Harry stumbled along the castle grounds with both Hermione and Flitwick under his arms. The cool night air played across his dirt streaked face as he carried the two back to the castle.
When Harry was no more than fifty feet from the gazebo, he stopped. Both Hermione and Flitwick started to regain conciousness. Laying them down on the ground, Harry brushed Hermione's cheek. 'Hermione, are you okay?' he asked quietly.
Hermione's eyes fluttered as she awoke. 'Harry...' she said sleepily. Harry wiped a smudge under her eye and left his finger there, returning Hermione's gaze.
'Mister Potter!' came a squeaky voice from behind the two. Harry spun around to see Professor Flitwick standing up, patting his balding head. 'Where's my hat?' he asked, bewildered.
'Professor!' Harry said, surprised. 'What happened back there?'
'Oh, well...I think a bit of explaining is in order.' he said, moving to help Hermione up.
The three made their way to the infirmary where Madam Pomfrey cleaned them up, including Professor Flitwick.
'Now don't you go down to that gazebo again! That includes you, Professor!' Madam Pomfrey scolded, feeding them all huge chunks of chocolate.
When she left, Harry turned to Flitwick. In the pale light of the infirmary, Flitwick's wrinkles seemed to be even more pronounced, tracing a deep, intricate pattern across his face. 'Now, the story.' Flitwick said quietly.
Hermione sat up, still stiff but very attentive.
'I once attended this very school, Mister Potter, before I became a teacher.' Flitwick began. 'I was a school prefect in my day, and believe it or not, I was quite tall and quite dashing.' he added with a sly wink.
'One night, fourty years ago, I was wandering through the halls, looking for one person in particular.' he told them. 'That person was Henry Muo. We were on the best of terms, and were the best of friends. That night, I happened to stumble upon Henry and his girlfriend in the bathroom. They got quite mad. Thinking he'd surely be expelled for such an act, Henry blasted me with an Amplemento Charm.'
'Like in our Charms homework!' Hermione exclaimed.
'Not quite, Miss Granger.' Flitwick said, a sad look coming over his face. 'This Amplemento Charm was different. Because of the Spring Valse, the charm backfired. Both of us were hit. Both of us were shrunken, permanantly.'
Harry and Hermione gasped. Harry had always figured Flitwick was a gnome, and had never thought to ask.
'I was reduced to the size you see today, and Henry was transformed as well. He ran into the Forest and wasn't seen again until tonight.' he told them.
'So why did he return to Hogwarts?' asked Hermione.
'I guess he wanted to regain his power with the Valse.' Flitwick offered. 'He always was power hungry.'
'But that doesn't make sense. The laundry was used to cast a spell over the whole school, and only a prefect could touch the tub, the elves told us so. It had to be a student who helped him.' Harry told Flitwick.
'Aha, Henry, or Muo as he was called recently, was a prefect.' Flitwick told them 'And he was never expelled, so technically he still is a prefect.'
Just as Harry was about to ask another question, the door to the infirmary opened and Dumbledore strode in.
'Albus!' Flitwick cried, springing up from the bed.
'Yes, it is me Professor.' Dumbledore replied calmly. 'I would like to commend you, Harry, and you too, Miss Granger, for your bravery.'
'But Professor! What about the students that were petrified?' asked Hermione, distressed.
Dumbledore raised a hand. 'Fine, fine. They are all in perfect health, and at the dance as we speak.'
Harry relaxed, waiting to hear the rest of Dumbldore's explanation.
'Did you see the bassin that was in the center of that room?' Dumbledore asked him.
'Yes! When it was knocked over, all of the students came out.' Harry told him.
'That bassin, Harry, was a Soul Stealer. Those forms you saw emerging from it were the souls Muo had stolen. Inside the bassin those souls were kept hostage, and if he had kept them in there until midnight, they would have been lost.' he told them solemnly.
'And what about the man with the horns?' asked Hermione woriedly.
'Ahh! Piddel!' Dumbledore said enthusiastically. 'He is just outside. He wanted to make an apology to the both of you. I told him that it wasn't nessecary, but he insisted.'
'Alas, we have a dance to attend, so we'll be leaving you two with the good Mr. Piddel.' Dumbledore said as he left the room with Professor Flitwick.
Harry and Hermione looked at each other as the loud clopping of hooves approached the door. The large satyr appeared in the doorway, walking slowly into the room. 'Mister Potter, and Miss Granger.' he said, addressing the two students on the hospital bed.
'My name is Piddel.' he started, 'I am, to my eternal shame, partly responsible for this dilemma you both have been forced to endure. I served as Muo's henchman, and aided his quest to take your castle of Hogwarts. If Miss Granger had not been clever enough to use the magical pipes I had on my person, I doubt any of us would be alive, especially you, young Potter.'
Hermione blushed furiously as Harry looked towards her.
'These pipes hold powerful magic, and at the mere sounding of their morose tune, all who hear become dull, and all who are silent become alive once more.' he told them. 'Now that the ruin has been cleared, I fear Muo's body is not to be found. He has fled, and is planning his vengeance as we speak, I feel it in my soul.'
'But do not despair, brave Potter.' he said, seeing the saddened look on Harry's face. 'You and your friend have shown something so true in light of the recent events, that even Muo could not hope to tarnish it's surface. In my wake, I bequeath my one and only possesion, in hopes that it will bring you as much fortune as it has brought myself.'
Piddel bowed and handed Hermione his set of golden coloured pipes. Warm to the touch, the instrument sat in Hermione's hands, glowing silently.
'Wait,' Hermione said. 'Why did you decide to go aganst Muo?'
'Ahh, you see, Miss Granger, I saw the bassin at the last moment.'
Seeing their confused expressions, he continued.
'Muo used the Soul Stealer to capture the souls of love stricken students.' he told them. 'The more open feelings of those students could be detected using that very bassin. When a student had fallen in love, their form would appear as a shadow inside the bassin. Simply enough, my own brotherly love for all the students at Hogwarts bloomed at that time, so I would have been Muo's next target, along with the two shadows that appeared alogside mine own.'
Hermione and Harry nodded.
'And now I must leave.' Piddel said finally. 'But do not fret, dear friends, as I will be at your beckon, and forever in your service. '
He turned swiftly to leave when Hermione leapt off of the bed and grabbed him in a tight hug. Wrapping his wide arms around her small figure, he squeezed her tightly, and then left the hospital wing.
Hermione stood, looking at the empty door. Harry moved behind her and placed his hand on her shoulder, 'Let's go down.' he said quietly.
Hermione just nooded, clutching her pan-pipes tightly.
(Okay, there's one more chapter to go, and I'll make sure it earns it's position in the Romance section. Hope you liked it! ~Steve)