There were a lot of words Hermione Granger would have used to describe Hogwarts castle over the years — steadfast, comforting, safe, strong, defiant — but creepy was never one of them.
She shivered as she walked through the deserted corridor, the only source of light the soft glow of the moonlight above, peeking in through the holes still in the castle’s walls. She pulled her robe a little tighter around her and sped up her steps, the sound of her shoes echoing off the stone as she went.
There was a chill in the air that seemed out of place in the middle of summer. It seeped into her bones as though it were trying to enter her soul.
She wished she had taken Harry up on his offer and walked back to Gryffindor Tower with him. She hadn’t really needed to finish restocking the shelves in the library. She could have done it tomorrow. In the daylight. When other people were around.
Why had she not?
She sped up her walk even more, cursing herself as she did.
“You are being ridiculous,” she said out loud. “You have lived in this castle for years. There is nothing to fear.”
Her foot hit something hard, and she pitched forward, a scream half-escaping before she could clamp her mouth shut. She hit the ground with her outstretched hands and quickly scrambled back to her feet, wand gripped tightly in her hand.
Turning around, she saw a rock laying in the middle of the corridor where she had just stepped.
“A rock, you prat,” she said out loud. “You are scared of a rock.”
But still, she didn’t feel any better. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. Was the chill getting worse?
Hermione whirled around and almost started running.
It had sounded like such a wonderful opportunity when she and Harry had been asked by Professor McGonagall to be part of the team slated to help rebuild the castle. Some work had already been done, of course. Order members, aurors and students alike had all worked furiously the first few days after the war ended, trying their hardest to get the castle back in some sort of shape, but there was still so much work to do before school began in September — if school were to begin in September — and so many people needed to be home with their families, grieving their loved ones, finding a way to move on.
Like the Weasleys. The Weasleys who had never once made Hermione feel like she wasn’t a part of their family, and who had insisted she come back to The Burrow with them. But she just couldn’t. She knew they needed time to grieve Fred, and she couldn’t help but feel as though she were intruding in some very personal moment whenever she was with them. So when Professor McGonagall had asked, it was easy to say yes.
But now, as she half ran down the corridors, she wished desperately she had thought this through a little more.
She rounded the corner toward Gryffindor Tower. So close. Just a few more steps.
Was that a moan?
Hermione stumbled again, this time crashing into a wall, the bang echoing across the corridor, her heart pummeling in her chest. She darted her head in every direction, half wanting to see what had just called her name, half wanting to not.
The passageway looked empty.
“You are imagining things!” she whispered furiously to herself.
A whooshing sound echoed above her head. A bright light appeared.
She looked up. There was something there. White and shimmery. And were those eyes staring down at her?
She screamed. And ran. As hard and as fast as she could.
“Ice Mice! Ice Mice! Ice Mice!” she shrieked at the Fat Lady as she barreled toward the portrait — and safety. She didn’t look back to see if the thing was following her.
The Fat Lady frowned at her.
“Well, isn’t someone in a hurry,” The Fat Lady said. “No time for a proper …”
“ICE MICE!” Hermione shouted.
The Fat Lady huffed. But she swung her portrait forward. Hermione almost dove inside.
“Students these days,” Hermione heard her mutter. “No manners.” But for the first time in her life, Hermione didn’t care about manners and rules.
She sped up the stairs toward the boys’ dormitory, never more grateful that girls had free reign of the tower, racing along the corridor until she came to what she was looking for. She threw open the door to Harry’s dorm and almost flung herself into bed next to him.
“Hermione,” he mumbled sleepily as she wrapped her arms around him.
“I’m staying here tonight,” she said and gripped him tighter.
“S’okay,” he managed before he passed back out. She didn’t lessen her grip. But she did raise her head and look around the room.
Everything seemed as it should be. The moon outside glittered. There were no other lights. The chill she had felt before was gone. The only sounds she could hear were the soft hoots of the owls in the distance.
Maybe she really had imagined it …
She fell asleep pressed against Harry, dreaming of moaning blobs of light.
“Do you want to tell me what that was about last night?” Harry said to her as they walked to the Great Hall for breakfast the next morning.
She thought about feigning innocence but she knew he wouldn’t buy it. He knew her too well to hide anything from him anymore.
“It’s going to sound ridiculous,” she said instead.
He smiled at that. “After everything we’ve been through?” he said. “I doubt anything could sound ridiculous.”
“This will,” she said, and sighed, before telling him what he wanted to hear. “I saw something. As I was walking back from the library. I’m not sure what it was, though.”
“Okay,” Harry said.
She told him what she remembered, about the moaning and the chill and it being white and a bit see-through and about the creepy eyes.
“It wasn’t a ghost?” Harry asked when she was done.
She shook her head. “It wasn’t one of our ghosts,” she said. “This was … it was scary.”
And she shivered slightly just thinking about it.
On the third night after the first encounter, Hermione knew it was going to happen again. It was late, well past midnight, and once again there was a chill in the air, a chill that seemed to come from something other than the weather outside.
She wasn’t alone this time, though. Harry hadn’t left her side since she told him about what happened, and even though she didn’t say it out loud, she was more than grateful.
They were in the Great Hall on this night, working on fixing up the tables and the house banners and trying to instill a sense of happiness and calm into the room. It wasn’t easy. Everywhere Hermione looked, she could picture the rows of dead that had lain there just a few weeks ago, the bodies stretched out side-by-side from one end of the room to the other. And in the echoes of her memory, she could hear the crying and the muffled gasps of pain from the living as they huddled round the fallen. No amount of magic could erase those memories from her mind — or the room — but they had to do something.
Hermione was over in the far north corner when it started. She felt, rather than saw, the room darken, not a lot but enough for it to be noticeable. And a second later she felt a cold brush of air against her chin. She sprang to her feet.
“Harry?” she called, and she could hear her voice waver.
“Hermione?” His voice came from the opposite side of the room, much too far away for her to feel comfortable.
“It’s happening,” she said, and barely a half second after the words left her lips a horrifying moan filled the air.
She didn’t stop to think. She raced across the room to Harry as fast as her feet could carry her, practically throwing herself into his arms as soon as she drew near.
“What’s wrong?” He stared at her as though she were mad, and for a second, she thought perhaps she was.
“Didn’t you hear it?”
As if on cue, the moan echoed through the Great Hall again.
Hermione felt herself start to tremble. “Hear that,” she whispered, and buried her head in Harry’s shoulder.
A few moments later she realized he hadn’t reacted, and she pulled back. He was still looking at her curiously, as though he couldn’t quite figure her out.
“Oh,” she breathed, as realization hit her like a punch to the stomach. “You didn’t hear it.”
She felt her face drain of all color. Was she hallucinating? Dreaming? Harry’s arms tightened around her.
At that moment, a light appeared above her. She raised her eyes upward and watched, horrified, as the small white glow that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere started to grow, filling the room as it grew brighter and brighter, almost hurting her eyes.
Her body was shaking so much by now she thought she might fall over. She clung to Harry as she stared at the glow, watching as the light seemed to twist and turn above her.
“Tell me what you see,” Harry whispered into her ear.
“A … a light,” she managed, and then she gasped.
For a split second, the light changed, forming a shape. An oddly familiar shape. And then it was gone, as if someone had turned the lights out back in the Muggle home she had grown up in.
Hermione pulled back from Harry, her arms instantly wrapping around herself.
“You didn’t see or hear any of that?” She felt a lump form in her throat, and the back of her eyes stung.
Harry shook his head, almost reluctantly. “No,” he whispered.
“It was Fred,” Hermione whispered. “I saw Fred.”
Hermione spent the entire next day buried in the library. She was supposed to have been working on repairing the damage to the classrooms with the rest of the team — replacing desks, patching holes, checking cupboards for dark objects — but she just couldn’t. She needed to know. Was she hallucinating, was she crazy, or had what she’d seen — what only she had seen — actually been there?
She had no idea, and she was close to tears, whether of frustration or fear, she wasn’t sure. It had been hours, and the only thing she had to show for herself was a huge table piled up with all sorts of unhelpful books.
A steaming mug of tea appeared suddenly on the table in front of her, and she stared at it as though she had never seen such a thing before.
“I thought you could do with a hand,” Harry said, and he slid into an open chair across the table. She lifted her head. He was smiling at her, but she could see worry in his eyes.
She frowned at him. “I’ve been reading everything I can find,” she said. “But there is nothing in here about ghosts that only appear to one person.” She sighed. She wanted to ask, but she wasn’t sure how. He had told her last night he believed her, but that didn’t mean he didn’t think …
“You’re not mad,” he said, interrupting her thoughts.
“You don’t know that.”
“Did I ever tell you that I saw Professor Dumbledore? After he died?”
She stared at him. “No,” she said slowly. “What do you mean?”
Harry nodded. “I did. See him. It was right after Voldemort killed me. Or thought he killed me,” he said, “I was … this is going to sound ridiculous, but I was at King’s Cross.”
He told her then about the crying baby and how he was standing there when Albus Dumbledore appeared and how they talked. He explained how Dumbledore helped him figure everything out and how he apologized for his role in their ordeal and, finally, how Dumbledore had given him a choice.
“But do you want to know what the last thing he said to me was?” Harry asked Hermione, and she nodded. “He told me that just because it was happening in my head, it didn’t mean it wasn’t real.”
He reached across the table and took her hand, looking her directly in the eyes. “Just because you’re the only one seeing Fred doesn’t mean it’s not real,” he said softly. “You’re not losing your mind. I promise. I believe you.”
Relief spread through Hermione so fast tears sprung to her eyes. She hurriedly wiped them away with her free hand. She hadn't known how much she needed to hear that until the words left Harry’s mouth.
“So what do I do now then?” she said.
Harry squeezed her fingers. “We,” he said, “go and wait for him to come back. He obviously wants to talk to you. So we should let him.”
“But how do we do that?” she asked, but even as she spoke, the answer appeared to her.
She met Harry’s eyes, and without a single doubt, she knew he was thinking exactly what she was.
“Right, then,” she said. “Tonight it is.”
They waited until the stroke of midnight to sneak out of Gryffindor Tower. The castle, as expected, was silent and empty. Neither one of them had come this way the entire time they had been back at Hogwarts. Everything was cleaned up and repaired here now. The walls had been rebuilt, the debris removed. But still, with every step Hermione took, she felt her stomach knot tighter and tighter.
Finally, they arrived, stopping just inches from where it had happened.
The spot in the seventh floor corridor where Fred had died.
“What do we do now?” Hermione asked, and her voice was barely a whisper as the horror of that night washed over her once more. She could feel the butterflies fluttering around inside her, even though the terror of seeing Fred again had subsided quite a bit. She wasn’t sure what was happening or why she was seeing him, but she was sure it was Fred. And she knew Fred would never hurt her.
“We wait,” Harry said, and with his hand on the small of her back, he led her over to the outside wall, just inches from where their friend had been killed. Together, they sank down to the floor, their bodies pressed against each other, in comfort and in solidarity.
“Right,” Hermione said. “We wait.”
She must have fallen asleep, because when she blinked awake, her head was nestled on Harry’s shoulder and his arm was wrapped around her. She could hear his deep breaths close to her ear, and she knew he was asleep, too.
It took her a second to realize that she could see. But it wasn’t from the light of the torches along the walls, but from a soft, white glow in front of her.
She lifted her head from Harry’s shoulder and rubbed her eyes. The glow in front of her seemed to shift and transform until it was no longer a blob but instead took the shape of a human with a mouth that moved and eyes that blinked.
“Hello, Hermione,” Fred said.
“I thought you’d come back,” she said, and she was surprised she sounded so calm. Even more surprising was that she felt so calm.
“I wanted to talk to you,” Fred said, as she looked him over. The more she stared at him, the more he seemed to solidify into human form before her eyes.
She turned her head to glance over at Harry. He was still fast asleep.
“He can’t see me,” Fred said, as if he could read her thoughts.
“Because I knew you would be a better messenger.”
Hermione turned back to Fred. “Me?”
Fred pointed to Harry. “Look at all he’s been through. No one would believe him. They’d just say he was seeing things. Or it was the guilt talking. No one will say that about you.”
Hermione thought about protesting, but she opted not to. Instead she asked the question she most needed the answer to.
“Are you all right?” she said.
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
A ball of panic appeared in her stomach. “You’re not then?”
“I’m dead,” Fred said. But then he laughed. “Don’t worry. I’m fine. I just need you to pass on some messages for me. I don’t have much time.”
“You think I want to be a ghost, haunting Hogwarts forever? Maybe hanging out with Myrtle in the bathroom?”
“Errrrr … no?” she said.
“I need you to give my family some messages for me,” he said. “Can you do that?”
Hermione nodded. “Alright,” she said. She wasn’t sure what else she was supposed to say in a situation like this.
“Great,” Fred said. “I made a list.”
He reached one of his hands almost inside his body, or so it seemed to Hermione. The glow made it hard for her to tell if he were wearing clothes. But when he pulled his hand back out, there was something that looked like a scroll in his hand.
“Just because you’re the only one seeing Fred doesn’t mean it’s not real,” she heard Harry say in her head, and she waited for Fred to speak.
Fred studied his list for a few moments, then looked up at her.
“Okay, here goes,” he told her. “Tell Percy I forgive him. Tell Charlie I’m sorry I never got to visit him in Romania. Tell George that I want him to keep the store open and that he doesn’t ever have to apologize for who he loves — that will make sense later. Tell Ginny and Ron that I’m always looking out for them. Tell Bill that I’m glad he found Fleur and I’m sorry for anything I ever said otherwise. Tell my mum she is the best cook in the world. Tell my dad there is something he might like hidden under my bed.” He paused. “And tell them all I am fine and I love them. Have you got all that?”
Hermione nodded, her mind racing, trying to force every detail of this conversation into her memory.
“Yes,” she said.
“Thank you,” Fred said. “I would tell them myself … but that’s not how this works.”
“How does it work?” she couldn’t help but ask, and Fred laughed.
“You know I can’t tell you that!”
“Well, what if they don’t believe me?”
“They will,” Fred said. “Trust me on that.” She watched as he stuffed his scroll of paper back inside himself. “Oh, and Hermione?”
“One more message.”
“Tell Harry that none of this is his fault. I didn’t die because of him. I died because I chose to be here. We all did. It’s not his fault.”
Hermione glanced over again at Harry. She could see the pale scar on his forehead peeking out beneath a brush of dark hair. She remembered the night the war ended and a late-night teary confession that he was to blame for so much of the pain. And she remembered the hours she spent telling him that wasn’t so. But how did Fred know that? Had he seen them? She wasn’t sure she wanted to know. She also wasn’t sure Harry would believe Fred’s words, but she found herself nodding.
“I’ll tell him,” she said. “I’ll tell them all.”
She turned back to Fred. The ghost smiled at her. Or at least she thought he did.
“You’re good for him,” Fred said, and she thought he sounded pleased. “And thank you. I knew I could count on you.”
She opened her mouth to reply, but before she could even get a word out, the corridor suddenly went dark — glow and torches vanishing as one — and a cool breeze made her hair stand on end.
She waited for the torches to flicker back on, but it didn’t matter. She knew that when they did, Fred would be gone. For good this time.
Fred’s lists of requests spun through her mind. Beside her, Harry took a deep breath in his sleep. Hermione wasn’t sure she could explain to him what had just happened. Maybe it would be better to wait for morning, and she was awfully tired …
She stretched out on the floor, putting her head in Harry’s lap, her body suddenly weighted down with fatigue. She could hear Fred’s words running on repeat through her head.
“You’re good for him,” was the last thing she remembered him saying before she gave way to sleep.
Hermione woke up to Harry’s hand on her shoulder shaking her awake.
“Hey,” he said, when he saw her open her eyes. “Did it work? I slept through the whole thing. I’m sorry”
Hermione shook her head. “You wouldn’t have seen him anyway,” she said. “But it worked.” She pushed herself upright. “He’s gone.”
“What did he want?”
“He, errr, wanted me to pass on a message to the Weasleys.”
“What kind of message?”
Hermione struggled to her feet, stretching out her sore muscles. She reached down and held out a hand to Harry.
“Let’s go to breakfast,” she said. “And I’ll tell you all about it.”
And she would. She’d tell him about every message Fred had given her to pass on to his family. And then together, they’d head back to The Burrow and share those messages with the Weasleys.
The message for Harry, she knew, she would keep a lot longer. He needed to be ready to hear it when she told him, and she needed to make sure he believed it. She was good for him, Fred had said, and as she walked hand-in-hand with Harry down the corridor, she knew she owed it to Harry — and herself — to prove Fred right.