Chapter 7 : Hermione's Owl
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Harry went back to the castle after finishing a butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks but never got his head back into working. He went through the motions but kept thinking back to Sparkelyn and her story – not so much about the staff but her Quidditch and her school experiences. She never said when she finished school and brushed off the question. Of no matter, he thought. It would be better today to concentrate on work as lifting and placing heavy wall stones could be dangerous without concentration.
The group was gathering in the Gryffindor common room and most chatting as they were getting ready to go down for breakfast.
"Missed you at lunch yesterday Harry," Neville said.
"Ah... yeah, had some errands to take care of Neville."
For a reason he couldn't place his finger on at the moment, Harry didn't feel like mentioning his meeting with Sparkelyn. The group was slowly making its way into the Great Hall.
"It's all going to work out fine – I'm sure of that!", said Nearly Headless Nick as he swooshed across the table in a silvery streak.
"Haven't seen you in a while Sir Nicholas," said Harry.
"Been terribly busy – what with all the new company," he said, "If you need any help Harry, you can count on me," he said before swishing out the door to the Great Hall. Harry wondered what he meant by the last statement. Oh well – it didn't pay to scrutinize Nearly Headless Nick, and Harry thought little of it as he reached for coffee that was magically making it's way around the table.
"What do you think he meant with that crack?" asked Michael.
"No idea," Harry said as he reached for toast from the tray that was floating past the table.
"How much is left on the Ravenclaw Tower Michael?"
"It's still pretty rough Harry – should be functional by the end of the week, I'd think."
"Wonder how the Slytherin rooms are coming around?" Neville asked.
"Who cares?" Harry said and the group laughed together.
The racks of buttered toast were floating by and Harry grabbed a couple pieces as platters of bangers and eggs were following toward the tables not far behind.
Michael grabbed a platter of eggs and Anthony was reaching for the bangers. Harry and Neville were filling their glasses with orange juice as some post Owls were beginning to make their morning run. A tan Screech Owl dropped a note at Harry's place as he was taking a long belt of orange juice. It looked like Ron's handwriting on the envelope. Harry opened the note while getting a scoop of eggs.
Got an Owl from Hermione yesterday. She's coming back
to look for a new place for her for her Mum and Dad.
She's going to use a portkey from New Zealand who has
an agreement with the UK. She should be back, early
Saturday morning. She was hoping we could meet you in
Hogsmeade at the Broomsticks for lunch.
Hope things are going well. Hope to hear good news
about the castle. Let me know if you can make it.
"Wow..." Harry muttered to himself.
"You say something Harry?" Neville said while biting the end off a banger.
"Oh nothing really – just reading Ron's letter – Hermione is coming back!"
"No kidding!" Neville exclaimed.
"Neville, you got a pencil?"
After fishing through all his pockets Neville produced a big yellow carpenter's pencil. Harry scribbled a line onto the end of Ron's message, accepting the invitation and motioned for the post Owl.
"I know Ron is got to be feeling good about this," Harry said smiling.
"Oh yeah," said Neville.
He also thought about Ginny. It had been over a week since she last dropped in at Grimmauld Place before he left for the castle. He was way overdue to send her an Owl – he would send her a note after breakfast he thought. In the time Harry had been at the castle, he had spoken to Hagrid only once – the night he and Neville arrived by train. He had seen him along the grounds, but it was time he paid Hagrid a visit.
The morning's work went well and the Ravenclaw students were more relaxed and at ease about the condition of the tower. He wasn't sure, but guessed in another day or so the tower would be fundamentally solid. Harry could sense a party or celebration of some sort was definitely around the corner. The walls were finished by mid-morning and the group would break a little early today for lunch. This would be a great opportunity for Harry to drop in on Hagrid after grabbing a quick sandwich. The lunch line was a little long as they waited to enter the Great Hall, so Harry grabbed some food to eat while walking to Hagrid's hut. As soon as he left the castle and started along the path to Hagrid's hut, he was hit with a strong feeling of melancholy. He didn't realize until this moment how strongly he missed Ron and Hermione. So many times they had made the walk to Hagrid's hut together. A thin trail of white smoke was rising from the chimney and Hagrid was most likely warming up lunch. Harry stuffed down the rest of the sandwich and chased it with a paper cup of pumpkin juice. He knocked on the door and could hear footsteps and then the rusty hinges squeal as Hagrid pulled it open.
"H'airy," he said beaming from ear to ear.
"Come in H'airy – just fixing a bit of lunch. Will you have some?"
Hagrid was stirring a large pot of stew over the fire. Harry was a little hungry after wolfing down the small sandwich and Hagrid's cooking wasn't too bad.
"Maybe a little Hagrid."
Hagrid fixed Harry and himself a bowl of the stew and they ate quietly at Hagrid's large table.
"So – looks like things are shaping up at the castle Harry?" Hagrid finally broke the silence.
"Yeah, the Ravenclaw tower is looking better – have you seen the Great Hall?"
"Went through the other day, now that you mention it."
"I hope we can get started on the Quidditch pitch," Harry said with a trace of enthusiasm.
"Might be a little ways out yet Harry," Hagrid said with concern.
"Well, I know a few that are desperate to see it back in order," Harry said with a wry smile. "Hagrid, Sir Nicholas said something a little odd at breakfast the other morning."
"Well, Sir Nicholas says lots of funny things Harry."
"This was a little different," Harry said as he furrowed his brows, "He said something about all the 'new company' he has now."
"Could that be what I think it means," Harry added.
"Uhmm... Well it might be Harry," Hagrid said dropping his head a bit, "Truth is, we're not really sure, but we've heard – little Colin Creevey and maybe others."
"Oh no – this is terrible Hagrid."
"Yeah professor – I mean Headmistress McGonagall is very upset about it. You see, some folks are not too happy with her anyway, and student ghosts could mean a lot of trouble."
"So... why are they upset with her Hagrid?"
"You see, many people – they believe the battle should have never occurred at the school," Hagrid struggled to say, "They're upset that the kids were involved in the battle."
"Oh... I see," Harry said with reflection.
"Well – so when the kids get back to school next year they see their classmates as ghosts. That Crabbe kid, Colin Creevey, and others. Well now – it's not going to be good for McGonagall, I'll tell ya that!" Hagrid exclaimed.
"We have Moaning Myrtle and nobody seems to mind her," Harry added.
"Sure, but she died over fifty years ago Harry. It's alright to have five hundred year old ghosts in the castle. Old castles are supposed to have ghosts, but classmates from last year? That's not alright – that's not alright at all!"
"Is there anything we could do Hagrid. Could we talk to Sir Nicholas about it?"
"Aw... we've tried, and he won't give a straight answer. Says stuff like – maybe they are and maybe they ain't. The Bloody Baron won't talk about it at all."
"I think I may have an idea Hagrid," Harry said with a finger on his temple.
"What kind of idea Harry?"
"Moaning Myrtle – she's talked to me before, and I think she will again," said Harry.
"You know, they tried to get rid of her many years ago and couldn't – so she may not help you Harry," Hagrid said sternly.
Harry thanked Hagrid for lunch and hurried back to the castle for another afternoon on the Ravenclaw tower. That evening before dinner he went to the fifth floor prefects bathroom to check things out. The password was not required to get in, and while there were damages just down the hall, the bathroom itself was exactly as Harry remembered it. He glanced around and quickly went back to the Gryffindor dormitory to get ready for dinner. That evening at dinner, Murphies MacMurdock, the construction superintendent spoke to the groups about all the progress made on the castle. The pep talk he gave was very up-beat except for the last. He said because of the unexpected mold damage everyone would have to pitch in and help get the Slytherin rooms ready, if the groups were to stay on schedule. This drew some moans and groans from Harry, Neville, Anthony, and Michael. Suddenly, the thought hit him like bolt from the blue - if he could help McGonagall with the ghost problem, then she might just return the favor. Instead of working in the moldy Slytherin rooms, she might allow them to work outside on the Quidditch Pitch. If Ginny knew he was working to restore the Quidditch Pitch, then she - well, she would be very happy.
"A little bit of mold should fit right in, I would think," Michael said as the rest laughed.
Harry left the Great Hall while most were still occupied with conversation. He went back to the common room and then the dormitory room and changed into his bathrobe and slippers. He hadn't noticed any towels in the prefect's bathroom, so he grabbed one of his own. He ran into Mr. Filch and Mrs. Norris just a few feet from the bathroom door.
"Where you think you're going?" Filch demanded.
"School business – now get out of the way." Harry always wanted to say that.
"Now see here young man," Filch said as he screwed his eyes.
"If you want to clear it with McGonagall, then I'll be glad to – but you're costing me time," Harry said with impatience.
"Ahh... I'll talk to her about it later. You can bet on that Potter," he said with a snarl as he and Mrs. Norris walked away.
Harry shook his head angrily as he opened the bathroom door. Myrtle, known as Moaning Myrtle was a teenager who lost her life in the castle over fifty years ago. She was known to haunt and hang out in the deserted bathrooms and had been an unwanted bathroom guest for years. Hermione had been the first to tell Harry and Ron of her eccentric behavior. Myrtle had dropped in on Harry's bath in his fourth year. Cedric Diggory had given him the password to the prefects bathroom and he managed to sneak in under the cover of the invisibility cloak. Cedric had failed to warn him about Myrtle and Harry had been more than a little inconvenienced when she popped up in the middle of his bubble bath. She was extremely curious, mischievous, and very sensitive about her non-human condition. She took a devilish delight in infringing on the modesty of the young male students while bathing or using the bathroom facilities around the castle. By the time the boys had reached their sixth or seventh year they were quite used to her perversity, and few if any would bother to cover up if Myrtle came in for a visit. They had long since realized that you couldn't really hide from her, if she wanted to spy. Harry would try being considerate and polite tonight if Myrtle would reciprocate.
The bathroom felt just as it had when he first used it used it several years ago. The room was softly lit with the candle chandeliers and the white marble was still clean and polished. He sat the towel down by the edge of the pool and turned the taps to get the water and bubble mixture. The warm water should feel good, as his legs were aching from hiking up and down the Ravenclaw tower all day. The taps were producing the small foam and large football sized bubbles perfectly. He walked over to hang his bathrobe on the coat hanger and wrapped the towel around his waist. Standing over the pool he thought about the predicament the school was in. If a small portion of the students lost in the battle had come back to haunt the grounds, it would delay the opening of the school and possibly cost McGonagall her job. Harry felt responsible for the battle taking place at Hogwarts – he had after all, wanted to come back to the school and look for Horcruxes and everything went downhill from there. If he had to be playful with a teenage ghost to get information that would help to re-open school, then he would. In any case the bathroom was a luxurious facility and totally off limits during the regular school year. He would try and use it often under these lax conditions.
The pool was nearly full and he could no longer resist jumping in. Kicking off the slippers and coming out of the towel he slid into the pool of bubbles and warm water. The water felt great. The aching and soreness in his legs was immediately relieved. The mermaid in the painting over the pool was awake this time, but looking out to sea. He thought of Myrtle's surprise visit in his fourth year and wondered if she would show up tonight. He was really looking forward to meeting Ron and Hermione for lunch Saturday. It had been barely a week after the battle when he said goodbye to Hermione as she left for Australia. All these thoughts seemed to melt into the warm bathwater as he began to feel totally relaxed. After some time, he noticed his fingers were beginning to prune. In a silly thought, he pulled one foot out of the water and was standing precariously on one leg as he inspected his toes for signs of pruning as well.
"I'd be careful doing that if I were you."
Harry was startled and snapped around so fast he lost his footing and fell backwards beneath the bubbles. He got back up in a flash but couldn't see anything with the soap film and bubbles on his glasses. He felt around for the towel as Myrtle was giggling and cackling with laughter.
"Sorry about that Harry."
"That's OK Myrtle – the glasses were dirty anyway," he said while drying the glasses with the towel.
"Didn't think I'd ever see you again Harry. You never came back like you said you would."
"I was very busy – those last couple of years," he said with as much sincerity as he could muster.
"No – really Myrtle, it's the truth. I wasn't really allowed here the first time you know - since I wasn't a prefect, but I did try to get back a time or two. Maybe you were in another one of the boy's bathrooms at the time."
"Possibly – really couldn't remember. Did you bring another egg?"
"Well no – I didn't bring an egg, but I do have another riddle."
"What is that Harry?" she asked curiously.
"We heard Sir Nicholas, the other day, refer to the 'new company' he has now. We would like to know how many students are – well – ghosts now?" Harry said as he struggled for the words.
Myrtle puzzled over the question for a second and floated over to the diving board where she bounced up and down on the board. The board remained completely still. With one last high bounce she dove screaming into the water. Harry looked around, but couldn't see her through the patches of bubbleless water. An instant later she popped up as if sitting next to him with a huge grin.
"Why do you need to know Harry?" she said as she inched closer to him.
"We need to know Myrtle... The school may not re-open with too many ghosts."
"What do you plan to do if there are?" she demanded.
"I don't know Myrtle – it depends on who and how many I suppose," he said tossing his head.
"I don't think there's anything you can do – they died for the school you know." She was getting angry and pulling away now.
"How many Myrtle?" Harry said with a deep monotone voice.
"They tried to get me to leave when I died. Just where do they expect us to GO?" she said waving her hands.
"So there are student ghosts now – that's great. We need to try and think of something."
"There's nothing you can do – just accept us!" And with that she floated ten feet over the pool and did a perfect swan dive into the water. Popping up a few feet from Harry she said, "You really should try the diving board you know!"
Looking at his hands, he wondered if they would un-prune by morning.
"Myrtle, please try and think of something. I'll be back Friday night."
"Is that a promise Harry? I have other things to do you know."
"That's a promise. Now cover your eyes, I'm getting out," he said with the complete knowledge Myrtle would do no such thing.
Myrtle made a mock attempt to cover her eyes as Harry pulled himself out of the pool. Taking his time to dry off with the towel, he went to the hanger and slipped into the bathrobe. With the towel over his shoulder, he turned toward Myrtle.
"Please – try and think of something. I'll be back Friday."
"It's been a while Harry – it was certainly good to see you!," she said with a cackling laugh as she floated to ceiling height then plunged headfirst into one of the toilets.
For the next two days, Harry and his group worked on the Slytherin rooms. They carried out bucket after bucket of black mold that had been removed from the walls. Harry desperately wanted to get out of this dungeon-like environment and work outside on the Quidditch pitch. At every meal in the Great Hall, he looked for Nearly Headless Nick and any information about his 'new company'. His talk with Moaning Myrtle had been a disappointment, and he hoped his 'date' with her Friday night would be more productive. With the Ravenclaw Tower almost completely restored there was an announcement of a celebration dinner Friday night. That meant that Harry's bath would get started a little later this time.
Friday the Great Hall was decorated with the Ravenclaw colors, and a festive mood was contagious throughout the groups. Headmistress McGonagall started things off with a short speech and a toast to all the workers. This was definitely the best meal the groups had seen since beginning the construction project and it was proof the kitchens were working in full swing. Once again a feeling of melancholy swept over him as he felt something was wrong without Ron and Hermione sitting next to him. He was looking forward to seeing them for lunch Saturday and hoped Hermione had no trouble with the long portkey jump. He had run into McGonagall the other day and talked with her about his plan to extract information from Myrtle. She approved of the plan and told him to feel free to use the prefect's bathroom as much as he liked – she would square things with Mr. Filch.
The feast was winding down as most were occupied with conversation and stories of the week's activities. Harry felt it was a good time to break away. He excused himself from Neville and the group and headed up to his dormitory room. He changed into his bathrobe and slippers and grabbed a large bath towel. With or without information from Myrtle, he was looking forward to a warm bubble bath. He was almost to the bathroom door and there was no sign of Filch or Mrs. Norris. Harry was chiding himself for agreeing to make a 'date' with ghost and made a promise he would do much better when this project was over.
The prefects' bathroom door was unlocked as usual, and he walked in under the warm glow of the chandelier lighting. The Mermaid was missing from the portrait and he guessed she was taking a swim. He quickly turned on the taps and the small foamy bubbles and large bottle size bubbles were forming perfectly. He had been a little aggravated with Myrtle's unresponsive answers and thought a change of tact was in order. He was no longer in the mood to play the coy fourteen year old school boy. With so many taps running at once the pool was filling quickly. The Mermaid was coming back from her swim. Her breasts, no longer covered by the strands of wet hair, bounced and jiggled as she struggled to pull herself back up on the rock to sun. Harry realized at that moment, he had been far too pent up since the battle had ended the war.
A warm mist was rising a foot or more over the top of the bubbles. He may have gotten the water a little too warm this time, he thought. Turning off the taps some of the pipes made a vibration sound that was sure to call attention to Myrtle. He walked the short distance to the hangers and came out of the bathrobe and kicked off the slippers. Not bothering to wrap up, he walked the few steps to the pool with the towel in his hand.
"You forgot to warn me Harry."
"Oh – I'm sorry Myrtle," Harry said as he paused at the edge of the pool to see Myrtle sitting on top of the toilet stalls.
"Would it have made any difference if I had?"
"Probably not," she said and then dove into the bubbles with a childish giggle.
Harry set the towel in his hand by the side of the pool and slid into the water.
"Ahhh... that feels great."
Myrtle popped up a moment later, and just a few feet from Harry.
"You've had a rough day today Harry?"
"Yeah – carrying buckets of mold out of the Slytherin common room – legs were killing me."
"Well I certainly hope not – but if they do kill you, you can stay here with me."
Harry leaned back and relaxed in the water, which was nearly too hot. He tried to swim a lap around the pool but the bubbles were still too high for swimming. Myrtle was floating along side doing a backstroke and having very little trouble. Harry was feeling overheated and pulled himself out of the pool and set on the edge with his feet dangling in the water. He raked a large pile of bubbles onto his lap. Myrtle had changed to a swift side stroke for another lap and then popped up out of the water to sit beside Harry. The ghostly chillness she was radiating was actually quite comfortable.
"Myrtle..." Harry said in a sincere tone, "we don't want to get rid of any of you – especially you, but we need to know a little about the situation here."
"There is a situation here Harry?" she said with her attention riveted to the patch of bubble in his lap.
"Oh come on Myrtle, be serious please."
After a few moments pause, "There are... new student ghosts Harry."
"How many Myrtle?"
"About five I think," she said as if counting in her head.
"Does that include Colin?"
"Well – how about Tonks and Remus – I mean did either of them turn into..."
"No!" she said cutting him short. Harry breathed a little sigh of relief.
"Myrtle... can you tell me where they haunt? Where can we find them?"
"They don't have a particular place Harry – why do you want to know?"
"It's important Myrtle – we want to help them."
"That's ridiculous Harry – you can't help them."
"Can we see them Myrtle?"
"No – not yet Harry – they're not ready," she said as she rose up to ceiling height and then did a dive back into the pool, "WEEEEEEEEEEEEE."
Myrtle popped out of the pool as quick as she went in to cozy beside Harry again.
"Not all of the new ghosts are students Harry," she said eying the rapidly disappearing pile of bubbles in Harry's lap.
"Who are they Myrtle?" Harry asked, his curiosity now peaked.
"I don't know. They're not very friendly at all – the Bloody Baron talks to them. Scabor or something like that was the leader," she scratching her ghostly head.
"You mean Scabior?"
"Yes, that's how I heard it. So what does does that mean to you?" she asked, trying to keep Harry from noticing the bubbles were long gone.
"Ah, he was a snatcher we ran into in the forest."
Feeling an icy cold chill from Myrtle, he slid back into the warm pool. After a few minutes he was feeling completely contented and satisfied the talk with Myrtle had been productive this time. There would be something solid to report back to McGonagall. Myrtle did a few swan dives off the diving board and tauntingly encouraged Harry to give it a try.
"Maybe next time Myrtle – need to be getting along I think."
And with that Harry pulled himself out of the pool and toweled off. He walked casually over to the coat rack where he left his bathrobe on the hanger.
"Thanks for your help Myrtle," he said slipping on the bathrobe and slippers.
"You will come back won't you Harry?" she said teasingly.
"I'll try to get back next week Myrtle."
"How will I know which night Harry – I have other things to do you know!"
"I'll bang on the pipes Myrtle!" he said looking back as he walked out the door.
Harry slept until late Saturday morning. He had been so relaxed after the hot bath that fell off to a deep sleep early and woke feeling fresh and fully recovered. He got dressed and grabbed a short breakfast in the Great Hall. Most of the breakfast had been picked over and the house-elves were beginning to put things away. He grabbed a couple of muffins and was ready to leave when he ran into McGonagall.
"Oh professor." He still called McGonagall professor.
"Hello Potter." As always Headmistress McGonagall still referred to Harry as simply 'Potter'.
"How are the bubble baths coming along?" she asked, shaking her head with a grin.
"Well I have some news for you," he said with a touch of pride.
"Have a seat Harry – finish your breakfast," she said pointing to an empty table.
They both sat down and McGonagall appeared to brace herself for bad news. Harry grabbed a glass of orange juice to wash down the muffin.
"I talked with Myrtle – she said there are five new student ghosts... she thinks."
"She thinks; doesn't she know?"
"She would only comment on Colin Creevey for sure – Oh Tonks and Remus – well they're not," he said struggling for the words.
"Well that's good," she said shaking her head, "We were fairly certain with Colin, The Bloody Baron confessed as much to Peeves."
"What can we do professor?" Harry asked with completely puzzled expression.
"We desperately need a head count - a spirit count or however best to phrase it. If we have too many new student ghosts, then we may have to postpone opening the school," she said shaking her head.
"That may be difficult professor?" Harry said.
"We'll have to keep working with the ghosts that are helpful," she said while looking up and pondering the ceiling.
"About opening the school - do you have a cutoff number in mind?"
"No, not yet. It's good this situation has became known while the construction teams are here," she said as she smiled slightly.
"If we built a room dedicated to their service – would they stay there – away from the rest of the castle – could you ask Myrtle that Potter?"
"I will professor," Harry said nodding.
"Keep up the good work," she said as she slapped the table and rose to leave.
Harry didn't quite know what to make of her last remark, but it gave something to talk about during his next bubble bath.
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