Chapter 3 — Purgo Puteo
By Lady Alchymia
There had been a time at Hogwarts when people wore badges saying ‘POTTER STINKS’. Harry would blame no one if they wore one now. Turning on the shower for the third time, he lathered up with Goat’s Milk Soap to no avail. Nothing he’d tried so far was up to the task of defeating the Corpse Flower’s defensive stench of rancid meat and goodness knows what else. He banged his head pitifully against the shower tiles, tormented by more than stink. He was painfully aware that he was responsible for paralysing and putrefying most of the girls in his year — no thanks to a certain idiot redhead. To put it mildly, Harry’s first day back at Hogwarts was not going well.
“Come on, Harry!” Ron called out, impatient to get to lunch. “I’m starving! Professor Sprout said it’d wear off eventually!”
“You go on!” Harry sputtered through the water. Then he poked his head through the curtain to shout, “Save me something good!”
Back in his dorm, he collapsed on his bed and decided he smelled even worse than when he was a baby with a filthy nappy. Despite the malevolent odours wafting about him, Harry found a smile thinking of all the happy memories of his mum and dad he’d been given courtesy of possessing Frank Longbottom in Saint Mungo’s. Just simple things like bath time, feeding time, nappy time. Harry’s smile deepened. Lily taught Frank and James a brilliant purification charm when she was teaching them to change nappies. Harry supposed it was one of those ‘housewifely’ spells that crusty old academics never thought to teach you at Hogwarts. Leaping to his feet, he jabbed his wand to his chest and said loudly and clearly, “Purgo Puteo!”
Nothing. Well, nothing except even more rancid meat. He tried again — and again. He tried to recall exactly what his mum told Frank — something about needing pure thoughts to cast a successful purification charm. It was actually a rather tricky spell, he realised now, but he kept at it (he was highly motivated to succeed). Replaying Frank’s memories in his mind’s eye, Harry savoured the sound of his mother’s tinkling laughter as James and Frank practiced the charm on their sons. And he lingered longer than necessary on the bittersweet sight of his mum kissing and cuddling him.
“Purgo Puteo!” he cried, for about the twentieth time. He sniffed then grinned; he couldn’t smell a thing!
Bounding down the stairs to lunch, Harry’s happy green moodstone dulled with each gaggle of giggling airheads he passed by. Ron hadn’t said how long he had to wear his MORE CLUELESS badge, and Harry knew he was really in no position to argue the point, but, seriously, enough was enough. Joining his stinky mate at the Gryffindor table, Harry offered up his new charm as a peace offering. Ron accepted at once.
“Purgo Puteo!” said Harry.
“Pwah!” cried Ron.
Wincing, Harry figured he must not have been thinking pure enough thoughts because the odour of rotten meat about Ron only intensified — coupled with a whiff of something like burnt honey. Whatever it was, it was enough to clear the lunchtime stragglers from the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables. He wanted to try again, but Ron flatly refused.
Rising from the table he added darkly, “I expect you’ll be needing that badge a while longer.”
The Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom was full of nervous chatter (and a great many unfortunate smells). The whole class had arrived on time for their first lesson with Professor Flamel, but it was ten past the hour and there was still no sign of her. Rumours ran rife about her story. The DA members, who made up more than half the class, clustered together to compare notes; everyone was unusually interested in what Hermione had to say.
“She can’t be that old!” Zacharias Smith snorted disbelievingly.
“Six hundred and sixty-four this year,” Hermione repeated briskly. “She and her husband, Nicolas, who is seven years older, use a Philosopher’s Stone to stay alive. After Harry —”
Lavender Brown cut in, saying, “I wonder what moisturising potion she uses? Seriously, for an old duck, she could look a lot worse!”
“It’s catching up with her, though,” Hannah Abbott said wisely. “You should see her Frog photo from just a few years ago. She looks so much older now.”
“Anyway,” Hermione said, sparing barely a withering glance towards Hannah and Lavender. “After Harry saved the Philosopher’s Stone from Lord Voldemort,” and here Hermione ignored several sharp gasps, “the Flamels decided to destroy it, lest it fall into the wrong hands again. Harry said they kept enough in reserve to put their affairs in order and then they’d die.”
Harry (who by now had taken a voluntary vow of silence) glanced around uneasily; he had a most unsettling feeling he was being watched.
“They must have a fair bit in reserve then,” observed Anthony Goldstein. “They might live on for years and years yet.”
Musing on the idea, Hermione said, “Very true. You only need a minute dose — taken regularly, of course.”
Susan stopped holding her nose long enough to say, “She can’t have that much left. I mean he’s dead, isn’t he. My auntie went to his funeral ages ago. It was this big thing in Paris.”
Hermione was startled into silence by this new information.
“Very true, Susan,” Ernie said importantly, holding up a trading card, “got her Frog right here.”
Everyone abandoned Hermione and clustered around Ernie as he read aloud from the card.
“Perenelle Flamel: French Alchemist and inventor of the Lunascope. Sublime Sultana (retired) and Benefactress of the Order of the Peacock. Thrice widowed. Together with her late husband, Nicolas, founded numerous Muggle and Wizarding hospitals, hospices, and orphanages. Lady Flamel enjoys the opera, cryptic crosswords, jousting, and petit point.”
“Jousting’s cool,” noted Ron, nodding approvingly. “But what’s this petite pointy thing?”
“That’s not how you say it,” Hermione said with a superior kind of look towards Ernie, who merely blinked. “It’s French.”
“Maybe it’s like fencing,” guessed Neville, “but for little people?”
Seamus brightened. “For Leprechauns?”
Michael Corner rolled his eyes. “It’s needlepoint, you prats. My mum does it,” he added defensively when the boys eyed him askance and the girls hid smiles.
“How’s she still alive, then,” pondered Padma Patil, getting back to the subject at hand, “if her husband’s dead?”
Anthony had an idea. “If Nicolas Flamel was seven years older when he died, maybe she’s just got a couple of extra years left in her?”
“She’d better have enough life in her to last out the year,” Ernie said huffily. “I mean, really, we can’t be expected to put up with any more nonsense now that we’re NEWT students!” He looked around forbiddingly, as if daring anyone to contradict him.
“Very true, dear,” agreed Hannah, absently patting his arm.
“Well, I heard,” Terry Boot started, but whatever Terry heard was forgotten, for the room plunged into a darkness so dense, so complete, that Harry could not see his own hand in front of his face. Nervous chatter erupted again, then yelps of surprise. Captured inside enormous, glowing bubbles, the students were sent bouncing crazily around the room. Harry succeeded in steadying his blue-tinged bubble only to have a very green Neville crash into him, sending him tumbling through a cluster of Slytherins, scattering them like billiard balls only to see them collect again on the ceiling like so many bright-coloured helium balloons. Grinning wickedly, Harry pushed off a wall and rammed an orange Ron. Ron went spinning into a baby-pink Pansy Parkinson, who shrieked and collided with an upside-down lilac Hermione (who Harry thought would really find it much easier to get upright if she wasn’t so busy holding down her robes). He peered around the blackened room for their teacher, but all he could see were two dozen human billiard balls. He half-expected to see a giant pool cue appear any minute. The laughter and noise in the room escalated as people started ramming each other with considerable abandon (all the while with a very purple Hermione shrieking for people to ‘stop right this minute!’).
“SHOT!” roared Ron when Neville sent Draco Malfoy reeling, though the look of surprise on Neville’s face perhaps indicated that the move had not been deliberate. “The incredible bouncing ferret bounces again!” crowed Ron.
Malfoy wasn’t down long. A wild pool game ensued and went full throttle for a good ten minutes. The DA had a numbers advantage, but the Slytherins put up a good fight. It was a difficult game, however, if you wished to sustain any anger. Cushioned by their bubbles, there didn’t appear to be any way to get hurt, which the Gryffindor and Slytherin boys found a bit disappointing, really.
No one noticed her at first. She drifted quietly among them, seated on a one-person flying carpet (something Harry was quite certain was illegal in Britain). She gave no sign at all that she wanted the game to stop; she just floated past with a kind of mild curiosity, as if watching monkeys at the zoo. Seen only by reflected light of the bubbles, Professor Flamel proved to be a smallish woman in delicately embroidered, pale-blue robes, her white hair scooped in an elegant French knot. There was an amused and dreamy quality about her that reminded Harry of Professor Dumbledore. After watching them play for a while, Professor Flamel landed on her desk — and waited.
By tacit agreement, the students stopped messing about, and their bubbles collected again on the ceiling. Kneeling on all fours like so many puppy dogs, they stared down at Flamel, who lifted her misty white eyes to the light of her colourful ‘moons’.
“Good afternoon, children,” she said softly. Her voice betrayed only the very slightest of French accents and carried effortlessly to every corner of the room. “You may take your seats.”
The students pushed off the ceiling in an effort to dive downwards, but they simply bounced off the floor and landed back up on the ceiling. Harry poked at the rubbery skin of his bubble — maybe if he burst it, like a balloon — but it was a long fall to the ground. He attempted to puncture it during a downward dive, so that he wouldn’t have so far to fall, but his bubble refused to burst. This went on for several minutes before Hermione ventured the inevitable question.
“Excuse me, Professor, what are we allowed to do to break free?”
Professor Flamel appeared delighted with the question.
“A conundrum for all the ages,” she observed, nodding approvingly, “and one worthy of much pondering.”
Harry and Hermione exchanged a look that agreed that this answer was hardly helpful.
Waving madly, Pansy Parkinson screamed, “Professor! Professor! Can we use our wands?”
Professor Flamel took flight once more, one silk-slippered foot dangling demurely from her Persian carpet. The students’ faces pressed against their bubbles, following her tour of the room.
Serenely, she advised them, “To achieve your goal, everything you need you can find within yourself.” Her students were frankly dubious of that. She smiled slightly and added, “You do not need your wands, but you may use them if you so desire.”
Maybe it was the Flamels’ connection to Albus Dumbledore, but Harry couldn’t get the Mirror of Erised out of his head. He’d been able to retrieve the Philosopher’s Stone by desiring it more than anything else but only in order to keep it safe from Voldemort. He felt certain that there would be a similar trick for escaping the bubble and he would rather find it than just blast his way out. Others were not so patient. All around the ceiling, people were experimenting with different spells. Reductor Curses were popular, though it seemed to take an awful lot of them to —
Draco Malfoy went whizzing around the room, finally coming to rest in a dark corner. Panting for breath, he wriggled free of his limp bubble like a grub escaping its cocoon before it had a chance to turn into a butterfly. Insufferably pleased with himself, the grub dusted off his smouldering robes and swaggered over to a seat in the front row, where his lazy taunting of Harry somehow failed to attract any chastisement from their teacher.
Come on, think, Harry berated himself. There must be a trick!
I want more than anything in the world to get free ... but ... er ... not for myself?
Harry’s bubble belched belligerently. Right, so a lie wasn’t going to work, he thought sourly. Well, that was hardly fair.
The Ravenclaws thought there was a trick, too, and were having an impromptu bubble-bursting brainstorming session in a corner of the room. Hermione eyed them longingly. Meanwhile, spells were firing madly all around them. Ernie’s beige bubble was steadily inflating, growing bigger and bigger, until it filled half the room. Harry thought Ernie might actually be onto something; the skin of his bubble stretched thinner and thinner, and then it popped. Some kind of Engorgement Charm, Harry thought with grudging approval. Justin quickly followed Ernie’s example.
Susan wasn’t doing quite so well. She had one long, bare leg dangling outside her green bubble, but had somehow failed to puncture it. She was thoroughly stuck, half-in, half-out. Harry found it difficult to regret the girl’s plight; he was rather enjoying the view. Justin, now free and standing on his desk, tried to talk her down. Flustered, Susan did her best to ignore him. Harry concealed a superior smirk; he had a shrewd idea Susan fancied Justin; Harry knew she fancied someone; she’d revealed that much under the influence of a Soothsayer Mint at his birthday party. Sadly, Susan and her lovely leg blasted free. Meanwhile, Pansy Parkinson had given up on curses and was trying to puncture her bubble using her prefects’ pin (Harry figured it was the only useful thing she’d ever done with it). The pin failed to pierce the skin, but Malfoy and Zabini sneaked Reductor Curses at her bubble, and down she went.
Not wanting to be last, Hermione and the Ravenclaws were now resorting to force, too, but Harry persisted in trying to think of a wand-free solution, running endless options through his mind without success. Things were getting desperate. Only he and Neville were still bobbing around like idiots. The thought of coming absolute last in his first DADA lesson was mortifying to Harry; Defence was his very best subject, and yet he still resisted the temptation of drawing his wand. The Slytherins were having a field day, making smart remarks that Professor Flamel seemed to have no intention of quelling. Harry got the feeling he and the other students were lab rats in some experiment — an experiment in which Harry Potter was failing miserably.
“Just use Reducto, Harry!” Ron bellowed from below.
Neville went zooming around the room, leaving a trail of black smoke in his wake. Harry’s blue bubble was now the only source of illumination in the classroom.
“Come on, Harry!” cried Hermione. “It’s easy; just use your wand!”
Reluctantly, Harry drew his wand.
Malfoy crowed, “Told you Potter can’t perform without an audience!”
“Shut it, Ferret!” snapped Ron.
“Silence,” said Flamel.
The word was whispered yet caused all chatter to cease instantly. As Flamel floated towards him, Harry willed himself to think of something — anything! He was sure she would shake her head with disappointment and release him herself, but she didn’t.
“Open your mind, little one, not your soul,” she suggested. Harry stared. Right, he thought, really helpful. Professor Flamel smiled slightly as she circled his bubble. “Brute force can break the shield, but it is not the only way. Think beyond yourself. Think — bigger.”
Flamel retreated into the dark, leaving Harry even more confused. Pocketing his wand, he clambered to his feet, steadying himself with his limbs outstretched. The class, tinged blue under the light of his lone bubble, stared back at him, their upturned faces displaying a mixture of curiosity, contempt, boredom, pity. Harry closed his eyes and tried to shut everything else out, just as Elizabeth taught him over the summer. Sharp gasps sounded and his eyes shot open in alarm, but all that had happened was that he dropped a few feet.
Open your mind, Harry thought fitfully as his bubble started rising again. What did that even mean? Everyone was always trying to get him to close his mind. Open your mind — not your soul. If he could just calm down and think! Abruptly, his bubble dropped again.
“Okay, okay, I get it,” he muttered under his breath. “Quit feeling and think.”
This was easier said than done with the entire class watching him. He squeezed shut his eyes again and set about jettisoning troubling emotions (there were plenty to pick from today). Drawing deep steadying breaths, he recited in his mind his most familiar mantras, filling his mind with images of a spiralling galaxy; how the stars were home to every living thing; how even the tiniest living things were made up of millions of individual cells. He could feel his heartbeat slowing and an inkling of an idea tickling at the edge of his mind. He was convinced the trick would be in not trying to escape, for it was clear that anyone could do that with violence.
Everything you need, you can find within yourself, Professor Flamel said, but then she also said to think beyond that, to think bigger. The DADA classroom faded completely from Harry’s mind and he set about thinking of the biggest, most untouchable, most awe-inspiring thing in his memory. His mind turned to Black Island, when Remus was reading Captains Courageous to him on the beach, and all around them, glittering like diamonds, were stars, an eternity of stars, too distant to touch, yet close enough to feel.
Spinning slowly now in his bubble, he felt oddly at peace. In the darkness of his mind’s eye, the stars were a comforting blanket. Sirius was there, watching over him; and down below, on solid ground, was Remus — and Remus wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And inside Harry were his parents. Always. It wasn’t a happy thought, exactly, having three of his four protectors being only spirit guardians, but it was comforting to know he was never alone — not really. But Harry also knew he was past looking for other people to protect him. He was ready to learn everything he could in order to fight his own battles against the Dark Arts, against every kind of darkness, to make himself ready for the day when he would face Voldemort and —
Harry jumped, startled by a ringing bell. His bubble was gone and he was sitting at his desk in bright sunshine. Professor Flamel was flipping through a textbook.
“... And if you would be so good as to read Chapter One before our next lesson, we can begin our study of Entrapment Curses. Good afternoon, children.”
“Good afternoon, Professor,” recited the class obediently, and then there followed the usual sounds of chairs scraping and noisy chatter.
“What?” Harry said stupidly.
“Didn’t you hear?” said Ron, thumping him on the back. “She gave you twenty points!”
“How did you do it, Harry?” Hermione demanded, succeeding in looking both impressed and put out. The rest of his friends huddled around, also curious.
“Seriously cool bit of wandless magic,” Michael said enviously.
“Oh, it really was!” gushed Hannah. She held her arms out and pivoted gracefully on the spot, her eyes closed and a dreamy smile on her face. “The way you just floated back to earth and then pop!” Hannah stopped spinning and clapped her hands. “The bubble was gone and you’re just sitting there, peaceful as can be. I had to do thirty-six Reductor Curses to break free! I’m going to be smelling of burnt rubber for days!”
Harry winced; burnt rubber wasn’t the only thing she smelled of. His friends peppered him with questions and wanted to know when they were going to resume DA meetings. Harry hushed them and glanced guiltily towards Flamel, who was smiling softly into a Grindylow tank she had just placed on her desk. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of their new teacher just yet. She seemed okay, but how would she react to them going behind her back?
“Dunno,” he muttered vaguely. “There’s Quidditch to sort out — and I’ve got already got a ton of detentions — just check your Galleons.” He snatched up his satchel and left. Ron and Hermione raced to catch up. The corridor was crowded with students heading outside for their mid-afternoon break. It seemed like every single one of them took the time to stop, point, and squeal as Harry and his MORE CLUELESS badge dashed past. Desperate for a breath of fresh air away from the lot of them, he sought higher ground.
“Do we have to?” Ron moaned when he saw where Harry was heading. “Why can’t we go the long way?”
“Shut up; he’ll hear you.”
Halfway down the Forbidden Corridor, Ethelred the Ever-Ready hid a very useful staircase that somehow went straight from the third floor to the sixth in only twelve steps (Harry had given up trying to rationalise that, Wizarding space just didn’t work by Muggle rules). During his life, Ethelred would curse passers-by for merely glancing at his turnips the wrong way. As a marble statue, put upon by centuries of students, he was even more cantankerous. Fortunately, he was in a good mood today, and Hermione’s winning smile, and a very polite ‘please’, was enough to appease the medieval warrior. His long marble legs split apart and Harry, Ron, and Hermione crawled through. Moments later, they emerged on the sixth floor behind a tapestry of six proudly prancing Hippogriffs. Then it was through a small door and out onto a castle balcony with commanding views over the lake and the long castle drive.
Harry didn’t use the terrace much (too cold in winter), but Ron liked it a lot, and Harry was still trying to make amends for the whole my-best-mate-is-an-idiot thing. For some reason, you couldn’t actually see the terrace from the exterior of the castle unless you knew it was there — not until you were practically on top of it anyway. Ron had sniffed it out whilst flying around the castle in their second year. South-facing, the terrace boasted a drinking fountain spouting cool water from the mouths of playful bronze nymphs, and a potted Katsura tree, the very tree that had betrayed the terrace’s existence to Ron. The Katsura’s heart-shaped leaves turned pink in autumn and smelled of fairy-floss. When ready to fall, they’d exhale a delicate sigh and turn into little balls of real fairy-floss. If quick, you could nab a delicious sugary treat before the floss hit the ground. Unfortunately, the bench beneath the Katsura was currently occupied by a pair of Ravenclaw girls, but a glare from Ron sent them scurrying, leaving the trio quite alone.
“I love being in the Sixth,” Ron said. Collapsing onto the seat, he lazily crossed his arms and stretched out his legs. Harry dallied at the font to play with the nymphs and escape the lingering stench of his two best friends.
“I can’t wait for our next Defence lesson!” Hermione declared happily. “Entrapment Curses are fascinating!”
“Fascinating,” Ron agreed, staring up at the Katsura longingly, but the tree’s leaves had not yet turned, and he had to content himself with inhaling its sugary aroma.
Hermione tried without success to hand around some muesli bars. Undeterred, she grabbed Harry’s hand and pulled him down to sit between her and Ron.
“So, how did you do it, Harry?” she demanded, but Harry wasn’t about to admit he’d done nothing but calm down and want to learn.
He adopted his most earnest puppy dog eyes and said, “I’d be happy to tell you, but don’t you want to figure it out for yourself?”
Hermione mumbled something about the importance of teamwork in problem-solving then disappeared back into her school bag. Ron snickered appreciatively.
He leaned close to whisper in Harry’s ear, “But you’ll tell me, right?”
Harry just grinned and looked out over the sun-drenched lake; he knew it wouldn’t be long before the warm days were just a memory.
“Wanna go for a fly?” Ron prompted cheerfully, reading Harry’s mind. “We’ve got the whole afternoon off!”
“You might,” Hermione said, emerging from her bag with her timetable. “I’ve got double-Arithmancy.”
Harry glanced at her timetable. Something looked wrong. He checked Ron’s and found the same mistake.
“You haven’t got Care of Magical Creatures marked in,” he observed helpfully, pulling out his own timetable to show them. Ron and Hermione exchanged a look. Harry said, “You are doing it, aren’t you?”
“I’d really like to,” Hermione said carefully, “but my timetable is so full, I had to give something up — I just couldn’t ... well, I ...” Her voice trailed off uncomfortably.
Hermione’s timetable was pretty full but Ron’s wasn’t. Harry just stared at his best mate, not wanting to believe he would let Hagrid down. The silence thickened. Ron caved in first.
“Look, I hated the stupid subject, all right? I mean Hagrid’s great and all, but come on, seriously! And I’m gonna need all the spare time I can get just to make it through Potions!”
“You were ready to go for a fly two minutes ago,” Harry pointed out.
Ron looked to be thinking fast. “Well, yeah, but you want me to practice for Quidditch, don’t you?”
Harry pursed his lips in annoyance and took a closer look at Ron’s timetable. “You’re still doing Divination,” he noted.
“Mum wants me to kick on with it. Reckons I should keep my options open.”
By some weird fluke, Ron had achieved an Outstanding in Divination — his only Outstanding — which only proved to Harry that the marking system (if not the whole subject) was completely meaningless. But having last night announced to the whole school that he thought Ron Weasley was ‘completely clueless’, Harry was not of a mind to deride Ron’s best OWL right now. As for dropping Care of Magical Creatures, the trouble was he could quite easily understand Ron’s point of view; he didn’t actually like the subject either.
“Fair enough,” he conceded with a sigh.
Ron perked up again. “So, come for a fly?”
“Nah, I’ve got Light Arts.”
“What are you doing that for?”
“They do painting and stuff. Thought it might be fun.”
“Bit girlie, isn’t it?”
Stung, Harry muttered, “It’s not girlie. They do music and statues and stuff.”
Genuinely perplexed, Hermione ventured, “But it won’t be a NEWT if you only start in the Sixth.”
Harry wasn’t going to argue the point. “I’m doing Light Arts,” he said flatly and that was that.
Hermione looked peeved — or maybe it was just the smell getting to her.
“Well,” she muttered under her breath, as usual needing to have the last word, “if you want to use up valuable lesson time for hobbies.”
She drew her wand and started blowing air over herself, trying in vain to evict the evil gases of eau de little prince still hanging about from Herbology; she had not yet noticed that Harry smelled perfectly fine. Harry had a fleeting, unworthy, urge not to tell her about the Purgo Charm. Even though it hadn’t worked when he first tried it on Ron, Harry was confident he could do better if they gave him a chance (and she really did stink). He nudged her shoulder with his own and invited her to smell him. She gave him a look that was easily as foul as The Little Prince.
“There’s no need to be rude, Harry. I was just giving you my honest opinion.”
“I wasn’t trying to be — oh, forget it.”
Harry returned to staring at the lake, watching the Giant Squid propel itself across the sunlit surface. Stuck between his smelly best friends, Harry rather envied the squid. Not for the first time, he wondered if he was making the right choice about Light Arts. It had been Susan Bones who planted the idea in his head about the subject, but Harry was honest enough with himself to know she wasn’t the only reason. Elizabeth was all for it when Harry asked for her advice, and she was an Auror. She said they were always looking for candidates with creative minds — people who could think ‘outside the box’, not just memorise a lot of spells.
“Look,” he said, trying again, “I just wanted to try a subject that’s a bit of fun — I can always drop it if it gets too much. Now, are you going to smell me or not?”
“I am not smelling you!”
“Just one sniff.”
“C’mon, Hermione, I’m not being rude; I’ve got this charm. It’s really good!”
Ron snorted disparagingly. “Skunk Charm: doubles the stink on you.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Harry said at once. Ron raised an eyebrow, supremely disinterested; the charm had not worked well on him at lunch. “Look,” Harry said irritably, “if you’d just let me take another shot —”
“Do it on yourself if it’s so good,” challenged Ron.
“No problem!” Harry pointed his wand at himself and conjured the purest, happiest thoughts he could think of; it was easy; he just thought about his mum. “Purgo Puteo!”
Hermione’s nose wrinkled suspiciously, though she refused to bring it any closer to him.
“I don’t smell anything bad ...” she conceded. “Where did you learn this charm?”
“In hospital,” replied Harry, which was true enough, for that was where he possessed Frank Longbottom. Hermione shifted gears faster than a Viktor Krum feint.
“A healing charm! Why didn’t you say so?” She leaned in closer and sniffed deeply at Harry’s neck. “Oh, you smell lovely! Like fresh-baked bread — or a pie, maybe.”
“No, I don’t,” said Harry. Frowning, he sniffed himself; he smelled nothing of the sort. Then Ron was sniffing him too.
“Short crust pastry,” advised the expert. “Fresh out of the oven. Sugar baked into the crust.” Ron inhaled more deeply, his brow creased in thought. “Peaches!” he declared confidently.
“I do not smell of peaches!” Harry declared firmly, sliding further away from Ron. “And quit sniffing me!”
“It’s more of a baking smell to me,” said Hermione, inhaling contentedly at Harry’s neck. “It’s really nice, actually.”
“Do me!” Ron ordered at once.
Determined not to skunk Ron again, Harry was careful to perform the spell perfectly. Ron sniffed at his arm then smiled uncertainly.
Harry sniffed briefly at Ron’s shoulder. The bad smells were gone, leaving a whiff of something else.
“Honey,” breathed Hermione vacantly from Harry’s other side. Surprised she could smell it over her own stink, Harry nodded. Eagerly, she said, “Me next!”
Harry gladly obliged. Curious, he sniffed at her ear, catching a strangely familiar fragrance — a kind of Christmassy spice. Ron was smiling dopily. Harry thought it was lucky his mate had the afternoon off because the heady combination of candyfloss Katsura leaves, honey, peach pie (Harry still didn’t buy that), and now fruitcake was bound to make him useless for the rest of the day. Hermione sniffed suspiciously at her elbow.
“I don’t smell anything,” she said, oddly disappointed for someone who had just stopped smelling like a dead Doxy. Ron pulled her hand across Harry’s lap and sniffed deeply at her wrist.
“Yeah, you do,” he assured her, his eyes glazing. “You smell like — what are those sharp little things that make other stuff smell good?”
Hermione was still frowning. “Cloves?”
“You smell very nice,” Harry assured her.
“Really nice!” Ron agreed earnestly. He inhaled deeply at her wrist again. “Seriously, you smell really, really good.”
Pinking, Hermione murmured, “They use cloves in fighting gum disease ... and toothaches.”
Ron’s fingers slid into Hermione’s sleeve and pushed it right up to her elbow, revealing a long expanse of milky skin to inhale, which he did with great enthusiasm. Harry, stuck in the middle, looked to the sky and silently begged for the bell to ring. It didn’t.
Blissfully deep in her elbow, Ron said, “You smell like — like a really nice piece of pork —”
“Like a what?” Highly affronted, Hermione whipped her arm away. “Are you saying I smell like a pig? Is that what you’re saying?”
Bewilderment filled Ron’s freckled face. “Who said anything about a pig?”
Hermione’s bushy hair crackled ominously. “What was the Miss Piggy perfume about, then?”
Harry choked a laugh. He knew Ron had given Hermione perfume for Christmas, but he couldn’t possibly have been so stupid as to —
“Lavender said you’d love it!” cried Ron. “It’s Muggle and everything. Took me ages to find it!”
“I can well imagine,” Hermione returned frostily.
“I need to get to Light Arts!” Harry declared.
At serious risk of injuring himself if he stayed a moment longer, he almost tripped over in his haste to escape.