“It’s no crime to be alive!”
“No, my dear, sometimes it’s a great inconvenience. The living can be hurt.”
-The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
The lights in the Slytherin dormitory had long ago gone out. A faint glow from the phosphorescent plants in the lake filtered through the windows, broken by the murky outlines of merpeople darting about. One swam close to the slim windows lining the stairwell. Draco met her wide, inhuman eyes through the glass. For a moment he was frozen, one foot dangling out in space over the next step, his hand gripping the railing tightly. Then the mermaid winked and flicked her tail, bringing her bare breasts into full view. Draco’s cheeks heated and he turned away to rush down the remaining steps. His embarrassment made him forget the loose step and he froze, hoping the sound had been covered up by the distant, shrieking cries of mermaid laughter. Draco waited long seconds. When the laughter melted away, leaving only the faint shush of water moving outside, he relaxed and took the final steps into the common room.
“Your father had much the same disregard for authority in his days at Hogwarts.” The chilly, perpetually dour voice of the Bloody Baron sounded even more hollow than usual in the dead of night.
“We’re allowed in the common room,” Draco said, taking a seat in one of the plush armchairs near but not beside the Baron.
The ghost raised an eyebrow. “No late night jaunts to frame Potter and his friends?”
“It’s not framing if they actually do it,” Draco muttered. His shoulders hunched and he slid down in the seat.
“Or, friend, now I suppose,” the Baron went on as if Draco had not spoken. “Such a shame about Miss Granger.”
This was exactly the sort of opening Draco had hoped for when he snuck out of bed to talk to the Baron. He tried to say something, anything, but his tongue felt heavy in his mouth and his gut roiled with embarrassment and fear. If the Baron believed him, there would be questions and their answers, Draco knew instinctively, would be painful. And there was always the chance he would not be believed and would find himself an unwilling guest at St. Mungo’s. That wouldn’t last long, of course. Malfoys did not show such weakness publicly. In very little time he’d be whisked home and shut up in a dark, little used wing of the Manor where no one would have to see him ever again, save Dobby, who would bring him his meals and make vain attempts at cheering him up. A shudder went up his spine at the prospect.
Though the Baron’s gaze was fixed on the empty fireplace, he was not oblivious to what was happening only a few feet from him. “Whatever has you in such a state, Draco, you may feel free to unload your burdens. As they say, the dead do not tell tales.”
“Who says that?” Draco asked snidely, happy to have something to sneer at. Derision felt safer than fear.
Draco rolled his eyes. “Them.”
Seconds ticked by and Draco felt his secret weighing on him again. The Baron sighed heavily and opened his mouth to prompt the boy again. Draco quickly spoke before he could. “I’m seeing a ghost.”
“No. I- I mean … a spirit?” Draco’s hands twisted in his lap as he tried to sort his thoughts. “I went up to the Hospital Wing last week.”
“You were injured?”
Draco scowled. The Baron knew very well he hadn’t been.
“No, of course not,” Draco said shortly.
“Then why would you need to go to the infirmary?” the Baron asked innocently.
“I convinced Vince to jinx Greg so we could all have an excuse to go up and see the petrified bodies. Are you happy?”
The Baron did not smile. He never smiled (unless the Grey Lady was nearby but that was a secret no Slytherin would ever tell). He did however not frown quite so deeply, which was practically the same thing.
“We didn’t. Of course Pomfrey has them all hidden behind great white curtains, like it’s such a secret what’s back there. But that’s not what matters. When we were leaving … I saw Granger.”
“And?” the Baron prompted when Draco fell into silence. “You wish me to inform Pomfrey that her curtains need a sticking charm applied so that they will remain closed?”
Draco shook his head and his hair, loose and messy from hours spent tossing and turning, flew about. “No! I saw Granger in the hall. She was standing there with this look on her face like the one Greg gets when Flitwick asks him a question.”
The Baron’s legs slowly shifted, sliding down through the chair he’d been sitting on so that he was standing inside it. He tore his eyes away from Draco and paced towards the fireplace.
“You are certain you saw her?”
Draco nodded even though the ghost couldn’t see him. “Yes. But…”
The Baron turned sharply. His chains rattled and Draco could have sworn he felt a few flecks of that ethereal blood splatter on his face.
“That wasn’t the only time. I’ve seen her … a few times since then.”
The Baron’s gaze gentled as Draco turned away. “I see. You’re feeling guilty for things you’ve said, for wishes you made that are not so pleasant now they’re granted. One would hope that a child as young as you are would have at least a few years left before he learned such lessons but perhaps it is good that you are learning now-”
“You think I’m in some sort of shock?” Draco asked.
“It is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Draco jumped to his feet. “I saw her! And worse! She keeps bothering me in class!”
“You hear her?”
Draco rolled his eyes so emphatically that he spun around on the spot. He ran his hands through his hair and wished for the millionth time that this was happening to anyone else. “She realized I could see her yesterday - or -” his eyes strayed to the clock over the mantle - “the day before yesterday now. Since then she won’t leave me alone. Apparently her idiot friends can’t see or hear her so she keeps asking me to talk to them for her. As if I’d do her any favors.”
With the Baron’s gaze boring into him, Draco wondered if perhaps the ghost wouldn’t take kindly to such thoughts. Refusing a favor to the nearly departed wasn’t something he’d likely approve of and, now that he thought on it, he didn’t know the Baron’s opinions on Potter and his friends.
Knowing his father wouldn’t approve of squirming, Draco sat back in his chair and forced himself to remain still.
“Is she here now?” the Baron asked finally.
At first Draco thought the question an indulgent one but when he looked at the ghost’s expression he saw he was very serious. Glad to be believed - or, at least, not disbelieved as of yet - Draco looked around the room. No Granger hiding in any corners.
“No. She’s probably up in Gryffindor. She tries to get Potter and Weasley to hear her a lot.”
“What does she want to tell them?”
“Does it matter?”
Feeling mildly chastised, Draco dropped the attitude. “She wants me to tell them it’s a basilisk petrifying people.”
“Well of course it is,” the Baron said dismissively.
“You knew?” Draco demanded.
“I was Salazar’s apprentice. I think I know what his favored pet was; I had to clean up after it enough. Now, tell me, how is she? Is she in pain? How does she appear to you?” The Baron seemed genuinely concerned, making Draco wish he’d paid more attention to Granger’s appearance.
“No, I don’t think so. She just- she looks like she always does. Her hair sticks up and everything.”
“That is something at least. Of course, I’m sure you’re here for your own sake, not Miss Granger’s?”
“Of course I am! You think I like seeing someone no one else can? And why’d it have to be her, of all people? I wouldn’t have minded so much being haunted by Penelope Clearwater’s spirit.”
“I imagine not. However, you are haunted by Miss Granger and we must determine why.” He mulled this over, looking from Draco to the windows. “You will see her today?”
“I don’t see why I wouldn’t.” He had Potions with the Gryffindors this morning and since Granger seemed to spend all her time following her friends, he’d likely have to endure her badgering him all through class.
“Good. When you do, tell her to meet us here tomorrow night after the prefects have finished their rounds.”
“I’ll tell you tomorrow. For the moment you need only get back to bed.”
Draco nodded and slid off the chair. “You really won’t tell anyone?”
“Not a soul,” the Baron promised. Draco had one foot on the stair when he spoke again. “And Draco? Try not to antagonize the girl.”
Draco smiled, always glad to receive praise from Professor Snape. The professor returned a thin smile and stalked off to the Gryffindor side of the room to examine their potions. Draco waved a hand at Greg, indicating that now that the difficult work was done he could bottle the potion for grading and clean up.
“And what is this supposed to be?” Snape asked loudly.
Draco smirked as Longbottom shifted uneasily in his seat. The great lump was turning an ugly shade of red as eyes all around the room came to rest on him.
“It’s all right, Neville. It could have happened to anyone.” The comforting words went unheard by everyone save Draco, who narrowed his eyes at Granger. She stood at Longbottom’s shoulder, offering silent, unseen support. She’d been attempting to help Longbottom all afternoon and this was where her efforts had gotten him. Earlier she’d actually shrieked when the idiot put the beetle wings in too early. Draco had been so shocked by the sound that he’d nearly dropped his vial of tree sap and had to make up some excuse to Greg for his clumsiness. It was worth it though now, to see Snape ream out the fool. The mistake had made the potion useless. In fact, as Snape demonstrated by lifting Longbottom’s spoon and the cauldron along with it, the potion had hardened completely.
“Five points from Gryffindor for utter lack of sense,” Snape said, ending his tirade at the boy.
Several of the Gryffindors were livid. Potter was seething, his hands fisted under his table and his eyes downcast. Weasley was actually being held back by that girl with the twin in Ravenclaw. Draco heard someone mutter that Longbottom had been set up for failure since he wasn’t allowed to find a new partner without Granger around. Draco scoffed and looked to the girl, who was speaking softly in Longbottom’s ear.
What did she think she was doing? No one could hear her. Was she completely mad?
Draco chuckled quietly. Of course she was. Why else would she hang out with buffoons like Potter and Weasley or go about looking like … well, like that? Her teeth looked monstrous even in profile - weren’t her parents Muggle teeth healers? That’s what he’d heard anyhow. Why wouldn’t they fix such an obvious defect in their child? - and nothing less than a pair of pruning shears would help that hair of hers. It was one shapeless, lumpy mass, falling down her back and over her shoulders. Unkempt strands curled up from it, catching the light in a way that, while not entirely unattractive, was a clear sign that she didn’t care one whit how people saw her.
She smiled, a small, private smile just for that fool Longbottom - who couldn’t even see it by the way - and Draco felt his pulse speed up just a little. It was, of course, because as she straightened, satisfied that Longbottom was recovered, her eyes came up and caught his. He was nervous about tonight. That was all.
He gave a slight jerk of his head, indicating she should come over. Greg was busy packing up their supplies. This was the best chance Draco’d have.
Confident Granger was coming, he picked up a quill and a stray bit of parchment. He scrawled a quick note and slid it to the edge of the table. Sure enough, Granger hurried over. She scanned the note then scowled at him.
“What is this supposed to mean?” she asked.
Draco rolled his eyes in an “exactly what it looks like” sort of way.
“This is ridiculous! For days I’ve been trying to get you to talk to me and now, all of a sudden, you want to…”
Snape began talking then, giving them their homework, which Draco dutifully wrote down while Granger continued squawking at him. When they were dismissed Draco rapped his knuckles on the tabletop, right beside the note on which he’d added, Come or don’t, but this is a one time offer. With that, he left a fuming Granger behind.
Figuring the Baron wanted to take him somewhere, Draco had gone to bed in socks, an old shirt, and a pair of pajama bottoms that he thought looked reasonably like those Muggle pants he saw other students wearing. The idea of being seen in them made him feel oddly naked but he figured he could pretend the Baron had found him sleepwalking if they were caught.
He lay in bed, counting seconds and listening to competing snores from around the room. Once he was certain everyone was asleep, he’d sneak out.
Something big and dark moved above him. There had been nothing inside the bed hangings with him when he crawled in. As something coarse and thin brushed against his cheek he had a sudden vision of some horrible monster creeping along the floor, up the curtains, and onto the underside of his canopy. Maybe the Baron was wrong. Slytherin may have kept a basilisk but what if his heir preferred something creepy and crawly and hairy?
“Are you coming or not?” Granger asked.
Draco jumped and fell right out of bed.
“You know,” she said as he scrambled to his feet, “if I was corporeal right now, that would’ve hurt.”
Draco clutched his blankets tight and listened. Two snores, a sigh, and the sight of Blaise’s hand dangling just above the floor assured Draco no one had woken up. That established, he flung his blankets down upon the mattress and glared across the bed at Granger. The hangings on his side had pulled open with his fall, allowing silvery green light from the lake to shine on her. She really looked like a ghost now and he felt a hollow pang in his chest. The Baron had been right, he did wish he could take back what he’d said. He really didn’t want her dead.
Not that she’d ever know.
“Just one more reason to wish you were,” he whispered viciously. He hurried to the door, she only a step behind. Once in the hall he asked, “Now that you’re mostly dead, you get your kicks by spying on the boys’ dorms?”
A faint puff of wind hit his arm and only when she spoke did he realize it was her hand slapping him. “Don’t be disgusting. You’re the one who told me to come down here.”
“To the common room, not where I sleep.”
Tonight he remembered to skip the loose step but it didn’t matter, the Baron was floating patiently in the middle of the room, watching for him.
“I assume she is here?” he asked.
“You told the Bloody Baron?” Granger asked, sounding at once wary and impressed.
“I had to tell someone,” Draco said with a shrug. He gave the Baron a belated nod and gestured towards Granger.
The ghost floated forward, eying the air to Draco’s left curiously. Seemingly satisfied with whatever he saw or didn’t see, he floated aside and gestured gallantly towards a chair.
“If you would be so kind as to sit here, Miss Granger. Assuming, of course, that you can?” The Baron looked to Draco for confirmation.
Granger nodded weakly. “I- I can.” She gave the Baron a wide berth as she passed. Her eyes followed the path of a drop of translucent blood as it fell from one of the clanking chains dangling off his wrist.
“She can,” Draco said. He smiled at Granger’s obvious discomfort. So much for Gryffindor bravery.
He took a seat in another chair and watched with wide eyes as the Baron approached her.
“If you do not mind, my dear, I am going to attempt to sense your presence.”
Granger’s eyes fell to the large blood stain coating the Baron’s chest beneath the crisscrossing chains. For a moment Draco thought she would flee or be sick - could she be sick? - but she took a deep breath and nodded.
“She’s ready,” Draco said.
“Place your right hand on the arm of the chair.”
Granger did and after a moment had passed the Baron placed his hand on the arm as well.
“Am I touching her?”
“Yeah. Your hand is kind of … in hers.”
Granger looked away from the Baron. Her eyes danced over the centuries old artifacts hanging on the walls to the windows. Draco remembered seeing them for the first time. His parents hadn’t told him what to expect and he thought his mother might have been hoping to instill in him the same awe most first years felt when they first set foot in the Slytherin common room. Granger’s awe faded quickly and was replaced with an odd smile.
Curious, Draco turned in his seat to see what was so interesting. A school of adolescent merpeople had gathered in the windows and were staring in. Draco was happy to see none were the one that had taunted him last night.
The Baron floated back from Granger and followed Draco’s gaze. When he looked at the merpeople some made faces while a group of three males began a series of obviously choreographed physical gags.
“What are they doing?” Granger asked, frowning up at them.
“Trying to make the Baron laugh, probably,” Draco said.
“What makes you say that?”
Draco shrugged. “It’s what we do.” Heat flared in his cheeks as he realized the Baron was right behind him. “Er, I mean-”
“I am well aware the students enjoy attempting to force a smile upon me. I remember your mother once broke the tradition of humor and gave me a white rose on Valentine’s. Though, I imagine it was mostly to anger Lucius since the flower was originally a gift to her from him.” The Baron sighed almost wistfully. “She kept the practice up all her years at Hogwarts, even her final two after your father had graduated and was nowhere near to see her give up his gift so freely.”
Draco wasn’t sure whether to feel pride in his mother or annoyance on his father’s behalf. In the end he looked to Granger, wondering what she thought of the practice of trying to make the Baron laugh. Her eyes were on Draco and there was a strange look on her face, as if she were taking his measure.
Startled, Draco looked to the Baron. “Yes, sir?”
“I said we’re going to the base of the North Tower. Keep close but stay behind me. Should anyone see us, let me do the talking.” His eyes roved to the chair Granger was still sitting in. “I expect you both to keep an eye out.”
Granger nodded dutifully, as did Draco.
The halls were dim but not yet dark. Draco wondered if the torches were ever allowed to go out anymore or if the halls were lit constantly to ward off attacks, little good that it would do. His heart sped up as they walked. What if the monster, whatever it was, thought it had the halls to itself at night? If it was a basilisk, would it hear him coming and know to close its eyes? Or would it think he was a mudblood out of bed after hours?
“It’ll be okay.”
Draco jumped, startled by Granger’s soft voice.
“Just stay behind the Baron and be sure to let him look around corners. You’ll be fine.” She stepped close to him and he felt the air shift by his hand. He looked down to see her attempting to hold it. For a moment it seemed tragically sweet, like something from one of his mother’s radio dramas. He promptly shook himself furiously with an exaggerated sound of disgust.
“Hush!” the Baron snapped.
“Is someone there?” Draco felt his heart drop to his feet at the sound of Snape’s voice.
A point of light could be seen approaching swiftly down the corridor.
“Go on,” the Baron ordered tersely. “I’ll distract him.” He looked all around Draco. “I doubt I have to ask you to look after him, Miss Granger. Go!”
Draco rushed away from the light, Granger right beside him. They ran nearly all the way to the tower, stopping only at corners and crossings so Granger could look ahead.
“Remind me never to help a Gryffindor again,” Draco panted. He leaned against the wall of the small room they found themselves in. It was half the size of the smallest classroom he’d been in at Hogwarts, with no real door, only a wide entryway from the corridor beyond. Were it not for the ladder installed in the center of the room he’d think it was just a dead end turned into something decorative.
“It wasn’t so bad,” Granger said. “It’s not like you’ve been sent into the forest again.”
Draco hadn’t even considered that possibility. He fell back against the wall with a groan as Granger stepped away to examine the room. Draco felt a chill at his palm as if someone had been holding it and let go after quite a while. He thought back on their wild run, trying to remember if he’d felt her hold the entire time.
“Do you think we should go up?” she asked. Her head was tilted back and she stared up the ladder. Moonlight caught in her curls and with her hands on her hips like that he could see she was further along than any of the girls in Slytherin. Draco gulped.
It was a lack of sleep, that was all. And the whole worrying he was insane thing. Not to mention the mermaid last night. That explained it perfectly. He still hadn’t processed that experience properly, what with Granger distracting him, and now his sleep-deprived brain was mixing things up.
Granger cried out suddenly and leapt back from the ladder. Draco looked up to see the Baron’s head sticking through the trapdoor at the top of the ladder.
“Come along,” he said curtly.
Draco exchanged a look with Granger, who shrugged and climbed up. She passed right through the door, leaving Draco the task of pushing it open himself. He knew this was not her fault, she couldn’t touch anything - his suspicions about their run not withstanding - but after those unexpected thoughts below, he was more than happy to get back to hating her, no matter the reason.
Draco had never been to this part of the castle and a quick look around told him why. Low tables filled one side of the room. Dream catchers and crystals hung before the windows. A mountain of teacups and saucers sat on a table near the back. Half-hidden behind it was an ornate painting detailing the lines of the human hand. Divination wasn’t offered until third year but it looked like Draco would be getting his first meeting with the professor now.
“You know how I feel about you being up here,” a woman’s voice called irritably.
Draco looked around for the source of the sound. The walls were hung with curtains and a doorway could be hidden behind any of them.
“It’s nothing against you personally,” the woman went on, “it is simply that people in your particular state of being interfere with my aura and-” A purple curtain to Draco’s left was swept open, affording him a momentary view of a cramped hallway before it fell into place. The woman who emerged had her hair hidden under a nightcap with a faded floral pattern that matched her long nightgown. Her speech cut off when she entered and she pulled back slowly, her eyes narrowing behind thick glasses as they swept over the room. Her gaze caught momentarily on Draco before moving on to the area Granger occupied beside him.
“Oh,” she said slowly, “what have you brought me, Baron?”
The Baron slid through the curtain behind the woman and took a place near the windows.
“Professor Trelawney, this is Draco Malfoy. With him -” he paused just long enough for Draco to nod that Granger was in fact there - “is who we believe to be Hermione Granger’s spirit. She was attacked by Slytherin’s monster and, while not very lively at the moment, is still very much not dead. I hoped perhaps you could help determine the why of her current situation.”
Trelawney circled Granger and Draco. “Why is the living boy here?” she asked.
“He can see and hear Miss Granger. So far, he appears to be the only one who can.”
“He’s also standing right here,” Draco said irritably.
“They’re only trying to help,” Granger said.
“That’s no excuse for being rude.”
“They’re not being rude, they’re just not talking to you.”
“Which is rude when I’m standing right here and they’re talking about me.”
“They’re talking about me too! In case you haven’t noticed, this is not about you, Malfoy. The universe does not revolve around you, or have you been sleeping through the last two years of Astronomy?”
“This isn’t just about you, either. You think I like seeing you? The only benefit to you being half-dead is you being stuck in the infirmary, out of my sight!”
“And you think this is a picnic for me? My friends can’t see me, they don’t even know I’m trying to help them, and I’m stuck relaying everything through you, you self-centered, stuck-up pig!”
“Draco.” The Baron’s low voice cut through Draco’s rage. He turned guiltily to the two adults. The Baron was looking sternly at him, while Trelawney’s face had gone pink and her eyes wide.
“Well,” she said as if that summed up everything.
Granger shifted guiltily as if she was the one feeling the full brunt of their attention, not him.
He crossed his arms over his chest and tried not to let his discomfort show. “Do you know why she’s not in her body or not?”
“Tell her I can’t get to it,” Granger said quickly.
“What?” Draco demanded. “You couldn’t have mentioned this sooner?”
“Just tell her.”
Draco rolled his eyes and relayed the message.
“What does she mean?” Trelawney asked, eyes on Granger’s location.
“See? They talk about me too,” Granger said. Before Draco could say something in return she went on. “I can’t get into the hospital wing. There’s something keeping me away.”
“That’ll be the wards,” Trelawney said upon hearing this. She went to the fireplace in the corner and lit it with her wand. “Easy enough to take care of. A little smoke from a white oak will disrupt the wards long enough for you to get through and get to your body if you think it will help. But the truth is if you don’t know why you left your body, there’s little chance you’ll know how to get back in.”
“We should at least try though,” Granger said eagerly. “Maybe all I have to do is get to my body and then …” She lifted her hands in an “and that’s it” sort of way. Draco agreed and said as much.
Trelawney looked over her shoulder at him as she stoked the flames. “Do you think so? This sort of thing isn’t normal by any stretch, you know. Astral travel is a carefully developed skill and fewer than a hundred wizards in all history are believed to have mastered it. Do you think a young witch, barely begun practicing her magic, was able to stumble upon it?”
“Fine then,” Draco said, “why do you think this happened to her? And why can I see her when no one else can?”
Trelawney frowned as if she hadn’t given the subject much thought at all. “Some might say Chance - perhaps Miss Granger was exposed to some sort of potion or residual magic in the air that caused her situation - though I would argue for Fate, naturally. To what purpose, I do not pretend to know. I see the outcomes of these divine machinations, not the causes. As to you, young man, perhaps it was you who brewed the potion or cast the spell. You may have been the last to see or touch her. There may be some emotional connection drawing her to you in her current state. Maybe you somehow set in motion the events that saved her from a full death or she, by being attacked, saved you. There is really no way to know.”
“Then why the hell is it so important?” Draco yelled.
“Because you must discover why. You and she. That’s how these things are done, after all.” Trelawney raised an eyebrow at the Baron. “I’d expect you to know that.”
“I had hoped you might be able to save them the trouble.”
“Of course not. That’s not how things work.”
“So they’re not going to help me at all?” Granger asked, looking to Draco. He’d seen her worried for Weasley after he hexed himself last fall and wary of the Baron just tonight but he’d never seen her frightened before, not even when they went into the forest last year. He actually felt a little sorry for her.
“No,” Trelawney said when he asked. “I’m afraid it is up to you.”
Draco considered yelling but knew the Baron wouldn’t let him get too far. He would have to settle for stomping off. He turned, mouth already open to throw a gruff “let’s go” at Granger, only to find her gone.
He found her in the library the next day, reading over Potter’s shoulder. He tried to catch her eye but she seemed engrossed and didn’t even look up when he passed by. He took a seat in a dim corner far from anyone, figuring it would be best to be away from prying ears if she ever came over.
“He’s looking in entirely the wrong section,” she huffed a quarter of an hour later. “He’ll never find it.”
Draco kept his head bent close over his work and whispered, “And what do you expect me to do about it?”
“I don’t know, do something sneaky to get him to the right section. Isn’t that what you Slytherins are famous for?”
“I’m working. And I already tried to help you last night.”
“Yes, that worked out so well. Clearly Divination isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
Draco peeked up at her. Her voice had risen slightly and she looked towards the stacks imperiously. Her lower lip quivered and he had the horrible feeling she was about to cry.
“Maybe…,” he began.
“What?” she asked guardedly.
He looked around to ensure no one was listening and shifted closer to the table. When he spoke, his words directed at his History of Magic text, it was so soft Granger had to lean in to hear.
“You’re such a know-it-all, your brain probably couldn’t stand the idea of being trapped for who-knows-how-long. You probably just did this to yourself and once your body’s working again you’ll pop right back in like nothing ever happened.”
Granger didn’t respond to this and Draco took up his quill and went back to work on his essay. It was several minutes before she said, “That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me, Malfoy.”
He scoffed. “It’s the truth. You never had a thought you could keep to yourself.” And, though he didn’t say it to her, if this whole mess was just some random event of defensive magic - like when children turned angry dogs into stuffed animals or bounced when dropped on their heads - then she had no reason to bother him about following Trelawney’s directions.
“I have plenty of thoughts I keep to myself.”
“Really? Then I suppose your arms just grew in wrong, is that it? It’s just more comfortable to hold them up in the air during class?”
“Well maybe if other people actually did the work and studied, I wouldn’t have to answer every question.”
“What does it look like I’m doing right now? Or would be doing if I wasn’t trying to fix your problems?”
Draco turned to see Madam Pince coming around a corner with her book cart trailing behind on squeaky wheels.
“Sorry, ma’am,” he said. “I was just- um …”
“Reading aloud,” Granger said.
“Reading aloud. It helps me study.”
“Well, try to do it in your own common room. The library is a place of peace.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Draco said with a nod. He slid down in his chair and propped the book up on the table before him, completely blocking Granger from his view. It didn’t stop the sound of her giggles.
“I’ve been doing some thinking-”
Draco groaned and rolled over in bed, covering his head with his pillow. “I am sleeping,” he moaned into the mattress. Between studying for exams and his late night excursions with the Baron and Granger he was sorely lacking on sleep. He’d hoped to spend his Saturday morning catching up.
“Yes, loudly too,” Granger said primly. “I think you’re right. About my mind simply refusing to be kept caged. It’s possible I have a natural talent for this astral projection stuff. In 1883, Horace Vence spontaneously transformed into a porcupine while being chased by an angry Muggle farmer, despite the loss of his wand and his complete lack of Animagus studies. And in 1714...”
As she prattled on, Draco pulled the curtains aside to see if anyone else was around to hear him talking to air. The light from the lake was too pure to be phosphorescence and from the look of the empty beds around him it was much later than he’d thought. He sat up, mindful to keep the covers up, and she took this as an invitation to sit further on his bed.
“And this matters to me because …?” he asked, cutting her off.
She actually seemed surprised by this response. “I thought you’d want to know.”
“Why is that? I don’t even like you, I’m just stuck with you.”
The brightness disappeared from her eyes. “A decent human being would care.”
He gave her a long stare. She rolled her eyes and rose with a huff.
“Fine, live your whole life as a stereotype, see if I care.” Mere inches from the door she shrieked and leapt back, avoiding the Baron as he slid easily through.
“Ah, Draco, I had hoped to catch you.” He looked around uneasily. “Is she here?”
“What do you think you’re doing, Malfoy?” Granger asked.
Not that he could tell her but he’d assumed she would still leave despite the Baron’s arrival and didn’t enjoy acting as her go-between besides. When she resumed her seat on his bed, leveling him with a daring look as she did, he decided to let it go in favor of not having to act like a madman.
“Too bad. I shall have to approach her afterward then.”
“After she is revived. The mandrakes are being prepared as we speak. Of course, there still remains the chance that they will not help her as much as hoped given her condition.”
Draco couldn’t help a glance in Granger’s direction. Her anger and impudence had vanished, replaced by worry that made her look small and pitiable.
“Regardless of how things turn out today, I wanted to tell you that I did not intend to get your hopes up. I had thought Trelawney might be willing to offer a more concrete answer to your predicament.”
Draco shrugged. “It’s not my anything. It’s Granger’s problem and she’s confident she figured everything out.”
One of the Baron’s eyebrows rose. “Is she?”
Draco stretched lazily. “Yeah, it was probably accidental magic.” When the Baron didn’t respond he added, “Because of the life-or-death situation.”
The Baron nodded. “I understand. And what does Miss Granger have to say about your connection?”
“She, uh, didn’t say. It’s not important though, is it? If her magic was just trying to defend her, everything’ll be back to normal once she’s no longer in danger. Tomorrow she’ll be running around the school, trying to make up for all the studying she’s missed.”
He kept his eyes fixed on the Baron and wished Granger would stop smiling at him like that. She was making it hard to lie and if his face heated any more the Baron would realize she was listening to everything they said.
“Of course she will.” The Baron placed one translucent hand over Draco’s before floating towards the door.
“Wait!” Granger said. “Ask him if he knows why you can see me.”
Draco glared at her. She rolled her eyes.
“He knows something. Trust me.”
He gave her a look that he hoped conveyed just how stupid he thought she was but called, “Wait!” all the same. “Do, uh, do you have any idea why- why I can see her?”
The Baron’s gimlet eyes took Draco in for a moment before sliding away to look over the room. Draco worried he might have realized Granger was listening.
“I have a theory and Professor Trelawney agrees. However, I think I will wait.”
“Why?” Draco and Granger asked at once.
“This particular subject is one your father first encountered at the age of thirteen. If you still care to know when you reach that particular milestone, I will be more than happy to tell you.”
With that he disappeared through the wood of the door. Draco let his head fall back against the headboard.
“Can you believe him? That’s a week away! How is that supposed to help us now?”
When Granger said nothing Draco brought his head back up to study her. She was biting her lower lip and her face and neck had turned a faint red.
“Are you okay?” he asked. “Do you feel something? Do you think maybe the mandrakes have started working already?”
“What?” Startled, she met his eyes. “Oh, no. I just … I think I should go.”
“Thank Merlin.” Draco flopped back into a comfortable sleeping position. “Feel free to not wake me up again.”
He expected a flippant comment and wasn’t sure if he was glad or not when she left without another word.
She found him again that evening. All around him students were whispering fearfully as they were escorted back to their common rooms. The school had been brought to a standstill. Someone had been taken into the Chamber.
Granger’s eyes were red and her face pale. Draco knew instantly it was a Gryffindor that had been taken.
“I- I need your help,” she said shakily. “Can you …? Is there any way you can get away?”
Draco considered turning her down. She’d be back in her body soon, she could run her own errands and leave him in the nice, safe dungeons while the deadly monster gobbled up students. But then he wondered why she wasn’t in her body already. She should be nearly unpetrified by now.
He gave a faint nod of his head and slowed his steps, allowing Crabbe and Goyle to pull ahead. At the next crossing the Hufflepuffs veered off from the Slytherins and Draco took the third direction. He hid quickly behind a statue and waited until the footsteps faded away.
“This had better be good,” he snapped when he emerged. “I’m not helping you save whichever of your idiot friends got themselves taken.”
The slap hurt. The fact of it shocked him more than the pain itself and Granger seemed equally horrified.
“How did you do that?” Draco asked.
“I don’t know, but it only proves I’m not getting better. I think the wards are keeping me here. I need to get into the hospital wing. Trelawney said I needed-”
Draco’s hand was already emerging from his bag. Granger gaped at the chunk of pale wood in his hand. He shrugged uneasily.
“Trelawney gave it to me that night after you left. Just in case.”
“And you carry it around?” Granger asked, her voice oddly soft.
“Unless we were going to sneak out at night again, my best chance for getting to the infirmary was between classes.” He turned and set off up the stairs. “You’ll need to keep a lookout,” he called over his shoulder and Granger ran to catch up.
“Ginny,” she said quietly as they climbed the stairs. “Ginny Weasley was taken.”
Draco’s stomach clenched. He may hate them, but the Weasleys were purebloods. If they were in danger, he didn’t know what to think.
It was slow going with Granger stopping him at every corner and doorway to ensure he wouldn’t be caught. She needn’t have bothered. They didn’t encounter anyone on the way, even the portraits they passed were empty.
Granger stopped a few feet from the infirmary doors, her hand held up as if resting on a wall. “This is as far as I can go. Even being this close feels wrong. The air feels … thick.”
Draco lit the wood with a quick incendio and waved it about. “My mother once had to cleanse a room,” he said, feeling awkward and needing to explain. “She did this, but with clove.”
“It’s getting thinner,” Granger said and suddenly she was walking past him and through the doors.
He stopped mid-turn and looked at the spot she’d disappeared through, wondering if he should follow or attempt the return trip to his common room. He was stuck with indecision so long that the fire licked at his fingers. He dropped the remains of the wood with a hiss and stomped on it to put it out. A moment later a growl of frustration echoed through the doors.
“It’s not working!”
He figured this was directed at him and meant it was safe to sneak in. The curtains around the petrified students were gone. All of them were laying on their beds, looking like they were merely sleeping. Even Mrs. Norris in the corner looked peaceful. The windows were open, allowing smoke from a fire to waft out. Over it was Nearly Headless Nick, no doubt kept in place by a charm. The smoke moved through him, softening his ethereal form. The only person in the room who didn’t seem to be getting any better was Granger. For a moment Draco thought she had somehow grown an extra leg and two extra arms before he realized her spirit was trying to lay down inside her body.
“I can’t get in!” she said, sitting up.
Draco kept his eyes on her face, not wanting to look at the strange sight of two bodies occupying the same space.
“Well what do you expect me to do about it?”
Granger stood to assess her frozen body and Draco gave a sigh of relief. She began murmuring to herself; things like not possible, logical explanation, Ron, and childish. Her eyes danced towards him once or twice and she blushed faintly.
“You’re not going to like it,” she said finally.
“What about any of this have I liked?”
She smiled faintly. “Kiss me.”
Draco blinked, thinking he must have heard her wrong. Her blush intensified and he realized he hadn’t heard wrong at all. He laughed, a loud bark that made Mrs. Norris’s ears twitch.
“You’re even crazier than I thought.”
“Will you just try it?”
“What makes you think it’ll work?”
“Something the Baron said.”
Draco searched his memory for anything the Baron had said that might lead to this craziness. “The Baron didn’t say anything about kissing.”
“Well, no, he didn’t, but-”
“I don’t know what your game is, Granger, but I’m done. I’m not taking part in this insanity anymore. There are five billion other people on the planet, I’m sure one of them can see you. Have fun looking.”
“That’s just the point, Malfoy, there is no one else-”
“Then I don’t care! I don’t care about you or your impossible problems. I wish it had killed you. I hope after it eats your friend it comes up here and does the same to you. Anything so long as I don’t have to see you anymore!”
And here was that Gryffindor bravery. Tears filled her eyes but she stood strong. She was hurt and angry but she was holding it in and he was actually worried what might happen when she lost her grip.
“Fine,” was all she said and marched down the row of beds and through the doors.
Draco sat heavily on the edge of her bed. The mattress shifted under his weight and her body rolled slightly so that her lifted leg was resting on his shoulders. After what seemed a very long time Mrs. Norris poked her head out from under the bed and began twisting herself about his legs. He imagined she was still too woozy from being petrified to realize she should be finding a figure of authority to give him detention. He reached down and scratched behind her ears with two fingers. She purred contentedly.
“I’m sorry,” he sighed. “I didn’t mean it. Any of it. Not even what I said before.”
Springs creaked on one of the beds behind him and he ducked, scooping up Mrs. Norris as he knelt behind Granger’s bed. No one moved. No one seemed to be awake. Still…
He set Mrs. Norris carefully on the mattress, where she sat and regarded him with wide eyes while her tail dragged back and forth to twine around first one side of her body, then the other. Draco bent close to Granger’s ear.
“You are going to wake up in your body, do you hear me? I will not be your go-between for the rest of my life and I didn’t do all that running about with the Baron for my own benefit, so you can’t mess this up, Granger. I demand you get better.”
His cheek brushed hers as he pulled back and - since it was only the dumb cat watching anyway - he made an impetuous decision. The skin of her cheek was hard beneath his lips, like kissing a stone. Another creak of springs had him rushing for the doors.
The sound of his palms impacting the doors brought Pomfrey out of her office. She smiled at the sight of Mrs. Norris sniffing at the still swinging doors, figuring the noise had come from the cat looking for a way out. She held the door open, knowing the cat would find her master quickly enough. As she turned back to the beds her smile broadened. Hermione Granger was finally softening like the others. Her hair hung limply on her pillow and her leg and arms were slowly descending. Pomfrey was glad to see her worries were unfounded. It seemed the girl just needed a bit more time than the others.
She was okay. Draco felt a smile tugging at his lips as he watched her laughing with her friends just outside the great hall. He shook himself. There was no reason to be quite so happy about it. She was finally out of his hair, it wasn’t that big a deal.
He thought back on the last few days and smiled wickedly. She wouldn’t want to tell her friends, especially about that final, insane request she’d made of him. He could have fun paying her back for all the trouble she’d given him. He sauntered over and was gratified to see the Gryffindors go cold, almost like a chill wave preceded him, alerting them to his presence.
“I see you’re back, Granger,” he said.
She met his eyes coolly.
“What’s it to you, Malfoy?” Weasley practically snarled.
“Nothing,” Draco said innocently. “Just glad that ordeal’s over. I suppose you are too?” He met Granger’s eyes.
“Of course she is,” Potter said. He shifted incrementally, putting himself between Draco and Granger.
She was still glaring at him. She couldn’t still be mad that he had refused? It had all turned out all right in the end, hadn’t it?
“I’m sure the whole thing will be useful next year,” he tried. “Must’ve had some pretty wild dreams to use in Divination essays.”
Now Granger frowned as if confused. Draco felt something cold settle in his chest. She didn’t remember. He tried to convince himself that she was just good at hiding it - she wasn’t that good a liar, though - or that she’d remember eventually - and why should he want that? - but he couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling. She didn’t remember a thing.
He quickly said something that he hoped might sound suitably like an insult and turned on his heel. As he left he heard one of the Gryffindors ask, “Was Malfoy trying to be nice?”
No, he thought furiously. He was not trying to be nice, he was- he didn’t know what. He returned to the dungeons and spent much of the final weeks of school there.
On his birthday the Baron found him alone in the common room. The bright, sunny day and total lack of exams had most students outside.
“I don’t want to know,” Draco said before the Baron could ask.
“Are you certain?”
Draco closed his eyes. This was the first birthday he remembered actually feeling older. “It doesn’t matter.” He watched the shadows of merpeople flit across the glass. “She doesn’t remember,” he added.
“And that … saddens you.”
“No!” Draco snapped. He opened his eyes to see the Baron regarding him with something like sympathy. “Not at all.”
The Baron reached out to gently pat Draco’s hand on the arm of the chair, the same one he’d asked Granger to sit in. “I know.”