Chapter Four

If You Want a Job Done Right… Don't Ask Flint to Do It

With the log sufficiently warded against predators, Hermione turned her attention to the activity of the rest of the Slytherins. Professor Snape, as expected, was standing by himself, staring at a series of runes he'd obviously conjured by magic. Had he made any headway with figuring out how to turn them back? she wondered? Surely he would have said something if he had…

Pucey stood beside him at the log opening, proudly surveying the results of his successful shield charm. A butterfly attempted to enter the log, only to swerve at the last moment and fly over it, instead. Perhaps gloating over the redirection of a harmless insect was silly, but Pucey smirked anyway, obviously proud of his accomplishment.

Zabini leaned gingerly against the side of the log, obviously attempting to keep his white trousers clean. She debated telling him about the streak of green on the back of his thigh, but chose to leave him in happy ignorance. It wasn't as if he could do anything about it, after all…

Systematically making his way through a pile of small of twigs he'd collected, Crabbe's muscles bulged and flexed as he snapped each branch and threw it onto a pile that Hermione suspected was intended to be used for a fire. She shivered, though the sun had not yet set and it wasn't nearly as cold as it would no doubt get during the night.

Goyle sat beside Crabbe, occasionally scratching a word on the parchment he'd been furtively clutching since Dumbledore had cursed them. He looked decidedly uncomfortable, as if he expected to be mocked or confronted at any moment. What was he writing, she wondered? Perhaps he had an idea of how to return them to their original sizes? She made a note to approach him later, when he was alone, as it was obvious he wasn't yet ready to share whatever he was writing.

It took her a moment to locate Nott. When she spotted him, he was huddled against the side of the log, almost invisible as he sat, shoulders hunched and legs tucked to his chest. Resting his head on his knees, he looked as if was asleep. The stiff set of his shoulders, however, told Hermione that he was wide awake, and obviously tense.

Unlike Flint, who was stretched out on the pile of blankets she'd conjured, snoring blissfully.

"Oi!" she protested, striding toward him with her hands on her hips. "Those blankets were supposed to be for all of us, Flint!" With an angry huff, she grasped the top blanket and tugged, sending the Slytherin tumbling.

"Hey!" he mumbled, blinking sleepily. "I was using that!"

"Not anymore, you're not," she retorted. "Honestly, Flint! Sleeping?" It didn't occur to her then that it was probably not entirely wise to tie into a boy who was a few years older than her and a good four stones heavier. In that moment, however, she was incensed that anyone could be willing to sleep the afternoon away when they were cursed. Cursed! How could he even close his eyes? Yes, they had shelter, such as it was, but they'd need to gather food soon, and a fire would be necessary for the night, and Merlin, did he really suppose that he wouldn't be expected to contribute any effort?

"I was tired," Flint muttered, and though he looked a little sheepish at being caught, Hermione continued to scowl.

"You can be tired later," she informed him briskly. "Now. I think it's about time we gathered food for our dinner." She glanced toward the pile of acorns that Crabbe and Goyle had collected. "Unless you're eager to live on nuts?"

Flint shuddered. "What I wouldn't give for a good house elf right now." When his face brightened, she was forced to crush his hopes.

"Professor Snape already attempted to summon a house elf," she told him. "It didn't work," she added unnecessarily.

"Oh." Dejected once again, he flopped back down onto the pile of blankets. "Well, that's that, then."

Hermione's jaw dropped. "What do you mean, that's that? That's not that! That's nothing!" When he stared at her, obviously confused by her nonsensical rant, she told him, "We're not going to sit around and wait for a house elf to bring us dinner, Flint. We're going to go out and find sustenance."

Flint shrugged. "Okay. You do that," he said, burrowing deeper into the cocoon of blankets.

"We, Flint," she said, grasping his arm and attempting to pull him up. "I said we. Not me. We, as in you and I." She tugged on his arm again, but only succeeded in wrenching her own shoulder.

"Stupid Quidditch muscles," she muttered, dropping his hand and rubbing her shoulder.

"You're not going to give up any time soon, are you?" he asked, sitting up and sighing.

"No," she said. "I'm not. Which means you might as well get up and come help me."

He shuffled to his feet, his tall, stocky form filling the space in front of her. "I'm only doing this so that you'll leave me alone after we eat," he informed her. "So that I can sleep."

"Very well," she agreed. "I'll leave you alone after we gather food." She paused. "Unless there's an emergency." She thought a moment longer. "Or unless there's something that only you can do." Her brow furrowed. "Or unless everyone else is busy, you know, actually doing things, and I need help with something right that minute."

"You really know how to sweeten a deal," he told her, rolling his eyes and stretching. "So, what are we doing again?"

"We're looking for food," she reminded him. "So that we can eat tonight."

"Oh. Right." He absently rubbed his solid stomach. "Food is good."

"Right." Wondering what on earth had possessed her to choose Flint in the first place as her foraging partner, she led the way to one of the open ends of the log and approached Professor Snape.

"Professor Snape?" she called softly, not wanting to interrupt him. She wasn't sure if he was thinking or attempting to cast a spell, but in either case it wouldn't do to distract him too suddenly. He was still in possession of a wand, after all.

When Professor Snape didn't acknowledge her, Flint took over. "We're out looking for food," he said, taking Hermione's hand and tugging her along behind him as he pushed past his Head of House.

Professor Snape opened one eye, stopping them in their tracks. "You're doing what?" he inquired mildly, but Hermione knew that tone of voice and knew that they weren't going anywhere.

"We're looking for food," she said, standing up straight and looking him directly in the eyes. "Crabbe and Goyle found some acorns, but I rather think that we could do with a bit more for supper."

Professor Snape stared at them for a long minute, and Hermione wondered if he weren't mentally assigning them detention. He hadn't taken points from anyone since they'd been cursed, but was that because he wasn't able, or because he was loathe to take points from his own House? In any case, she had no doubt that Gryffindor would experience a significant drop in rubies when this ordeal was over.

"I believe that bubble berries are in season," he finally said.

Hermione's eyes lit up, both at the realization that he was going to give them permission to go into the woods, and at the advice. She knew what bubble berries were, of course (didn't everybody?), but she hadn't known that they were in season. With only eight words, Professor Snape had both given them permission and a head start in knowing what to look for.

"You have twenty minutes," he informed them. "If I have to come out looking for you…" His voice trailed off and she pictured herself scrubbing caldrons for the rest of the term.

"Yes, sir!" she said. "We won't go far. Just across the clearing and into the forest." She frowned, realizing for the first time how difficult it might prove to find the berries and gather them in the time he'd allotted them.

"I recall that there is a bubble berry bush approximately five feet into the forest," he said, flicking his finger to point out an angle leading out of the clearing. "And do be careful. You will be largely unprotected."

By which, Hermione knew, that Professor Snape would keep them in his sight until they returned. She tugged at Flint, wanting to make good their escape before the potions master retracted his reluctant permission.

"Oh, and Flint?" Professor Snape said, stopping them once again before they could leave the shelter of the log, "Do try to keep awake, won't you?" He flicked his eyes in Hermione's direction, and she realized that he had just given Flint a subtle order to keep her safe.

Well. She might not be a Slytherin, but she was starting to understand how they operated. Maybe. Truth be told, it was entirely possible that Professor Snape had meant exactly what he said—don't fall asleep. Maybe he wasn't looking forward to a meal of acorns, either? With a shrug, she stepped out of the log, grimacing when she misjudged the distance to the ground and landed with a wobble.

"Don't go turning an ankle," Flint advised, taking her elbow to steady her. "I wouldn't want to have to carry you."

Hmm… It could be taken as an insult or as a subtle way of helping her. When he didn't release her elbow, she decided on the latter, even though it was the more confusing option.

And again thought unkind words about Dumbledore for trapping her with a group of people she so obviously would never truly comprehend.

Instead of dwelling on her frustration, though, Hermione crossed the clearing as quickly as she could in her completely impractical white dress and high-heeled shoes. Flint kept pace beside her, though he made it clear that he would have much preferred to go at a more relaxed speed.

"We only have twenty minutes," she reminded him. "If we want to gather enough berries for everyone…"

He grudgingly increased his speed.

"There they are!" she exclaimed, pointing to a bush with perfectly round, iridescent berries. They did rather resemble bubbles, Hermione thought. She'd never seen them in the flesh before, only pictured in text books.

"They're bloody huge," Flint said, and with a sinking heart, she realized that he was correct. The berries were on the large size, even by human standards. How they were going to transport the berries suddenly became a real consideration.

"We'll have to carry them back one or two a time," she decided.

"No way!" Flint protested. "Do you have any idea how many trips we'll have to make? I'll want at least three myself, if our only other food is acorns."

He was right. The boys were going to be hungry. In fact, she was surprised that more of them hadn't started the search for sustenance sooner. None of them had eaten since the interrupted Quidditch practice.

"Then we'd best get moving," she said briskly. Yes, they were going to have to make several trips, but there was no other choice. The bubble berries were as delicate as their name implied and would no doubt burst if they attempted to carry more than one at a time as they ran between the bush and log.

And run they must if they wanted to stay within the twenty minute window that Professor Snape had set them.

"And I suppose you've considered how exactly we're going to pick the berries?" Flint continued.

Hermione stared up at the bush in chagrin. Luckily there were plenty of berries on the lower half of the bush, but they were still well out of her reach.

"You're going to lift me, of course," she said, as if this had been her plan from the beginning. "You'll lift me, I'll pick the berries, we'll make a pile, and then we'll both run back and forth to deliver them."

"Oh, we will, will we?" Flint questioned, but she suspected his reluctance was more force of habit than actual reluctance to complete the task. Though he wasn't exactly squirming with boundless energy, he had most certainly shed his earlier lethargy. He eyed the bush as if weighing Hermione's plan against it.

"Well, come on, then," he said, and bent down, hands cupped to give her a foothold.

Too late, she realized that her flimsy white frock was most certainly not a good clothing choice for being hoisted into the air. Flint, however, caught on quickly and instead picked her up by her waist and held her up until she could reach the lowest of the berries. It was delicate work, trying to pick the fragile fruit, and by the time they'd collected enough, she was quite certain that she would never again volunteer for this particular task. Still, she and Flint had worked well together. Much better than she'd had any reason to hope or expect.

"This wasn't so bad," he said thoughtfully when she added the last bubble berry to the pile. "Doing actual work, I mean," he explained when Hermione raised an eyebrow. "No one ever asks me to help with anything," he admitted. "I have a bit of a reputation for being…"

"Lazy?" Hermione guessed.

"I was going to say low energy," he retorted. "But, yeah."

She handed him one of the bubble berries and looked back toward the log. "The bubble berries will taste even better because you worked hard for them," she said.

"You're making that up," he accused, narrowing his eyes in mock disbelief and juggling his berry so that he could hold it more securely.

"It's the truth!" Hermione protested, laughing. "I am a Gryffindor, after all. We're big on truth." She glanced down at the berry cradled in her hands. "I picked an extra one. Go on, try it," she said, offering it to him. "You'll see what I mean."

Flint hesitated, but was soon overruled by his own stomach. The sound of it rumbling made them both laugh, and he took a good-sized bite from the fruit.

"That is good!" he said, his eyes lighting up as he carefully chewed and swallowed. "And it's not just because I like bubble berries. It really does taste better than normal!"

"That's hard work for you," she agreed. "It makes everything better."

He finished the rest of the berry, closing his eyes in satisfaction at the sweet flavour. "That was perfect," he told her. "Thank you."

And then, much more gracefully than Pucey, he leaned in and brushed a kiss over her cheek. While she was still staring at him in shock, they were interrupted by the sound of the other Slytherins running across the small clearing to meet them.

"Snape sent us to help carry the berries back," Malfoy said, still managing to look perfectly pressed in his white trousers and blue shirt. He glanced between Hermione and Flint, customary smirk in place. He'd seen Flint kiss her, she realized, and before she could stop herself, she was rubbing her cheek, just as she had done after Pucey had kissed her.

"Let's get these back to the log," Flint said, handing each of his friends a berry. "And hustle! The food will taste better if you do." Winking at Hermione, he led the way back to the log, setting a brisk pace and whistling happily.


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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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