Chapter Six

What Rhymes With Three Apples High?

When she woke, it was to the sound of muted conversation. Hermione blinked, trying to clear the sleep from both her eyes and her mind while she struggled to remember where she was. Had she fallen asleep in the Gryffindor common room again? Sometimes, late at night, she'd sneak down in order to cram in a little extra revision while her roommates (and the rest of the world) slept. But no. Even the ancient and lumpy couch in the common room was more comfortable than—what was she sleeping on? Rocks?

She made a small sound of distress upon realizing that the majority of her body was resting not, in fact, on rocks, but on the bottom of a hollowed out log. And that her head was resting on… Goyle's lap?!

She sat up so quickly that the world tilted crazily for several seconds. Conversation at the other end of the log continued, and Goyle continued to scratch quill against parchment, apparently oblivious to her presence.

"Almost got it," he muttered. "But what rhymes with 'three apples high'?"

Hermione blinked again. "Possibly 'a slice of apple pie'?"

Even in the dim lighting from the small fire, she could see Goyle's eyes light up. "Perfect!" Then he scowled. "But now I'm hungry."

"We just ate supper!" she reminded him, and then realized that if it had been necessary to start a fire for light, it must be quite a bit later than she thought. "Didn't we? What time is it?"

Goyle raised an eyebrow. "Are you wearing a watch?" he asked. "Because I'm not. And I don't trust my wand to even conjure a Tempus charm."

"Right," she said, and rubbed at her eyes to clear the last of the sleep away. "Do you know approximately how long I was asleep? I mean, I was kind of sleeping on you…" she said, blushing.

He shrugged and tucked the parchment and quill in his pocket. "An hour or two?" he guessed.

"Why are you putting that away?" she asked, gesturing to the pocket in which he'd hidden the items. "And why were you asking about rhymes?"

The answer was obvious, but she didn't think she could say it aloud. What if she was wrong? Goyle, the heavily muscled Beater on the Slytherin Quidditch team, didn't seem like the sort to take kindly to being called a poet. Still, she was a Gryffindor…

"Were you writing a poem?" she asked.

It was hard to tell in the dim lighting, but she was fairly certain that Goyle's face coloured at the question.

"You were half-asleep," he pointed out. "You don't know what you're talking about."

Hermione raised an eyebrow at the obvious falsehood. Still, it wouldn't do to antagonize the much stronger boy while they were essentially dependent on each other for survival.

"That's too bad," she said, yawning and settling down close, but not too close, to her customized pillow. She knew that she should probably leave him alone, but her curiosity had been piqued, and she couldn't seem to stop herself from continuing the conversation. Of course, that didn't mean that she had to go in with both guns blazing; after all, she might be a Gryffindor, but she did have some subtlety. "I often read poetry at night when I need to clear my head. I can't write it at all, you see—my mind just doesn't work that way. But it works out well. I can enjoy the carefully chosen words and not think about how I would improve them. It's very liberating."

Goyle was silent for so long that she began to wonder if his plan was to ignore her as long as she talked about what was obviously an uncomfortable topic for him. If so, he'd soon find that once she sank her teeth into an idea, she didn't easily let go.

"Me, too," he finally said. "I mean, poetry is usually a late at night sort of thing for me, too." It went unsaid that this was probably because he wished to keep his writing private. "But it helps me clear my head, too. You know, of all the Quidditch and studies and girls and—" He blushed, as if realizing that it probably wasn't a good idea to talk to Hermione about his girl troubles.

"Writing poetry uses a different portion of the brain," she agreed. "It may not actively help you solve your problems, but it frees you up to think about things in a different way." She nodded decisively. "It's an excellent coping and stress reduction technique."

"It's a what?" Goyle asked, and she realized that though he might write poetry, he was still one of the students she suspected had a difficult time keeping up in his studies. Which made her even more curious about what his poetry would be like. It was entirely possible that his poetry would be wretched, filled with poorly chosen words and immature topics. But somehow, as she observed the vulnerability in his expression, she doubted it.

"It's healthy," she explained. "Poetry is good for the brain and the soul."

He nodded. "Yeah," he agreed. "Sometimes it's the only way to get ideas out of my head."

Hermione could relate to that. She knew that her friends thought she was mental for completing her essays and assignments so early, but the reality was that she was just so intrigued by the ideas and concepts they were being taught that she had to put her thoughts into words. Otherwise, they bounced around in her head, making it difficult to concentrate on anything else. Once she'd put the ideas to parchment, however, she was free to move on to the next idea.

Had Goyle realized that he'd admitted in his last statement to not just reading poetry, but to writing it? There was only one way to find out. Calling on her Gryffindor courage, she made sure that her voice was as soft and unthreatening as possible. "Would you let me read it?" she asked. "The poem you were working on."

This time, she was positive that Goyle was blushing. In fact, the glow from his face was practically a light source on its own.

"Oh, er…" He looked away from her, seeming to find his knees abnormally fascinating.

Hermione settled her back against the wall off the log and closed her eyes. "I could do with a distraction," she admitted, and found that it was not just a ploy to get him to share his poetry. She'd fallen asleep as soon as she'd escaped McGonagall Cat, but though she was still exhausted, she knew that sleep wouldn't be easy to come by. At least, not unless she wanted to dream about the wretched events that had precipitated her abrupt rescue courtesy of Crabbe…

Would she ever be able to look at Professor McGonagall in the same way?

Of course, that was assuming that they ever managed to break Dumbledore's curse and return to their real forms…

Goyle cleared his throat and began to speak, apparently reading some of her thoughts in her forlorn expression.

Words spoken, tones terse.
A flash of wand, a cruel curse.
Within, without, all is changed.
Will we ever be the same?

He paused. "I know that 'changed' and 'same' don't exactly rhyme. I'm still working on that bit."

They didn't rhyme at all, but Hermione didn't care. What would no doubt have annoyed her to no end if she'd been reading the poem in a book was different here. The lines didn't follow a set pattern for syllables and the rhyme scheme was flawed only four lines in, but it somehow made the poem more real, more passionate than if it had adhered strictly to a set pattern.

"No, I like it," she said. "Go on."

Goyle hesitated, and then withdrew the parchment from where he'd secreted it in his trouser pocket. Unfolding it carefully, he smoothed it out, and then eyed her again before continuing.

"You don't have to say that," he told her. "I'd understand if you think it's rubbish."

Closing her eyes, both because she was tired and because she wanted to set Goyle at ease, Hermione relaxed. "Read it," she urged, her voice soft. "It's helping."

It was more of an admission than she wanted to make. It wasn't as if she wanted to be seen by the Slytherins as weak, after all! But he was taking a risk in sharing the poetry with her, and the least she could do was offer him a little honesty in return.

"I need to occupy my mind," she admitted, and knew that he would understand. After all, he'd written the poem for the very same reason, hadn't he?

He was silent for so long that Hermione thought he'd rejected her request, but then there was a cough, a faint rustle, and he continued the poem. His voice was rather lovely, she thought. Not dark and fluid like Professor Snape's, but rich with musical cadence.

Fur, fear, claws, cold, feline fury.
Hurry. Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!
Dead sprint, dead last.
Hurry. Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!

She shivered involuntarily at the reminder of the awful, awful race. It had been close. Too close. Heart-stoppingly, terrifyingly close. She and Crabbe had been a whisker away from an ugly, horrific end. She and Crabbe. She'd almost forgotten that she wasn't the only one who had escaped by the skin of her teeth. With a start, she realized that Goyle had most likely written the poem to work out the feelings of terror he'd felt at the potential death of his best friend.

She wasn't the only person in the universe, after all.

Feeling guilty at her self-absorption, she opened her eyes to find Goyle watching her, his face carefully free of emotion.

"There's more, but the stanza isn't finished. The three apples high and apple pie bit," he reminded her. "Though I'm thinking I'll need to change that. The phrase 'three apples high' keeps running through my head, but it's not right." He gestured to his legs. "Three crab apples high, maybe."

Hermione nodded. "I keep thinking that we could make a lovely home out of a mushroom. It's too bad they're not in season yet." She paused. "Crabbe's okay, isn't he?" she asked, even though she knew that he'd been perfectly fine, aside from being winded, when they'd made it to the log. He'd eaten a healthy supper and she could see that he was part of the group of laughing, chatting Slytherins at the other end of the log. She frowned as she counted heads; they seemed to be one short. Had someone slipped out to gather more firewood? Surely if someone were missing they would know.

No. Halfway between her and Goyle and the group around the fire was a lone figure. She squinted, trying to make out who was sitting by himself. Her only clue was the glimpse of blond hair she caught when the fire flared, providing a bit more light in the dark log. Malfoy? Probably. But why was he sitting on his own?

"Crabbe?" Goyle raised an eyebrow and drew her attention back to their conversation. "Of course he is. That bloke is strong as an ox. I never worry about him."

Did that mean he'd been worried about her? Hermione's eyes widened at the thought and she promptly forgot about Malfoy. It hardly seemed possible that Goyle would have been worried about her. After all, they'd never been friends. Or even friendly. And yet here she was, sitting next to him, her leg pressed against his and her head on his shoulder.

When had that happened, she wondered? Still, she was strangely comfortable, and not inspired to move in the slightest. In fact, her earlier sleepiness seemed to have returned, and she had to struggle to keep her eyes open. Giving up the fight, she closed her eyes.

"Do you have any other poems?" she asked.

She felt his massive shoulder rise in a shrug. She took it to mean that he had reams and reams more, and that he was just reluctant to say so.

"I'd appreciate it if you told me some more," she admitted, yawning. "I'd like to go to sleep, but if it's too quiet I'll keep thinking about—" She stopped abruptly, not wanting to think about being chased by McGonagall Cat. It was most certainly the stuff that nightmares were made of, and she desperately wanted to avoid that.

After a short pause, Goyle began speaking again, this time reciting a poem about the appearance of the Quidditch pitch when it was deserted by fans. His low and melodious voice soothed her, and she felt herself slipping into slumber easily, smoothly. Just before she drifted off, she thought that she felt him press a brief kiss to her forehead, but it also could just as easily have been part of her dream. All the same, she managed to raise one hand to touch the spot, though she was later unsure whether she had rubbed the kiss off or not.


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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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