Chapter Five

Brains vs. Brawn

The dinner consisting of acorns and bubble berries wasn't nearly as bad as Hermione had expected. It also wasn't very good, but at the end of it she was no longer hungry, so she supposed that the meal had been a success. Though it was terribly uncouth, she licked her sticky fingers to rid them of the bubble berry juice, and then ran her fingers along her bare arms, both to dry them and to warm them. The temperature had dropped significantly as they had eaten, and she once again sent a heated mental glare in Dumbledore's direction for putting her in such a useless dress. Her arms and legs were bare. Well, bare aside from the goose bumps she couldn't seem to rid herself of. The boys at least had trousers and shirts; much less bare skin to worry about! Still, they would most definitely require some sort of fire to keep them warm during the night.

Was it even safe to light a fire in the log, she wondered?

Her question was answered when Professor Snape rose from the small rock he'd been using as a seat and silenced them with one raised eyebrow. "I require volunteers to fetch firewood," he said.

When no one raised their hand in the half-second following his statement, he merely shrugged. "Very well. You are all volunteered."

Hermione groaned. Yes, the others had helped her and Flint carry the bubble berries back to the log before supper, but she was still exhausted! It was amazing how far ten feet could feel when you were less than three apples high. And her ridiculous white, high-heeled shoes certainly hadn't helped matters. The thought of doing more walking caused her recently acquired blisters to throb, and she vowed to find a way to make Professor Dumbledore spend a day wearing impractical shoes. Stilettos, preferably. Maybe she could get stilettos to match his robe with the moons and stars? No matter. As long as they were uncomfortable, it would be enough. Still, she wasn't about to complain. She was already the odd person out, being both female and Gryffindor, and she had no desire to present herself as in any way weaker than her male, Slytherin counterparts.

"An armful of wood each," Professor Snape instructed them. "We don't want the fire to go out during the night."

Hermione shivered, picturing the animals that would no doubt come out to hunt after the sun set. Suddenly, McGonagall Cat seemed like the least of their worries.

The students hopped out of the log in single file, Hermione last in line. It wasn't a pleasant landing, not with her awful, awful shoes, and especially not with her awful, awful blisters. It only took her a moment, however to catch up to the last of the Slytherins ahead of her. Crabbe was lagging behind, obviously waiting for her.

"You don't have to come," he told her, crossing his arms over his chest. "I can carry enough wood for both of us."

When she raised an eyebrow at the statement (after all, how could anyone carry two armfuls of wood, even if they were ridiculously strong? An armful was an armful, not something that could be added to!), he shrugged. "Or make two trips. You can go back."

Hermione frowned. "You don't want me to come along?" She knew that she wasn't particularly popular with the Slytherin set, but she hadn't thought that Crabbe would actively try to exclude her.

Crabbe frowned, though he looked more confused than irritated. "No. I mean yes. I mean—" He sighed heavily. "I just thought I'd offer." His eyes tracked down her body and then up again, and Hermione knew that he was cataloguing not only her completely useless clothing and shoes, but also noting her lack of muscle definition.

"I can do it," she insisted, even though she really, really didn't want to make another trek. And the branches were bound to scratch her, seeing as how she had nothing to protect her arms… Why hadn't she thought to Transfigure herself a sweater, she wondered belatedly. She knew the answer, of course. She'd managed to Transfigure the blankets, but her magic had been absolutely exhausted ever since, as if she'd completely depleted her store of magical energy. She hadn't thought that was possible, and it was such a scary notion that she really didn't want to think about it any more than she had to.

Crabbe looked surprised, though she couldn't tell if it was from her answer, or from the vehemence with which she'd delivered it.

"Okay," he said. "I just thought…"

"You just thought what?" Hermione demanded. "That I can't keep up with all of you? That I'm not as strong?" She planted her hands on her hips, as if daring him to answer in the affirmative. Despite the fact that he'd probably be right.

"No," he said, flushing. "It's just that the girls in Slytherin are always asking me to do things for them. You know, carry books, do the heavy lifting, that sort of thing." He looked down at his thick forearms, almost as if he was embarrassed by his obvious strength.

She blinked in surprise. Really? She couldn't remember the last time she'd asked Harry or Ron to do something because they were stronger than she was. Had she ever? It wasn't that they weren't stronger—they'd both been playing Quidditch long enough to have developed some serious muscle. It was just that it hadn't even occurred to her. If she couldn't manage something by herself, she found a way to make it work, whether magically or otherwise. If a spell couldn't accomplish what she needed, often basic physics offered an alternative. There simply was no need to rely on someone else.

"Well, that's ridiculous," she said briskly. "I'm not going to make extra work for you, Crabbe. It may take me longer, but I'll do my part."

He nodded slowly, as if her response was confusing, but acceptable. "Okay, then," he said, but he still kept pace with her, steadying her when she turned her ankle in the wretched, useless, bin-worthy shoes. Not wanting to fall even further behind the others, she accepted the help without voicing the complaint on the tip of her tongue.

Gathering the branches was an easy enough task; the forest floor was practically covered in dry twigs that would be perfect for the small fire they'd need. Still, the rest of the Slytherins had arrived well ahead of her and Crabbe, and the pair was forced to head deeper into the forest to find enough twigs to constitute an armful. Hermione was reaching for what she thought would be her final branch when a prickle of fear ran up her spine.

The forest had gone silent.

They'd wandered far enough from the others that their voices were only a murmur. It was the sudden lack of forest background noise that alerted her to the fact that something was wrong. The birds had fallen silent. No small animals rustled in the underbrush. Even the droning of insects, the few that Spring in Scotland supplied, had stopped.

"Crabbe," Hermione whispered, reluctant to break the silence, "you don't think—"

She stopped abruptly when Crabbe's eyes widened and his face drained of colour. "I don't want to scare you," he said, "but—run!" He shouted the last word and grabbed her hand, tugging her with him as he sprinted toward the others. "Run!" he repeated, and the Slytherins who were considerably closer to the log than they were obeyed him immediately.

Hermione still didn't know what they were running from, but the panicked looks on the faces of the young men as they stared at something behind her and Crabbe was enough to keep her focus on running as fast as she could.

"We're going to make it," Crabbe panted. "Just a little further—"

But Hermione's ankle twisted again, and though she still held tight to Crabbe, she tumbled to the ground, unable to halt her momentum. She had a fleeting glimpse of a tabby cat bearing down on them, and then she was being scooped up in strong arms and Crabbe was running at top speed, jostling her with every step. His breathing was ragged, and she could feel every muscle in his body straining to get them to the log as quickly as possible. From her position, though, she could also see that McGonagall cat was steadily gaining on them.

She looked away, unable to face the horrifying picture of the cat bearing down on them. It was odd what one noticed in times of great stress, she thought, her eyes drifting to the tattoo on Crabbe's arm. He'd unbuttoned his cuff at some point, probably because he was warm from gathering branches, and candy-red heart on his forearm was in plain view. It no longer looked ridiculous, she realized. No, now it really did seem to match his strength, his sheer power as he ran with her.

"Almost there," he panted. "We're going to make it."

And with a final burst of speed, he launched them into the log. McGonagall Cat barrelled after them, but only managed to bash her head on the entrance as the wards prevented her from entering. Her outraged yowl echoed in the quiet forest, and Hermione shivered.

His back against the inside wall of the log, Crabbe took in deep, gasping breaths, still holding Hermione in his arms. "Are you okay?" he asked when he was capable of speaking. "Did she hurt you?"

"I'm fine," she assured him, and squirmed until he set her down. Her legs still weren't completely steady, though, and she continued to lean on him.

"I thought McGonagall was going to get you," Malfoy said, looking unnaturally pale. "She—I swear, Granger, her whiskers touched you."

Hermione shivered and Crabbe draped his arm around, bringing her with him as he slid to a seated position. A few minutes later, though, she clapped her hand to her mouth as a nervous giggle escaped her.

"Hysteria," Professor Snape diagnosed, moving toward her. "Miss Granger, are you experiencing a breakdown?"

"No," she said, laughing even harder. "Oh, Merlin. And here I was looking down on all the Slytherin girls for conning Crabbe into doing their heavy lifting. I doubt any of them has had to be carted through the forest at a dead sprint in order to be saved from an attacking Professor-cat! Talk about your heavy lifting!"

Crabbe made a tight, strangled sound that could have been laughter. "Just shows you weren't listening, Granger. None of those girls would have been out there with me to begin with," he told her, and dropped a kiss on her cheek before ambling further into the log. "Did Flint leave any of the bubble berries?" he wondered aloud. "I could go for one right about now."

Hermione merely closed her eyes and took over the space Crabbe had vacated. Too tired to attempt to rub off his kiss, she put her head down and gave herself permission to take a short nap. She had, after all, earned it.


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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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