Crabbe asked, shuffling his feet. "Is that some kind of Transfiguration? Because I’m still pants at that."

"We didn't Transfigure the acorns," Goyle said helpfully. "At least, not on purpose." He frowned. "They are still acorns, aren't they?"

Pucey pinched the bridge of his nose. "Just move them," he instructed, gesturing vaguely to a different section of the hollowed-out log. Shrugging, Crabbe and Goyle did as he bid, scooping up armfuls of the bounty they'd gathered. Hermione trying to transfigure a leaf into a blanket and gathered the few acorns that they'd missed, trailing behind them and pointing out the optimal position for the store of food.

"The spot you picked was good," she told them, "but any rain is likely to be blown in from the North, and the acorns will stay even drier if we put them here." She gestured the angle that she expected the rain to enter the log, and Crabbe and Goyle nodded, appreciating the visual aid.

"Why didn't Pucey just say that?" Goyle wondered aloud, sounding mostly mystified, but also a touch hurt.

Hermione patted him on the back and turned back to her leaf, determined to transfigure it into something that would keep her warm during the quickly approaching night. She would much rather have been working on the problem of how to undo Dumbledore's spell, but Snape had made it clear to her that she was the most skilled in Transfiguration, and that he was depending on her to provide the blankets that would keep them warm through the night.

Well, actually, what he had said was, "For Salazar's sake, Miss Granger, leave the curse-breaking to me and find something useful to do with yourself! Unless you relish the idea of freezing to death?"

Since she most certainly did not want to spend the night with only her completely useless frock to keep her warm, she decided to take him at his word. Unfortunately, her attempts at transfiguring the leaf had been remarkably unsuccessful. Frowning, she glared at the leaf and rubbed her hands up and down her arms, trying to stave off the chill.

"Stupid sleeveless dress," she muttered, wondering what had possessed Dumbledore to put her in such a garment. With bare arms and legs she'd be at a serious disadvantage in the forest when it came time to look for more food.

But no. It wouldn't come to that. Surely they'd be able to figure out how to reverse the spell soon. They had to! With this in mind, she strode to Pucey, determined to pick his brain. He was two years ahead of her and obviously intelligent—surely he had picked up a trick or two in Transfiguration class that could help them.

"Pucey," she began, approaching the tall, slender youth. "I was wondering—"

"Hush," he commanded. "I'm thinking."

Ah. That would explain his tightly closed eyes and slightly constipated expression. Her own lips pressed into a thin line, she waited as patiently as she could for him to complete whatever mental exercise he was working on. When, after several minutes, it was clear that he wasn't going to address her anytime soon, she cleared her throat.

"Pucey," she repeated, this time with more force. "I was hoping—"

"Don't bother."

Hermione whirled to glare at the speaker and found herself face to face with Draco Malfoy.

"Don't bother. He won't talk to you until he's worked out whatever it is he's thinking about. There's no use trying." Looking remarkably un-Draco-ish in his garish blue shirt, he lounged against the curved edge of the log, hands stuffed in his pockets. The expression on his face, though, was vintage Slytherin arrogance.

"Well, we'll just see about that, won't we?" Hermione seethed, frustrated with Pucey for ignoring her and with Draco for, well, for being Draco.

When she turned to confront Pucey again, however, Draco stepped away from the log wall. "If you want his attention…" he said, letting his words dangle as an obvious lure.

She didn't want to ask. She really didn't want to ask. He wanted her to ask, and that was reason enough to ignore him.

But a light breeze wafted through the log, and she shivered involuntarily. If she didn't figure out how to Transfigure a blanket, she was going to freeze.

"Well?" she snapped when Draco didn't continue. "What?"

"Nobody can Transfigure a leaf into a blanket, Granger," he said, his tone both louder and more condescending. "Don't you know anything?" When Hermione sputtered in outrage, he shocked her into silence by giving her a broad and obvious wink. "Now, see this twig?" He reached down and picked up what was, by normal standards, a small twig. In their current enchanted forms, however, it was the size of a small branch. "I'm going to change this into a pillow. No need to bruise my bum sitting in this log." Screwing up his face and brandishing his wand, Draco waved his wand in large, sweeping motions that Hermione was certain would give Professor McGonagall heart palpitations. That was, if she weren't currently trying to figure out a way to eat them.

Before Draco could begin to utter a spell, Pucey stomped his way between them and pointed his own wand at the twig. Seconds later, a soft brown blanket appeared. "There," he said, his hands on his hips as he glared at the two of them. "Are you happy now?"

"Why didn't that work for me?" Hermione demanded, ignoring his question as she knelt beside the blanket to run her hand over the soft fabric.

"Because in our current form our magic has been handicapped," Pucey said, absently pushing his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose. "You were probably trying to Transfigure a blanket made of a synthetic material. I chose a cotton-wool blend so that I was working with natural materials."

"Micro fibre," she said absently. "Yes." Eight flicks of her wand later, a stack of blankets appeared, one for each of them.

"Not bad," Pucey admitted, leaning over to inspect her handiwork.

"Not bad?" Hermione bristled. Her blankets were perfect, she knew. She could always tell when she'd performed a spell properly!

Pucey shrugged. "They're not green," he explained with a wink, surprising her with a glimpse of humour. He sobered almost immediately, though, studying her speculatively. "Would you…" he paused. "I am attempting to set wards to warn us if McGonagall, or any other predator, comes near. Would you be interested in…"

"Yes!" she exclaimed, her eyes lighting up. She loved wards! Wards were her favourite! Next to Charms. And Arithmancy. And Potions. And… Well. She liked wards. And what she really liked was a challenge. Designing and implementing wards while her magical ability was compromised was a definite challenge.

"Pucey never asks for help," Draco muttered, frowning.

Hermione suppressed the urge to smirk and was tempted to point out that perhaps Pucey just never asked Malfoy for help. But that probably wasn't the smartest course of action when she was trapped with the blond git for the foreseeable future.

And when she suspected that the only reason he'd attempted such a dramatic spell earlier was to gain Pucey's attention for her.

Still, the smirk she had worked to suppress slipped out anyway, and judging by Malfoy's scowl, it served its purpose.

"I had hoped to key the wards to specifically keep McGonagall out," Pucey said, gesturing to the open end of the log. "But her magical signature has almost certainly been affected by her transformation into a cat." He frowned, staring into the forest as if expecting the predator in question to leap out at them. Hermione felt a prickle of unease as she, too, studied the clearing. She wanted to believe that protecting themselves from Professor McGonagall was unnecessary, but their panicked sprint through the forest with McGonagall in cat form hot on their heels had taught her otherwise.

And Professor McGonagall could prove to be the least of their worries if some of the other predators, magical or natural, took notice of them.

"Why are we only trying to protect ourselves from Professor McGonagall?" Hermione asked slowly. "Aren't there any number of other predators in the forest? Wouldn't it be wiser to cast a general ward in order to keep everything out?"

"That would be ideal," Pucey said, looking down his nose and pushing up his glasses. "But we're in too small of a confined space."

She frowned, trying to make out his meaning while ignoring his patronizing expression. "Because even the air carries dangers for us," she finally said, her eyes widening. "At our size, a wasp could do serious damage. And without a fresh air supply…" She glanced around the log and noted how tightly packed in they were. "We need fresh air or we'll suffocate," she realized.

"Yes," Pucey agreed. "So we can't cast a general ward. I had thought to at least protect us from McGonagall. She is, after all, the only trouble we've had so far."

And if they were going to be attacked, Hermione thought, she'd much rather be attacked by a regular inhabitant of the forest, and not her favourite professor.

"So what we really need," she said slowly, "is some sort of respiration spell." She sat down cross-legged and closed her eyes in order to think more clearly. "Not a Bubble Head charm. It would have to be reapplied too often, and we wouldn't be able to eat or talk." She thought a little longer, calling to mind the many charms she'd studied in class, as well as all the extra ones she'd read about in the library. "Perhaps a… no, no, that wouldn't work at all."

She chewed on her bottom lip, oblivious to her surroundings. She knew that the eight other occupants of the log were talking, moving about, even indulging in half-hearted rough-housing, but it was all dull background noise to her.

"That's it!" she exclaimed. She jumped up and narrowly missed bumping her head on the curved wall of the log. "Pucey!" she said, grasping his elbow to secure his attention. "Pucey, if we cast a general ward but also cast a semi-permeable charm—"

"That could work!" Pucey said, cocking his head to the side, his eyes focusing on a point just above her head as he thought through her suggestion. "It would have to be perfectly calibrated to allow only air to pass through, but…" He blinked, his focus now firmly trained on Hermione. "You did it! Brilliant!"

And in a rapid, awkward gesture, he grasped both of her arms and darted forward to place a loud, impulsive smack on her cheek. "Brilliant!" he repeated, and dashed away to put her suggestion into action.

"Did he just—" Hermione stared after him, shocked by his parting kiss.

"Kiss you?" Draco asked, looking almost as surprised as she felt. "And take your advice? Yes, he did."

"Pucey kissed me. Eww!" She rubbed at her cheek in a frantic attempt to remove the memory of the kiss from the prickly, condescending Slytherin.

"Disgusting," Draco agreed, but from the thoughtful look on his face, she wasn't sure if he meant that it was disgusting for her, or for Pucey. With a frustrated huff, she pushed past him, determined to find a corner of the log where she could have some privacy from the Slytherins.


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Author's Notes

Characters from the Harry Potter series are the property of J.K. Rowling. The Smurfs were first created and introduced as a series of comic characters by the Belgian comics artist Peyo (pen name of Pierre Culliford) in 1958. They are used without permission and not for profit.

Graphics credits: Sparkly blue background from Smurfs images from film publicity stills. Cat is Microsoft clip art.

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