Chapter Eight

Beauty and its Skin-Deep Nature

When Hermione woke, she could feel the sunlight even before she opened her eyes. Smiling, she stretched and sat up, somehow heartened by the dawning of a new day. They would figure out how to reverse Dumbledore's spell. After all, the headmaster couldn't possibly want them to stay trapped in these outrageously small forms for long, could he? How would he explain it to the other students? Their parents? The Board of Governors? Today would be their last day under the curse; she was certain of it.

"Good morning!" she said brightly, nodding at the group of Slytherins ranged around the fire. They nodded back, though none looked quite as chipper as she was feeling. Or maybe they were, and she just couldn't tell. What did a chipper Slytherin look like, anyway? She wasn't sure that she'd ever encountered one, or that they even existed.

Before she could continue her line of thought, however, she was thrown off balance as the log pitched under her feet.

"What was that?" she asked, frowning and steadying herself by holding on to the inner curve of the log.

The Slytherins, however, were more concerned with the sparks the unexpected movement had tossed into the air. Professor Snape cast a hasty spell, and the fire settled immediately. Before anyone could answer her, the log shifted again, and this time Hermione was thrown to the floor of the log. Only it was no longer the floor. It was still moving, tilting at an impossible angle, and she the blankets she'd conjured were hurling toward her, hitting her with enough force to make her gasp, and the floor was still moving—was she upside down?—and hers wasn't the only voice raised in terror.

And then it stopped.

The log shuddered to a halt, and Hermione realized that they'd been rolling, tipping over and over. The mass of blankets that had attacked her had also protected her, and she was relatively unhurt, though she anticipated she would be nursing bruises for days to come. From the shouts around her, she suspected that she'd fared better than most of the others.

"Is everyone conscious?" Professor Snape's voice cut across the panicked conversations. "Any broken bones? Bleeding?"

When it had been ascertained that no one had been seriously injured (Pucey was the worst off as he'd bumped his head rather hard and managed to break his glasses) Professor Snape heaved a sigh of relief. In actuality, it was only the smallest exhalation and the tiniest lowering of the tension in his shoulders, but in anyone else, Hermione thought, it would have been a heavy sigh.

"Very well," he said, straightening to the most impressive height he could manage. "This is what we will do. When—"

He stopped abruptly, his expression hardening when the log began to rock again.

"Brace yourselves!" he warned, and proceeded to anchor himself as best he could to the wall of the log.

Hermione's stomach began to roll before the log did, and she sincerely hoped that she wouldn't embarrass herself by expelling the contents of her stomach as they tumbled along. It wasn't fair, she thought, clutching to the blankets in the hope that they would protect her from serious injury. They'd been cursed! They'd been chased through the Forbidden Forest by her favourite professor! And now, now they were being hurtled through space, shaken like popcorn kernels being heated in a confined space. And by what? Was Professor Dumbledore responsible for this new challenge, or were they facing a random predator from the Forest?

The log slowed and finally tumbled to a halt. She took a deep breath and remained still, covered in the blankets. There was no guarantee, after all, that they wouldn't be set rolling again immediately.


Hermione cringed, recognizing the yowl of McGonagall Cat. She'd given up, it seemed, on waiting for them to emerge from the log, and had taken matters into her own hands. Paws. Whatever.

And then, almost as if she'd conjured it merely by thinking of it, McGonagall Cat's paw appeared at the entrance to the log, claws extended as she attempted to draw them out. Despite her best attempts to remain calm, Hermione squeaked in fear and scrambled backward, even though she was well out of reach of the paw.

It wouldn't have mattered either way, though, she realized a moment later. The wards had held, and McGonagall Cat was incapable of penetrating the log. Hissing, the cat slinked a few feet away, tail held high.

"That was close," Hermione whispered, hand on her chest as she attempted to control her breathing. "I thought for sure…" Her words trailed off as McGonagall Cat sat, back to the log, tail twitching.

Nine pairs of eyes watched and waited for the cat to move away from the log.

"She's not leaving," Hermione breathed.

"But she can't get in," Flint said. "Right?" He glanced toward Professor Snape, but the dour man remained silent, his eyes fixed on the feline.

"Right," she answered in his stead, as much to reassure herself as Flint. "Right. We're perfectly safe."

"Until she decides to roll us until we fall out," Draco muttered, too quiet for anyone but Hermione to hear. She winced, knowing that he was correct.

"Okay," she said, resolutely ignoring Draco's dire prediction. "Okay. What we need to do is stabilize the log so that she can't roll us." She worried her bottom lip between her teeth. "Now, how are we going to… we could…or if we… A sticking charm!" she exclaimed, and raised her wand.

"Allow me, Miss Granger," Professor Snape said, and she jerked her head slightly to the left and saw that he'd somehow silently crossed the distance that had between them only seconds earlier. Hermione lowered her wand, reluctantly acknowledging that her magic was weak at best, and that Professor Snape was the better candidate for correctly performing the spell. With a look of intense concentration, the potions master flicked his wand with deliberation and intoned the words of the spell so clearly that Hermione could practically see the syllables departing his mouth. At once, the log shuddered, and then settled.

"It worked," she breathed, and sat down abruptly as her legs gave out. "What a relief!" Closing her eyes, she relaxed against the pile of blankets that had protected her during the mad rolling of the log.

"Yes," Professor Snape said thoughtfully. "It did." He gazed out the open end of the log and said no more, though he was obviously lost in thought.

She closed her eyes for a few moments, waiting for the adrenalin to leave her system. When her hands stopped shaking and her stomach settled, she took a deep breath and stood. "Okay. Has anyone checked to see where we landed? Are we further in the Forbidden Forest, or—" She stopped abruptly, eyes wide. "Oh my goodness. We're almost at the castle!"

It was hard to get a good view of their surroundings without sticking her head further out of the log than she was comfortable with, but she was certain that she could see the top of a turret. She stared in disbelief. They were so close! McGonagall Cat's tail twitched, and she realized that as close as they were, they might as well be a mile away. What hope did they have of sneaking past the feline?

"Yes," Professor Snape agreed. "You are correct, Miss Granger." He eyed her steadily, and she had the distinct impression that he was trying to tell her something. For the first time in her life, she wished that Legilimens worked both ways so that he could say directly to her mind what he was obviously reluctant to speak aloud. What on earth was he trying to communicate, she wondered? His dark eyes revealed nothing, however. At least, nothing that she could interpret.

She frowned as his gaze flickered between her and each of the Slytherins, returning to her each time before moving to a new face.

For Merlin's sake, what was he trying to tell her?!

"Well," Hermione said briskly, refusing to be defeated by her inability to understand Professor Snape's cryptic message. "We can't stay here forever. We might as well prepare ourselves." Without wasting another moment on her professor, she scanned the interior of the log, looking for personal items that shouldn't be left behind. No stray wands, she was pleased to note. Even though they'd cast almost no magic, each person had kept their wand on their person, just as they should. She could see that Goyle had crammed his parchment and quill into the pocket of his trousers. Pucey's glasses were broken, but he'd somehow managed to twist them so that they could teeter on the bridge of his nose. He wouldn't need them for long, Hermione hoped, but it wouldn't do to have him stumbling about if they had to make a break for the castle. No, with any luck, they'd return to the castle and find a professor, most likely Flitwick, who could return them to their proper states.

She hoped.

A flash of light caught her eye, and she realized that Zabini's mirror had been discarded in the shuffle, somehow tangling in the blankets. When she picked it up to examine it, she realized that it had escaped serious damage, though it was scuffed beyond what could be reasonably repaired.

"Here you are," she said, handing the small piece of glass to its owner. "Almost as good as new," she informed him brightly.

Zabini took the mirror and checked his reflection carefully, and then turned his attention back to Hermione. "Thank you," he said. She nodded, expecting the quiet, meticulous boy to end the conversation. Instead, he continued to examine her curiously.

"What?" she asked suspiciously. "I didn't damage it, you know. It was like that when I found it!"

Zabini blinked, and then glanced back down at the mirror before cocking his head to the side and studying her again. "You didn't look at yourself," he said.

Hermione frowned. "What?"

"The mirror. You didn't even look at yourself."

She stared at him, hoping that if she waited long enough, his words would start making sense.

It didn't happen.

"I don't understand," he said vaguely. "You've been tramping through the Forbidden Forest, running to save your life, slept on a stack of blankets, and tossed about a log, and you didn't even check to see what you looked like when you had the chance?"

She frowned. "No, I suppose I didn't. Why? Should I have?"

Passing the mirror between his hands, Zabini hesitated before answering. "Er, no?" he finally responded.

Hermione fingered a length of her hair and inspected it. She couldn't see anything wrong with it, but Zabini's questions were starting to make her paranoid. She knew she wasn't currently looking her best—after all, she hadn't touched a brush in over twenty-four hours—but did she look worse than she thought? If she'd had her normal hair, no doubt it would be snarled catastrophe, but as far as she could tell, she was still afflicted with the sleek blonde tresses of the curse.

"You look…" Zabini's voice trailed off.

Hermione snorted. "My hair frizzed up, didn't it? It does that sometimes, especially when I'm outdoors." Shrugging, she flipped her hair back over her shoulder.

"No!" he protested. "Or, well, yes, I suppose it did, but…" He paused again, still frowning at her hair. "You have twigs in your hair, it's matted on one side, your dress is wrinkled beyond repair, and you look… good?"

Hermione looked down at her dress. The morning had been so crazy that she hadn't even thought about what she was wearing. Sure enough, the white frock was now more grey than white, and hopelessly creased. Well. It wasn't as if she had actually liked the dress.

"It'll look even better in the rubbish bin," she said cheerfully, smiling at the very thought of ditching the horrible garment once and for all.

"You're something else," Zabini said softly. "Technically, you look awful. And yet…"

"I don't care," she said, still cheerful. "It's not as if I came equipped with a bottle of Sleakeazy, now is it? And frankly, I've had rather more important matters on my mind."

"That's it!" he said, snapping his fingers. "Technically, you're a mess. But you couldn't care less! And that makes you…" He shrugged and tossed the mirror aside. "Quite attractive."

Her eyes widened at the unexpected compliment. Before she could respond, however, Professor Snape heaved an audible sigh of relief. "For Merlin's sake, Zabini, did it really need to take you that long to figure out that attractiveness is more than just outward appearance? Now, then." He stretched his wand arm, and Hermione could practically see the magic ripple through him. If she weren't scared to hope for it, she would have thought that she was actually seeing his magic fully returned to him.

"Now, then," he repeated. "You will all wait here."

Without a further word, he stepped out of the log and strode briskly to where McGonagall Cat still sat, back toward them. The slightest hitch in the twitching of her tail told Hermione that the cat was well aware of Professor Snape's approach, and she was forced to stuff her fist in her mouth to prevent herself from calling a warning to him. He didn't need it, she knew, and would not appreciate it.

When Professor Snape was only inches away, McGonagall Cat flicked her tail hard. If he hadn't cast a Protego charm instantly, Hermione had no doubt that the impact would have tossed him through the air.

"He'll be fine, Granger," Draco said, and she turned to her left to find the blond Slytherin beside her. How long he'd been standing there, she had no idea. Long enough to hear her odd conversation with Zabini? Not that it mattered. At the moment, the fact that Professor Snape was likely to meet his death at the hands of a cat was a much more pressing concern.

Hermione watched in horror as McGonagall Cat crept in a circle while Professor Snape held his ground. He, as always, was utterly silent. The cat's footsteps were muffled by the grass. There was no sound, save for the breathing of the occupants of the log.

When Professor Snape finally did speak, she jumped.

"You will not harm me," he told the cat, and Hermione could hear that it was a simple statement of fact, and not an idea that he was attempting to plant in her head through magic.

McGonagall Cat hissed and raised her paw.

"It may be in your nature," he continued, and Hermione could have sworn that light glinted off McGonagall Cat's cruel claws. "But you will not harm me." Lowering his wand arm, and leaving himself exposed to her, he said words that Hermione was quite certain he had never before uttered. "I trust you."

McGonagall Cat hesitated. Her raised paw twitched, as if she were fighting the urge to strike him where he stood. For a long second, Hermione was certain that she was about to witness the death of scariest professor on staff at Hogwarts.

And then McGonagall Cat slowly lowered her paw. Another moment, and she sat back on her haunches. A pained meow carried clearly to the log, but the air was shimmering, and her skin felt tight, and was the log moving again? What in Merlin's name—

And then her body was being squeezed, almost as if she were Apparating. She tried to gasp, but for several terrifying seconds there was no air for her lungs to take in and she couldn't breathe and it hurt.

And then it was over, and she could feel a firm floor under her feet, and she could breathe. She opened her eyes to find herself in the Headmaster's office, a jovial Dumbledore seated at his desk. And she was the proper height again! She scanned the rest of the occupants of the room quickly, relieved that Professor McGonagall, Professor Snape, and the rest of the Slytherins had all been restored to their proper bodies as well. They were all in the strange clothing still, but it was better than nothing! Even better, Professor Snape's beard had disappeared, and a quick touch assured her that her sleek blonde hair had been replaced with own crazy brown curls.

"How lovely!" Professor Dumbledore exclaimed, and clapped his hands together. "I didn't expect you until this afternoon!"


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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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