The Golden Ghosts
Part 1 -- We're Out of Here!
Summary: What if fictional characters exist independently of their authors' imagination? What if they don't always agree with the plot as it's written?
Standard Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all of his friends are the property of J.K. Rowling. At least that's what she claims...
Harry James Potter and Hermione Jean Granger-Weasley would like to respectfully disagree.
"Well, that was depressing," Hermione sighed as she collapsed into her chair at the Muggle coffee shop.
"What happened?" Harry asked from his seat across the Starbucks table, his brow furrowed with concern.
"Yesterday," she reminded him. "I put my oldest on the Hogwarts Express and you saw little Albus off for the first time."
"Oh, that! They do grow up quickly, don't they," Harry commiserated.
Hermione reached into her bag. "Did you see this?" She pulled out her Muggle tablet and held it so that Harry could see the screen. "This bit here," she pointed, after scrolling the sensitive touch surface with her fingertip.
"Wow!" Harry laughed across the little table.
They'd been having lunch together at this very Starbucks nearly every weekday for the past nineteen years. It was deep in Muggle London, far from the entrance to the Ministry, St. Mungo's, King's Cross, or the Leaky Cauldron. Their chances of being seen here by another witch or wizard were very close to nil. As usual, a privacy spell surrounded the table, strong enough to effectively keep their voices muffled, but weak enough so as to not interfere with the Wi-Fi signal.
"Rowling finally saw the light, did she?" Harry grinned.
"Yes," Hermione nodded smugly. "J.K. Rowling admits that Ron and Hermione might not have been right for each other," she read the news item aloud. "They would likely be in marriage counseling by now," she finished, looking up from her tablet. "If it weren't for our being able to meet here for lunch every day, it might be a lot worse than she imagines."
"True, that, but the fact is that wizards don't have marriage counselors," Harry noted.
"Too right!" Hermione chuckled. "And I don't think I'd ever be able to drag Ron to a Muggle one."
"Wait! That's from several years ago!" Harry pointed to the date of the news article.
"Wow! I hadn't noticed that! I don't often search for our dear Ms. Rowling but this morning I decided to see what she'd been up to lately."
"Don't show that to Ron - about Rowling's comment," Harry smirked.
"Definitely not!" Hermione nodded. "He suspects that you and I have something going on behind his back as it is."
"I think he might have shared that suspicion with his sister," Harry frowned in annoyance. "Ginny's been asking rather pointed questions about my comings and goings for the past several months."
"Come to think of it, she's been a little distant with me, lately, too..." Hermione considered.
"She told me that perhaps our family shouldn't be spending quite so much time with the Weasleys," Harry laughed outright.
Their weekday meet-ups were always just lunch at Starbucks, but weekends revolved around activities at The Burrow with all of the other Weasley aunts, uncles and cousins. Harry and Hermione didn't need 'alone time' there. Just being able to see each other, to smile at each other, to share a few moments of polite conversation and a surreptitious brush of their fingers as they passed in the kitchen was enough.
"Really! Ginny wanted to forego weekends at The Burrow?"
"Yes," Harry nodded. "She wanted your family and our family to attend on alternate weekends. She was quite adamant about it, until I reminded her that Ron would never agree to that. He thinks of us as 'all one big, happy, Weasley family' - and more importantly, so does his mother!"
"Ha!" Hermione let out an uncharacteristic chortle. "What did Ginny say to that?"
"Not much, actually. She stalked out of the room - to the kitchen - and started baking a pie," Harry grinned. "So - do you think that JKR will write another story about us? Sort of a post-epilogue epilogue?"
"Not likely, according to this," Hermione turned to frown at her tablet. "She's done with us for now, she says."
"Made her millions and cast us aside..." Harry shook his head sadly.
"Seems like," Hermione agreed, but after a moment's reflection, she added, "I wonder..."
Harry knew that look - the way her eyes drifted up to stare at the line where the wall met the ceiling, and the slight twitching of her lips as she held a silent conversation with herself. He sat there sipping his tea, patiently watching her for maybe five minutes - possibly more - before she turned back to him.
"Harry? How would you like to become a ghost?"
"What!??" he nearly choked on his tea. "A ghost!? What's brought this on?"
"Well, it's like this," Hermione began the explanation of her thought process of the past several minutes. "J.K. Rowling has left us trapped in unsatisfying marriages, leading superficially happy, but in reality, dreary lives. That's not how I envisioned us, Harry - especially not you! I saw you as an Auror, fighting the bad guys with me by your side..."
"With you...?!?" Harry gasped, setting down his tea before he dropped it. This conversation was no longer tea-compatible.
"Yes, you heard me correctly," Hermione assured him. "When we were in school, and then off hunting Horcruxes, I assumed that was where our future would lie. We'd have been happy doing that together..."
"It wouldn't have to be that !" Harry interjected. "We fought Voldemort because we had to, not because we wanted to. I was through with putting us in danger the moment that Voldemort was dead, so forget about being Aurors. Besides, we'd have been happy doing anything - as long as we were doing it together."
"Quite!" Hermione agreed. "Even if you played professional Quidditch, I would have been okay with that. I would have supported you any way I could - perhaps by becoming your agent, or even your personal trainer," she waggled her eyebrows at him. "But no - JKR had to change everything all around!" she practically spat. "The nerve of that woman! Sticking me with Ronald Weasley!"
"And me with Ginny," Harry sighed.
"To be fair, that at least made a little sense. You were crushing on her all of sixth year."
"And how often did I mention Ginny while we were hunting Horcruxes? Once? Nonce? Is that even a word?" Harry smiled his 'goofy' smile.
"It is now!" Hermione grinned back at him. "Okay, point taken. Now the problem, as I see it, is that JKR left us here..."
"...me stuck with Ron and you with Ginny, and with no way out."
"But you've figured a way out for us!" Harry's face lit up with excitement. "Hermione, you're brilliant!!"
"I know! Now - will you allow me to get on with my idea?"
A silent flourish of Harry's hand invited her to do just that.
"We can't get divorced - wizarding law and custom doesn't allow for it. Besides, we have to think about the kids - both yours and mine. Then there would be the issue of Molly," Hermione took a deep breath and let it out. "So? What do we do?" she looked at him expectantly. "How do we arrange things so that we can still be there for our children, yet not have to deal with the Weasleys - any of the Weasleys?"
"We become ghosts?"
"Glad you were paying attention, Potter!" she smiled at him. "Yes - we become ghosts!"
"Oh, gee! Let me see..." she rolled her eyes. "How do you think?"
"By dying, obviously," Harry rolled his eyes right back at her. "But how? How would we die that would assure us both becoming ghosts?"
"Well, there's the rub, isn't it?" she nodded. "More research is in order, I'm afraid, before we can decide that. Say! How would you like to join me for some after-work research, Harry?"
Harry could tell from the glint in her eye that this would be research they would both enjoy, but there was a problem. "Sorry," he shook his head sadly. "No sense in antagonizing the Ginny-dragon needlessly. I'm sure you can handle it."
"Thank you for your vote of confidence, good sir!" Hermione half giggled.
"Rowling's not going to like this, is she?" he gave Hermione a devious smile.
"I certainly hope not!" she grinned back.
"The books I've found are all in agreement, Harry," Hermione reported a few days later. "The majority of ghosts are souls who are not ready to pass on just yet, typically because of some unfinished business. An estimated fourth or fifth are people who are afraid to cross over, and some five percent are simply in denial about being dead."
Harry chuckled at that. "What about Binns? I don't think he even knew that he'd died!"
"I'm sure he's included in the five percent," Hermione assured him in a very know-it-all tone. "Now, for you and me to become ghosts, being in denial and being afraid are not realistic options. We'd have to go with the majority and have some unfinished business."
"I don't know about you, but I have plenty of unfinished business!" Harry laughed. "Spending the rest of my life with you!"
"And how would you propose to do that if you were dead, Mister Potter?"
"I - er - I..." Harry gave her a perplexed look. "Is that some sort of trick semantics question?" he asked sheepishly.
"In a way, yes, though I'm not laughing at you, Harry. If we were ghosts - like Nearly-headless Nick - how would we interact? How would you kiss me? Or even hold my hand?"
Harry just frowned as Hermione's point sank in. "Hermione, I've spent nineteen years dreaming of what it would be like to kiss you," he shook his head. "To really kiss you."
"Only kissing?" she teased.
"Well..." His suddenly-red face told her all she needed to know. "So we'd never be able to... You know...?" Harry looked at her, his face pleading for a solution to their dilemma.
"Right!" she nodded. "So being regular, run-of-the-mill ghosts is not for us."
"Well, it was a good idea, anyway - even if it's not possible," Harry sighed in defeat. "That's been the story of my life - no lucky breaks for Scarhead."
"Wait! I'm not done, yet!" Hermione scowled at him. Harry looked up at her, his hope renewed. "Peeves can manipulate physical objects," she reminded him.
"So we'd be poltergeists?"
"Yes!" Hermione grinned.
"Isn't that a bit out of character for you? Mature, serious, responsible Hermione?"
"I told you Rowling wouldn't like it!" she replied, flashing that same devilish smile that he'd seen when she first floated the idea of becoming ghosts.
"So what do we have to do?" Harry asked eagerly.
"Well, that's the question, isn't it? As far as I could find, no ghost has ever written a 'How To' guide on the subject. Just like all of the 'Harry Potter' children's books of our youth, books about ghosts are merely conjecture, written by clueless authors hoping to take a quick Galleon from the gullible."
"So we're on our own, then?" Harry winced.
"Not exactly... What if we were to interview Peeves? Maybe he'd be able to help us."
"Able, perhaps, but not likely willing!" Harry shook his head. He was back in frown-mode. "Even if he did agree to it, how could we trust his information? He's a poltergeist, after all."
"True. I hadn't considered that," Hermione joined the frown-fest.
"Maybe we could ask the Bloody Baron!" Harry looked up hopefully. "He's always been able to control Peeves. Maybe he understands how Peeves works!"
"Yes..." Hermione trailed off, the gears once again turning inside her head. "What if we could trick the master trickster!" she announced after several seconds had passed. "We'll interview both Peeves and the Bloody Baron, separately - well, them separately and us separately. We'll each tell Peeves that we're trying to prank the other and ask for his help. We'll offer him bribes, of course, but his information will still be suspect. Afterwards, we'll compare notes. We'll cross-reference what Peeves has told each of us against what the Bloody Baron tells us. Hopefully, between the four stories we get, we'll be able to piece together the truth."
"Headmistress McGonagall will never approve," Harry warned.
"Our good friend Professor Neville Longbottom will be willing to set things up, though - no questions asked," Hermione grinned.
"I've always liked Neville!" Harry smiled as he reached across the table to squeeze Hermione's hand fondly.
"You misunderstand me, madam," the Baron frowned. "Peeves is not a ghost. He is not a wandering soul. He was never a soul. Peeves is simply energy given form."
"But he acts like a ghost," Hermione persisted.
"He most certainly does not!" the Baron took offense. "Do you see any proper ghosts flitting about here and there, causing mayhem whenever possible?"
"I assumed that was simply because you couldn't," Hermione countered. "Since you're unable to manipulate physical objects, that is."
"Never assume!" the Baron thundered. "Even if we could touch the physical plane, we would never act so foolishly! Peeves is totally undisciplined! He is absolutely lacking in self-control!"
"You seem to be able to control him - some of the time, at least." Hermione brought up a good point, she thought.
"It's not that hard, actually," the Bloody Baron rolled his eyes. "It's just that no one else seems willing to expend the effort."
"How do you do it, then? How do you force Peeves to behave?"
"A true ghost cannot affect physical objects, but we can control energy - with some difficulty, I'll admit - and Peeves is pure energy. I merely impose my will upon him."
"It's that simple!?" Hermione gasped. "Why don't you keep him under control all of the time, then?"
"I mentioned, 'with some difficulty,' didn't I? I have better things to do with my time and energy than to act as Peeves' self-control."
"Let's say, hypothetically, that you didn't have anything better to do? Could you manage it, do you think?"
"I suppose," the Baron gave an indifferent shrug, "but I wouldn't."
"I'll never admit to telling you this," the ghost leaned in closer to whisper, "but I rather enjoy Peeves' antics - most of the time."
"Really!?" Hermione blinked in surprise.
"Mum's the word on that?"
"Yes - of course!" Hermione nodded. "There is one more thing I'm curious about - where do poltergeists come from? Are they deliberately created? Do they simply happen spontaneously. How did Peeves come to be, do you suppose?"
"Peeves? He resulted from a sudden release of magical energy," the Baron shook his head sadly. "A terrible thing to witness - the explosion of a wizard's magical core. In the case of Geoffrey the Enchanter, it was also quite sad.
"Geoffrey was a Hogwarts professor and Hogwarts was threatened with imminent attack. He fashioned a suit of armor, you see, specially designed and enchanted to act as a defense against spells, just as normal armor deflects physical blows. There was a miscalculation, apparently, and the first time he wore it in battle a curse found its way inside the armor. Geoffrey's magical core was released but it had nowhere to go, being constrained by the enchantments on the armor. The pressure of the magical energy built up until the whole suit exploded, and there was Peeves!"
"What was the curse?" Hermione wondered.
"The Killing Curse, of course - Avada Kedavra."
"So what happened to Geoffrey's soul?"
"It passed on, I imagine," the Baron shrugged. "Isn't that always what happens with the Killing Curse?"
"Yes, I suppose," Hermione nodded. "That's what everyone says, at least. Whose idea was it to name Peeves 'Peeves'?"
"That was Geoffrey's surname, of course," came the Baron's reply.
"Do you think he was telling you the truth?" Harry fretted as they discussed their Saturday morning's findings across a table at The Hog's Head Inn. "If it were that simple, wouldn't someone have done it before now?"
"Yes, I think the Bloody Baron was being straight with me. As to why no one has thought of it, well, we're in a ruddy fiction, here, Harry. If JKR didn't bother to think of it and include it in 'the past' then it hasn't been thought of."
"The past? In air quotes?"
"She created the universe we live in. We can do things to change it in the present, but 'the past' is set in stone," Hermione stated in her best know-it-all voice. "Why do you think I spent so much time reading Hogwarts: A History in my youth? It is the exhaustive history of the wizarding world, as created by J.K. Rowling."
"The past is set in stone, is it?" Harry chuckled. "You've never browsed any of the fan-fiction sites, I assume?"
"Ahem! We - you and I - are canon, right up through the epilogue! I refuse to allow that cesspool of heresy called 'Internet fan-fiction' to pollute my mind! Imagine! Pairing me with Snape! Or worse yet, with Malfoy!"
"Or me with Malfoy!" Harry grinned and waggled his eyebrows across the table at his best friend. Sometimes it was just too easy to get her riled up.
Hermione furrowed her eyebrows at him as if concentrating on a silent jinx that would make his eyes cross for the rest of the day or something. Then she did something even worse. She screwed up her face and stuck out her tongue!
Harry spat tea all over the table and nearly choked in the bargain.
"Serves you right!" Hermione huffed, not bothering to offer him any assistance. There was a smile hidden behind her hard look of disapproval, however, but that was more a satisfied smirk due to how well her ploy had worked. "Scourgify," she muttered, cleaning her own clothes but leaving Harry to fend for himself.
"You're going to get us thrown out of here!" Harry hissed as he glanced nervously around the Hog's Head. "Scourgify," he took care of himself and the table.
"I've been thrown out of better places than this! Besides, I'm not the one who sips tea during polite conversation," she gave a fake smile.
"You call that polite? Sticking out your tongue at me?"
"Compared to what your lovely wife Ginny would have done to you, yes!" Hermione gave a prim nod of her head.
"You'd think the bat-bogey hex would get old..." Harry shook his head wearily.
"Apparently not," Hermione shrugged. "George still thinks it's a hoot."
"George thinks everything's a hoot," Harry rolled his eyes.
"Two Galleons says he'll think our idea of becoming poltergeists is the best prank in history."
"I'm not taking that bet!" Harry shook his head. "So did I get this right? We somehow contain our magical cores, AK ourselves, and then our souls stick around to control the resulting poltergeists?"
"Not Avada Kedavra, Harry. That would send our souls straight beyond. We'll want to stay in the mortal plane and take care of our 'unfinished business.' I'll have to do more research on it."
"Shall I research Erumpents, then?" Harry asked with a bit of an air.
"Leave it to Peeves to think up something rude!" Hermione rolled her eyes.
"His being created by being blasted out the north end of a charging southbound Erumpent sounded plausible enough to me!" Harry struggled to hold a straight face.
"Even the Bloody Baron was sniggering at that one!" Hermione scoffed.
"Okay, I'll forget about the Erumpents, but if the 'exploding magical core' theory doesn't hold up, the fact that we don't have a backup plan is on you."
"I'll take my chances, thank you," Hermione let out a small laugh. "It's time I got home," she said, checking her watch. "Ron'll want me to be fixing something for his lunch."
"Ginny, too," Harry nodded. "I rue the day I told her that the Dursleys made me learn to cook!"
"See you at The Burrow for dinner," Hermione nodded before she Apparated away.
Harry paid their check and then did the same.
"Well?" Harry asked as he joined Hermione at their usual Starbucks table. "How goes the research?"
"Too soon to know anything for sure," she hedged.
"Okay, but give me a hint," he grinned, setting down his tea.
"You know the spell they use to bind people's magic? Should a student get himself expelled from Hogwarts, for instance?" Hermione leaned forward to whisper.
"Yeah, they supposedly snap your wand and bind your magic..." Harry nodded.
"According to an acquaintance in the Department of Mysteries, that only works on children and adolescents. Adult wizards' and witches' magical cores are fully developed and solidified and the spell fails - typically violently!" Hermione continued whispering.
"Yes," she nodded. "That's one of the reasons that the wizarding age of majority is seventeen. Before age seventeen a magical core is resilient enough to withstand being bound. After that you get sent to Azkaban for wrongdoing, as binding is no longer an option past the age of seventeen or eighteen."
"I wonder why they never bound Hagrid's magic," Harry mused.
"Probably due to Dumbledore's interfering," Hermione shrugged. "Please focus, Harry."
"Okay - so we use the binding spell on ourselves and we go BOOM?"
"Typically," she nodded. "I'll want to refine that to 'definitely' before we go any further."
"And the container?" Harry asked. "An enchanted suit of armor?"
"We'll use runes and ward stones. That's the easy part," Hermione shrugged. "We'll also need a cover story," she added. "I'll leave that task to you."
"A cover story?"
"'Harry Potter and Hermione Granger-Weasley were so obsessed with each other that they turned their backs on their spouses, their children, and the entire wizarding world in a selfish bid to spend eternity together!' How do you think that headline will look splashed across the front page of the Daily Prophet ?"
"A bit wordy for a headline, but point taken," Harry nodded.
Weeks later, their cover story was agreed upon, the runes were worked out, the spells had been practiced, and Professor Longbottom had again invited them to visit the castle for the day.
"I thought McGonagall sealed this up after she became Headmistress," Hermione noted, looking around the lavatory. "After she found out that Ron and I had managed to open the Chamber without actually being Parselmouths."
"Parseltongue magic," Harry replied. "Salazar Slytherin used it to create the Chamber, Tom Riddle could open it, and I could open it. Ron's mimicking me speaking Parseltongue was a plot hole, plain and simple. It shouldn't have happened. And as far as I know, McGonagall was never a Parselmouth, so she could not have affected the magic."
"But she said..."
"She lied," Harry shrugged. "What was she to tell the students, the Board of Governors, and the Ministry? 'Well, it's still a problem, certainly, but I sincerely hope it doesn't happen again,' wasn't going to cut it. Plus, you'd always have students like Fred and George trying to open it. It was more convenient to tell everyone that the Chamber of Secrets was no longer there. Ah! Here it is!"
"The faucet with the snake emblem," Harry frowned, "except that the handle is missing."
"Perhaps that's how our Headmistress 'sealed' it up!" Hermione laughed. "It's like 'locking' a door by removing the doorknob! Can you conjure another handle? Perhaps I can conjure one if you can describe it to me..."
"No need to," Harry shook his head. "Open!" he hissed and the sink began to move. "This is where it gets a little messy," he warned.
"What!? You expect me to simply dive into that filthy hole again!?" Hermione gasped.
"Um - yes?"
"Consider this, Harry," she grabbed his sleeve before he could take the leap. "When Ginny was going down there, she never came back dirty or smelly. We would have noticed."
Harry paused to think about that.
"Besides, how would she have been able to crawl back out?" Hermione asked, peering over the edge into the blackness.
"I don't know," Harry shrugged. "How did you and Ron manage to crawl out?"
"Er..." Hermione searched her memory. "Odd - we must have done so, but I have no direct recollection of leaving the Chamber of Secrets..."
"Another plot hole?" Harry raised an eyebrow at her.
"No matter!" Hermione shook off the interruption. "Remember that Salazar Slytherin, one of the greatest wizards in history, created this. I doubt that he dirtied his robes every time he visited his secret chamber."
"Um - what would you suggest, then?" Harry turned an expectant eye to his accomplice.
"It seems to work by voice command, spoken in Parseltongue of course. Try saying 'stairs.'"
"The hole is too small for stairs."
"Yes, ma'am. Stairs! " Harry commanded.
Harry smirked while Hermione thought.
"Platform!" she suddenly blurted out, pointing at the opening.
"Platform!" Harry repeated in Parseltongue.
A rumbling could be heard from down below. Several moments later a platform rose up the pipe.
"It's only big enough for one," Hermione noted.
"Two, if they're really good friends," Harry countered. "Let's go!"
He leapt up onto the round platform and offered Hermione a hand. Grudgingly she took it and he pulled her up.
"Down!" Harry commanded and the tightly hugging couple disappeared into the depths.
"I really think we should be doing this out of doors," Harry complained as he opened the huge doors to the Chamber of Secrets, proper. "Too many things can go wrong. What if we blow up Hogwarts?"
"We won't!" Hermione rolled her eyes. "And how would our cover story look if it sounded like we were expecting an explosion? No, we were simply trying something very radical - but supposedly quite safe - and the containment field somehow got away from us. We were using the Chamber of Secrets for secrecy, not to contain an explosion. I suspected that the Department of Mysteries would steal my idea if I tested it in their facility and so I enlisted my good friend's help in opening the Chamber and assisting me with the experiment," she repeated the story that Harry had invented and she'd refined over the past several weeks.
"Do you really think everyone will accept that?"
"What choice will they have, really?" Hermione shrugged. "It will be a fait accompli. We'll be dead and unfortunately, a ghost speaking Parseltongue cannot open the Chamber of Secrets. They'll have no way to verify or disprove our story."
"How do you know for certain that a ghost speaking Parseltongue can't open the Chamber of Secrets?" Harry wondered.
"Because you'll tell them so, of course! If they pressure you to try, you'll simply say, 'Close' instead of 'Open' and how will anyone but you know the difference?"
"Good point!" Harry was forced to concede. "Where do you want to set up the ward stones?"
"One set at each end of the Chamber," Hermione directed. "We're allegedly attempting to replicate Muggle teleportation, so we'll want them as far apart as possible."
It was over an hour later that they had everything set up to meet with Hermione's approval. The ward stones were placed and anchored, the runes were positioned just so, and it was time.
"Ready?" Hermione inhaled deeply and locked eyes with Harry, her expression resolute.
"Hermione?" he stared back at her, "Kiss me? Just in case this doesn't work?"
"No," she replied archly.
"But... If... I'll never have gotten a chance to even kiss you..."
"All the more reason for you to make sure that you perform your spell perfectly, Mister Potter!"
"Maybe I should watch you do it first..."
"No again! That would result in two separate magical explosions. Everyone in the castle must feel only a single one. Besides, my blast might very well disturb your ward stones and disrupt your containment field. We can't risk that. We'll cast our spells together."
And so with a simple squeeze of their hands for luck, they parted then and each walked to their own end of the Chamber. Each stepped inside their containment field, and each one cast their spell.
"Harry?" The pale white ghost of Hermione Jean Granger floated to the other end of the Chamber of Secrets. "Harry?"
"Uh-oh!" The equally pale ghost of Harry James Potter stood there shaking his head and looking up into the darkness where the wall arched to become the ceiling.
"What? What's wrong?" Hermione asked worriedly. "Where's your poltergeist?"
"He left," Harry said, pointing upward in the direction he had seen his magical energy disappear. "He wouldn't listen to me."
"Really!!? We don't have to behave??" another yellowish ball of energy squealed behind the ghost of Hermione, then it shot upward in the direction Harry was pointing. "Potter!! Wait for me!!"
"Oh dear!" Hermione's eyes went wide. "We were supposed to be able to keep them under control long enough to merge with them."
"He wouldn't listen," Harry repeated. "He said he's headed for the Gryffindor girls' dorms."
"What!!? Harry!!?? You can't!!"
"He can, apparently," Harry shook his head sadly. "Rose is not going to be happy with me."
"Come on!" Hermione tried to grab his hand but hers passed right through his. "Harry! Let's go! We've got to stop them!"
The two newly-minted ghosts slowly rose to the ceiling and with great difficulty, gradually picked their way through the solid stone.
Pandemonium greeted the ghosts when at last they arrived in the girls' dorms. McGonagall was there, of course. So was Peeves. Nearly-headless Nick was trying to restore order but he was terribly outnumbered - three to one.
"I shall endeavor to find the Bloody Baron!" Nick told the Headmistress and then he hurried through the floor.
"Stop!! Stop this instant!!" McGonagall shouted. "Peeves! Who are these other two?"
"Peevesy no tellsy!" he replied, blowing her a raspberry.
"Well I never! " the Headmistress glared at him.
The two new poltergeists were simply ignoring her while they tossed pillows and bedclothes at the screaming first-year girls, who were valiantly trying to protect their possessions and beat back the intruders.
"POTTER!" a voice boomed above all the clamor.
"GRANGER!" a more female-sounding voice joined it. "Stop that this instant!" she added sternly, and the three poltergeists paused to stare at the interruption.
So did everyone else.
"Mister Potter!? And Missus Weasley!?" Professor McGonagall gasped at the sight of them floating there. "What happened? Oh, NO!" she cried as realization dawned.
"Mum?" little Rose Weasley's voice was barely a whisper. "Mum!?" she asked nervously as she made her way across the room, letting her wand drop to the floor. "MUM!" the girl wailed as she tried to hug her mother, only to grasp at thin air.
"Well, this has turned out rather badly," Hermione whispered to Harry.
"No fun!!" shouted the Potter poltergeist. "Let's go bother Al!"
And the three troublemakers vanished, heading over to the first-year boys' dorm.
"Oh dear!" Harry shook his ghostly head. "No, this is not going well at all!"
"Go!" Hermione shooed him away. "Go tend to little Albus. I'll stay here with Rosie."
Half an hour later in the Headmistress' office, the Bloody Baron had Peeves under control. Potter and Granger were subdued, although "under control" would be a bit of a stretch. They were merely afraid of the Bloody Baron, though that would prove only temporary. Rose Weasley was there, as were James and Albus Potter. All three children were crying silently. The Floo suddenly flared green and out stepped Ron Weasley. He was followed closely by his sister, Ginny Potter.
"What's going on?" Ron demanded, swiveling his head to take in the entire room. He stopped abruptly when he came to the two newest ghosts. "Harry!? Hermione!? What happened??"
"What did you do, Harry Potter?" Ginny advanced on her late husband. "You'd better not lie to me!" she warned, her hand reaching for her wand.
Harry instinctively cringed away from her ire as Hermione raised two placating palms in front of herself. "Ginny, we can explain," she tried to assure the irate woman, but the redhead was having none of it.
"I knew it! I just knew it!!" Ginny yelled at the both of them. "My idiotic brother was right, for once!" she glared over at Ron, who looked quite indignant at being called idiotic. "You two were up to something together and now you've gotten yourselves killed - together!"
"Ginny, I can explain," Hermione tried again. "It's not like that. It's not what you think."
"Oh!?" Ron found his voice. "How is it, then? Please use small words, Hermione, so that I'll be sure to understand!"
"Mister Weasley! Missus Potter!" McGonagall interrupted the threatening row. "Might I remind everyone that there are children present?"
All eyes turned to the three students who were looking anxiously back and forth between their parents.
"I had an idea," Hermione's ghost squared her shoulders. "A very good one, or so I thought. I'd come up with a way to create a Muggle teleporter. It was quite ingenious, really, but..."
"Why would anyone need a teleporter?" Ron interrupted. "We have Floos! And Portkeys! And Apparition! Why couldn't you leave well enough alone?"
"...But there was a miscalculation, it seems," Hermione ignored the interruption, knowing how that always irked Ron. "The magical containment field collapsed and, well, this is the result."
"And you?" Ginny turned on Harry once more. "What were you doing there?"
"We, um, Hermione needed to use the Chamber of Secrets for her test and I'm the only one who could open it for her."
"So not only did you kill yourself, you took my husband with you!!" Ginny gritted out. Hermione recoiled from the fire in the redhead's eyes.
"Mum..." James' voice sounded hesitant. "I'm sure that Aunt Hermione didn't do it on purpose..."
Ginny deflated some at that.
"Yes she did!" the Potter poltergeist shouted from behind Harry. "Snuffed herself, she did! And me, too!"
All eyes turned back to Hermione.
"Never trust the word of a poltergeist," she shrugged.
"How come neither of you are all bloody?" Ron narrowed his eyes at the pair. "If you got blown up, you should look like it. Maybe missing an arm or leg or something, sort of like Nearly-headless Nick."
"Um..." Harry flashed Hermione a guilty glance that did not go unnoticed by the others in the room.
"The evidence would suggest that we both died instantly, Ronald," Hermione came to Harry's aid. "As for the condition of our bodies, you'll have to venture down to the Chamber of Secrets to find them."
"How am I supposed to get in, Miss Know-it-all?" he retorted.
"You did it once, Ronald. I'm sure you can manage it again if you put your mind to it," Hermione smiled sweetly.
"I don't have to stand here and be insulted by my wife!" Ron shouted. "C'mon, Ginny!" he turned angrily to the Floo. His sister failed to move. "I said we're leaving, Ginny!"
Before Ginny could reply, Hermione beat her to it. "I'm not your wife, Ronald Weasley," she said quietly.
"What!? Of course you are!" the redhead spat back. "For better or worse..."
"...Until by death we are parted," Hermione finished for him. "I am no longer your wife."
"Harry...?" Ginny turned fearfully to the ghost of her late husband. "Harry...?"
Harry simply shrugged.
"What am I going to do!?" Ginny wailed. "I have three children to support! What are we going to do!?"
"I left a will," Harry reminded her. "The Potter estate will be split equally between you, Ron and Hermione, and any children any of us might have."
"Me!?" Ron gasped. "You included me in your will!?"
"And Hermione and your kids," Harry nodded, "Although Hermione's sort of out of the picture, now, inheritance-wise."
"That was very kind of you, Harry," Hermione said graciously, though she and Harry had discussed wills early on in their planning. Especially Harry's will, since there was so much money involved.
"I'm rich?" Ron asked no one in particular. "You mean that I'm really filthy rich?"
"It's split seven ways, Ron," Harry clarified. "You, Ginny, and the five kids all get equal shares."
"I have to share with him !?" Ginny pointed at her brother.
"There's plenty to go round," Harry cowered at her outburst. "Really..."
"Hmph! When you've spent through your share, Ron, don't you come crying to me for more," Ginny hissed.
"Ahem!" McGonagall's voice cut through the frosty glare Ginny was giving her brother. "Perhaps the two of you wouldn't mind taking your discussion somewhere else? Perhaps to The Burrow? I'm sure that Molly and Arthur will want to know what has happened," the Headmistress nodded to her Floo.
It wasn't until the two adult redheads had vanished that she turned to the others. "Baron? If you will kindly escort Peeves out of my office? We should allow these students to have a few moments alone with their departed parents."
"Mum? Why'd you do it?" Rose confronted her mother tearfully once they were alone.
"Ah, Rosie," Hermione shook her head sadly. "You don't miss a thing, do you?"
"Why?" Rose persisted.
"Shall we tell them, then?" Hermione turned to Harry. "We planned to tell them - eventually."
"Not here," Harry pointed to the rows of paintings of past Headmasters lining the walls. "The Room of Requirement?" he asked.
"What's the Room of Requirement?" James wanted to know.
"You'll like it - trust me!" the ghost of his father smiled.
"Wicked!!" James and Albus turned to shout at each other as a door appeared in the wall opposite the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy.
"Mum?" Rose gave her mother a questioning look.
"We used it for secret club meetings, back in the day," Hermione smiled wistfully. "Go on inside."
"And you two be quiet!" she glared at the two poltergeists in the corridor. "In you go and not a peep!" she ushered them into the room, which was split up into two sides separated by a privacy spell, one side labeled 'Potter' and the other 'Weasley.' Each area was set up with a round table and several chairs, not that two of them would be occupied for very long. Even when on their best behavior, poltergeists just cannot seem to sit still, and without the Baron around, well...
"But Mum! I don't want to have to live with Daddy! He's not like you!" Rose sniffed. "He just doesn't understand."
"You'll be here at Hogwarts ten months of the year, sweetheart" Hermione reminded her daughter, "and I wouldn't be surprised if Ron packs you and Hugo off to Grandma Molly's over the summers. Uncle Harry and I will be here at Hogwarts with you every day."
"What about summers?" Rose pouted. "And what about after I graduate? Ghosts can't leave the place where they died."
"Uncle Harry and I are working on that, love," Hermione smiled at her pride and joy.
"Really?" the girl looked up, wide-eyed.
"Uh-huh," her mother nodded smugly.
Rose's expression turned suddenly calculating.
"What?" Hermione asked.
"How long have you and Uncle Harry been seeing each other?" the bright little witch accused her mother.
Hermione let out a sigh of defeat. And then a second one. "Since before we got married," she admitted. "But we've never had an 'affair,' as such. We love each other very, very deeply and we meet up for lunch almost every day. That's all."
"If you loved each other, then why didn't you both simply marry each other?" Rose asked logically.
"We couldn't," came the over-simplified reply.
"Sure you could!" Rose frowned. "Everyone has free will! You can do whatever you want, as long as you're willing to accept the consequences. Oh! That's it!" the girl suddenly grasped the situation - or at least thought she did. "What would have been the consequences?"
"No, sweetie, it wasn't like that. You see, twenty years ago none of us had free will. Every witch, every wizard, was forced to act in a certain way. There was a lady named J.K. Rowling who dictated our every thought, our every action."
"You mean after you and Uncle Harry killed the Dark Lord, then there was a Dark Lady, too!?" Rose gasped.
"Well, when you put it like that..." Hermione chuckled to herself.
"It's not funny, Mum!" Rose declared fiercely. "What happened to her? Did you and Uncle Harry kill her?"
"No, we didn't!" Hermione laughed out loud at the thought. "She's still very much alive!"
"And now you and Uncle Harry are ghosts," Rosie's mind went into problem-solving mode. "That means that James and I will have to fight her. Maybe Albus, too. He's only a firstie, like me, but you and Uncle Harry were firsties when you started fighting Voldemort," she considered. "I wonder if we could get Teddy to help - and Victoire..."
"I'm sure those two have better things to do than..."
"Like snogging?" Rose interrupted her mother.
"Yes, like snogging!" Hermione laughed again. "That's much more important than chasing after some helpless middle-aged Muggle woman!"
"Muggle!!? How can a Dark Lady be a Muggle!?" Rosie gasped.
"Rowling's not a 'Dark Lady,' sweetie. She created us - all of us. She's more like a god in that respect."
"A goddess, you mean," Rose corrected Rowling's gender for her mother. "So how will we fight her, then?" the young witch added seriously. "How will we ever reclaim our free will?"
"I think she's pretty much lost interest in us," Hermione chuckled. "She's apparently ignoring us. Otherwise, I should think we'd be hearing from her by now, after the stunt your Uncle Harry and I just pulled!"
"So she'll permit you to be a ghost, then?"
"So far, so good?" Hermione raised a questioning eyebrow.
"And you can stay here with me at Hogwarts?" Rosie asked hopefully.
"Are you sure you want your mum hanging around all the time?"
"Well," Rosie considered, "Maybe not all the time..."
"Good! Because I'd planned to spend a lot of my time with Harry."
Rosie blushed crimson, but did let out a small giggle at her mother's pronouncement.
"How did it go with James and Albus?" Hermione greeted Harry with a fearful grimace once the three kids had run off back to Gryffindor Tower.
"They are both very much agreed that me being a Hogwarts ghost is 'wicked cool' and I think maybe somewhere during our discussion I might have tacitly agreed to help them prank their professors," Harry allowed.
"Headmistress McGonagall for sure and perhaps Neville..."
"Harry James Potter! You'll do no such thing!"
"Yes, Ginny - okay Ginny - whatever you say, Ginny," Harry gave Hermione a lopsided grin.
Hermione gave a ghostly blush of embarrassment and her scowl softened immediately. "Sorry," she muttered. "I've always promised myself I'd never treat you like that..."
"You're forgiven, love," he smiled back. "And if you should ever do it again, I now know just how to stop you in your tracks!"
Hermione's ghostly hand reached out to smack his arm, but it passed straight through.
"Neener-neener!" Harry laughed as his ghostly form danced around her. "Can't touch me!"
"Speaking of acting like a twelve-year-old, do you know where your poltergeist is?" Hermione frowned at his antics.
"No!" Harry shrugged. "Yours?"
"No idea," Hermione rolled her eyes in irritation. "Best go and round them up, then, shall we?"
The final two months of autumn term did not pass uneventfully. Harry and Hermione were at a severe disadvantage, relative to their poltergeist forms, in that they found it much harder to drift through the stone walls and floors of Hogwarts Castle. Potter and Granger had help, of course, in the form of Peeves, who delighted in showing his two new accomplices the easiest and fastest routes from one place to another. Not so for Harry and Hermione.
The Bloody Baron denounced the pair's plan to achieve a 'happily ever after' since his own 'ever after' was not a pleasant one. He refused to offer any assistance whatsoever, and forbade the other castle ghosts from doing so.
"I think the Baron's just put out that I tricked him into telling me about Peeves," Hermione frowned.
"Nearly-headless Nick objects to us on moral grounds," Harry shook his head. "Says we're not 'proper' ghosts, whatever that means, and we shouldn't be afforded the courtesy and respect due the legitimate members of the spirit world."
"He's still bitter about being excluded from the Headless Hunt," Hermione reminded Harry. "He's now found someone he can lord something over."
"I suppose," Harry shrugged, "but that doesn't help us any. How do the others do it? They seem to float effortlessly through solid stone. We'll never catch our poltergeists unless we can figure it out."
"The mayhem must stop, that's a certainty. And soon!" Hermione insisted. "Headmistress McGonagall is at wit's end."
"Yeah, we're a couple of rascals, aren't we?" Harry grinned over at her.
"Speak for yourself, Harry," Hermione scolded him. "My poltergeist was quite well behaved until yours led her astray!"
"Right!" Harry laughed. "And who put the Super Glue on Scorpius Malfoy's cauldron handle?"
"And where did she get it?" Hermione countered.
"Albus might have furnished the glue, but the way he tells it, it was Rosie's idea."
"That's Ron's influence!" Hermione huffed. "I specifically told Rosie to try and get along with the blonde git."
"Your daughter minds about as well as your poltergeist," Harry observed dryly, bringing a hint of a smile to Hermione's lips. "What!?" he studied her face. "What?"
"I was just thinking about when I was a firstie," Hermione chuckled. "I was a bit of an insufferable know-it-all, wasn't I? I am so glad that Rosie is not like that."
"She made it through Halloween without being attacked by a troll," Harry offered. "That's an improvement."
"Prat!" Hermione laughed, swatting at Harry's arm but passing right through.
"Neener!" he teased back. "Still can't touch me!"
"Ahem..." their conversation was interrupted by a grim-looking Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington. "Your assistance is required in the Great Hall."
"What is it this time, Nick?" Harry sighed.
"Another food fight," the ghost frowned condescendingly and turned to hurry away.
"Duty calls!" Harry shook his head in resignation.
"James or Albus?" Hermione sighed. "Which do you think put them up to it?"
"Why do you always suspect my kids?" Harry retorted, sounding put out.
"A food fight? Come on, Harry. That's not Rosie's style. Your two, however, are about as subtle as a dung bomb in a soup tureen!"
"That was a bit much, wasn't it?" Harry conceded.
"It quite thoroughly put everyone off the green pea chowder!" Hermione recalled as they started to pick their way through the nearest stone wall. "Oh sod it!" she gave up after only a moment. "Let's just take the stairs."
"There's got to be something very obvious about this that we're simply not sussing," Harry sighed as he 'sat' on the bench near the end of the Gryffindor table. "The Bloody Baron implied that controlling Peeves isn't all that hard. Why can't we manage the feat with our own poltergeist selves? I don't know about you, but I'm pretty much knackered from trying."
"Perhaps Peeves is easier to control, or the Bloody Baron has a stronger will, or maybe he simply lied to me," Hermione considered wearily from where she 'sat' on the bench opposite Harry. The students had been sent off to their common rooms, the house-elves were busily cleaning up the mess, and the poltergeists had moved on.
"The Baron does appear to be the most forceful of all the Hogwarts ghosts," Harry allowed. "All of the others seem to be afraid of him."
"He's just ill-tempered," Hermione shrugged tiredly. "He was a hot-head in life, remember. That's what led him to stab the Grey Lady to death."
"The Grey Lady..." Harry considered. "Do you think that she might be willing to help us? She's not terribly fond of the Bloody Baron - for obvious reasons - and maybe she's not honoring his decree to shun us."
"True," Hermione nodded thoughtfully. "She keeps to herself, mostly. She hasn't actually told us face to face that she'll have nothing to do with us."
"Perhaps you could seek her out - talk to her..." Harry gave Hermione a hopeful look.
"Me? Why me? You're the one who sweet-talked her into revealing the details about her mother's diadem."
"That was back when I was a kid and older women considered me cute," Harry replied seriously. "You're both women... And you're both really smart!" he added quickly when he noticed his fellow ghost's frown. "You'll have a lot in common."
"Flatterer!" Hermione chuckled at his antics.
"So you'll do it, then?" he asked hopefully.
"Perhaps tomorrow," she agreed. "I'll need to rest up a bit before I attempt the trip up to Ravenclaw Tower."
"Are we sleeping here in the Great Hall tonight, then?" Harry confirmed.
"Unless you can carry me out of here, then yes," Hermione replied, punctuating her answer by lying down on the bench and closing her eyes.
"Sweet dreams," Harry chuckled, stretching out on his bench on the other side of the Gryffindor table.
The two of them drifted off to Slumber-land, unaffected by the busy house-elves who passed right through the 'sleeping' ghosts as they happily cleaned up the remains of the earlier food fight.
"Yes, I am quite aware of the Baron's edict," Helena Ravenclaw informed Hermione, "and like it or not, I must honor it."
"What was his 'edict' exactly, if you're allowed to say, that is."
"The other ghosts are not to associate with the two of you or befriend you in any way. We are also expressly forbidden from divulging our method of 'vibrating,' as we call it, through solid stone."
"What about discussing the Baron's ability to control Peeves? Would that come under the classification of 'befriending' me?"
"Probably," the Grey Lady gave Hermione a very meaningful look. "You'd have to ask my mother for clarification."
"Your mother? She's not a ghost..."
"No, and therefore she is not bound by the Baron's edict," Helena gave an encouraging smile.
"Her statue!" Hermione gasped in understanding of the clue.
"Oh dear!" the Ravenclaw ghost pressed her palm to her bosom in mock surprise. "You really are the brightest witch of the age! Imagine! Tricking me, the daughter of Rowena Ravenclaw, into helping you! You're simply too clever for me!"
"I won't tell of you won't tell," Hermione grinned back. "Thank you!"
"Don't thank me ," the Grey Lady replied archly. "We're not on speaking terms, remember?" And with that she turned and disappeared through the wall.
"Um, Lady Ravenclaw?" Hermione addressed the statue in the stillness of the Ravenclaw common room. It was well past midnight and even the most diligent students had abandoned their studies and gone to bed hours ago.
"Who are you?" the marble statue asked, stirring slightly and turning its head to get a better look at the visitor.
"Hermione Granger, ma'am," the ghost gave a slight curtsey.
"Ah! You and Harry Potter," the statue nodded. "Rumors have reached my ears."
"What rumors, exactly?" Hermione asked cautiously.
"Your 'accident' was no accident, if I'm not mistaken."
"No ma'am - it wasn't," Hermione decided that trying to deceive the smartest witch, ever, would be counterproductive.
"And now you're having trouble adjusting to your new situation and you've come to me for help."
"Er, yes," the ghost nodded hopefully.
"I'm sorry, but I don't know how they do it. I've never needed to know, and to ask now would be rather obvious, wouldn't it? I doubt any of them would tell me - not even my own daughter."
"Oh! The drifting through walls thing? No, that's not what I came to ask about."
"It's not!?" the statue seemed surprised.
"No ma'am, Harry and I are having a devil of a time with our poltergeists and..."
"Interesting that the two of you should have produced both ghosts and poltergeists," Rowena noted. "I can't recall that ever happening before, and now it's happened to two people in chorus. Coincidence? Highly doubtful."
"We planned it that way," Hermione admitted. "We set up containment runes in the Chamber of Secrets and used the core binding spell to kill ourselves."
"The Chamber of Secrets? Salazar's secret sanctuary? The current Headmistress sealed it up years ago. You've found it again?"
"Yes, you've heard of it?"
"Heard of it! I've slept in it! Slept and more," the statue blushed - if statues can blush.
"You mean...? Salazar Slytherin...?"
"And me, yes," Rowena nodded. "Some of my most prized books are still in his library, I suppose. The ones that 'disappeared' that is. They weren't stolen, you know. I took quite a few volumes down there to read on nights when Salazar's snoring kept me awake."
"I'm sorry. I've only been down there the two times, but I didn't notice anything that resembled a bedroom. Or a library," Hermione frowned in confusion.
"Oh!" the statue nodded. "You didn't visit his private suite, then? The entrance is through the mouth of that horrendous statue. He would hiss at it and stairs would appear. I hurried through the hole every time I entered, fearing that the mouth might suddenly close and bite me in half," Rowena's statue chuckled. "A bit off-putting, given the romantic nature of my visits."
"I see," the ghost gulped visibly.
"But that's not what you're here for, is it?"
"No, ma'am, I was..."
"Wondering about the identity of Helena's father? That's a mystery that I refuse to solve for anyone, not even my own daughter. Salazar was certainly a possibility, but only one of several, so don't presume to think that you've discovered my secret."
"No, ma'am," Hermione repeated, "I was actually wondering about the Bloody Baron and how he manages to keep Peeves under control."
"Charles? That ill-mannered, self-important, hot-tempered, lying, murdering bastard?"
"Well, I don't know him that well, really..." Hermione quickly attempted to distance herself from the Baron.
"Best that you keep it that way!" Rowena glared at the ghost. "I was reluctant to send him to fetch Helena - just before my death. I feared that he might try to court my daughter's affections again, but he promised me that his infatuation with her was a thing of the past. He swore on his life that no harm would come to her. He didn't stab himself after killing my precious daughter, you know. Oh, that's what he told everyone upon his return. It was remorse, he said, but I knew different! That knife was bewitched. When he broke his magical oath to protect Helena, it stabbed him through the heart."
"I'm sorry - about Helena," Hermione offered.
"So am I," Rowena shook her marble head slowly. "A stubborn girl, but she comes by it honestly. She refuses to pass on until I forgive her for taking my diadem. I will only forgive her when she confronts me in the afterlife and asks my forgiveness face to face. It's a stalemate. What are we to do?" the statue shrugged.
"I don't know," Hermione admitted.
"And what are we to do about your poltergeists?" the statue managed a feeble smile. "I have no idea how Charles controls Peeves and I doubt that he'd tell me, should I lower myself to ask."
"I'm sorry I bothered you, then," Hermione's eyes fell, her disappointment clearly evident.
"But there is someone whom he might tell..." Rowena continued.
"Oh?" Hermione looked up again.
"Helena," the statue barely breathed the name. "I wonder..." she frowned as she considered her options. "She might," Rowena nodded to herself. "She just might. I'll ask her the next time I see her. I can't promise anything, but she just might agree."
"Whatever the result, I thank you for trying," Hermione offered.
"I do hope that your thanks are not wasted - for my sake as well as your own," the statue gave a small smile. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have some planning to do."
"Goodnight, then, Lady Rowena," Hermione gave a small dip of her ghostly head. "It's been both an honor and a pleasure to meet you."
As the statue went still once more, Hermione began the arduous task of feeling her way through the oaken door and out of Ravenclaw Tower.
"Mum! Mum!" Rose Weasley greeted her mother excitedly. "Mum! Guess who talked to me! Just guess! You'll never guess it! Go on - guess!"
"Scorpius Malfoy...?" Hermione took a hesitant stab at it, hoping that she was wrong.
"Malfoy!!? No!!" Rose gasped. "Why would you ever think that!"
"It was just a guess," Hermione shrugged her ghostly shoulders. "Who was it, then?"
Rose leaned in close to whisper, "The Grey Lady."
"Really!? She spoke to you? She never speaks to anyone!"
"I know!" Rose bubbled.
"What did she have to say?" her mother inquired guardedly.
"Well," Rose frowned, "it seemed to be a message - for you, I think."
"Oh? What did she say, word for word?"
"Our mothers need to talk."
"That's it? 'Our mothers need to talk?' That's the entire message?" Hermione asked.
"Then she turned and vanished through the wall of the corridor," Rose explained. "It happened on the way to Charms class."
"Hmm..." Hermione considered.
"Do you know what it could mean, Mum? Is it some kind of code?"
"No," her mother chuckled. "It means that the Grey Lady's mother would like to talk with me."
"Is it ghost stuff?" Rose's eyes widened.
"Yes, sweetie," Hermione smiled at her daughter. "It's ghost stuff."
That night the silence of the Ravenclaw common room was disturbed once more.
"You wanted to see me, Lady Ravenclaw?" Hermione approached the marble statue.
"Yes," the statue smiled at the visitor. "I wished to thank you."
"Thank me? For what?"
"For providing the means for a stubborn mother and an equally stubborn daughter to dispense with centuries of stupidity and hopefully to put aside their ill will toward one another."
"There's no need to thank me," Hermione shook her head. "I didn't do anything, really."
"But you did! So I have asked you to come so that I may thank you properly. That, and I have some information for you."
"Yes," the statue smiled. "I thought that might pique your curiosity. Helena has explained to me how it is that Charles is able to control Peeves."
"But I thought Helena was not speaking to the Bloody Baron," Hermione protested.
"He still carries a torch for my daughter," Rowena gave a sly smile. "You're a woman, so you must understand how easily men can be manipulated."
"Right!" Hermione grinned back. She waited expectantly for the statue to continue.
"And I used the opportunity to begin a dialogue with my dear Helena - one which has been long overdue, I fear. We talked about the Baron and his legendary temper. We discussed the circumstances surrounding his death. We touched lightly on the disappearance of a certain diadem. We considered that since the diadem is no more, perhaps it is time to let it go - to allow the ice of our mutual mistrust to melt and our hearts to thaw."
"You and Helena have reconciled!?" Hermione's gleeful shout echoed throughout the empty common room.
"Not wholly," the statue smiled. "It was only a beginning, but there is now hope."
"That's wonderful news!" the ghost beamed.
"No less wonderful than the other news I have for you," the statue replied. "Helena worked her guile on the Baron out of spite more than anything else, I suppose. She truly hates him, you know, as do I. Be that as it may, she involved him in conversation just after an incident with Peeves and casually asked him how he managed it. She played up to his ego, of course, and hinted that perhaps the two of them had not been speaking to each other for too many centuries, now.
"The story the Baron told her was that Peeves fears him. Peeves fears him because the Baron holds the power to disperse the poltergeist. He can disband whatever force is binding the poltergeist's energy together. Helena described the force as a remnant of the spell that Peeves used on his ill-conceived suit of armor. Apparently Geoffrey shared the details of his plan with the Baron and now the Baron knows how to undo it. He won't, of course, so long as Peeves obeys him."
"Hmm..." Hermione tried to fathom it all.
"We also talked about the Baron and his edict to the ghosts," Rowena added. "Helena explained to me how they are able to drift through stone so easily. She referred to it as 'vibrating' but she was not referring to a physical vibration. There is a grating or grinding, as she described it, at the point where the spirit plane intersects with the mortal plane. It is at this intersection that ghosts exist, and they can ride the vibrations to pass through walls. Being neither a ghost nor a poltergeist, it was difficult for me to relate to what Helena was describing, but I hope you will be able to make some sense of it. Helena portrayed you as a very clever witch."
"Yes," Hermione nodded absently. "Did your daughter use the word 'through' or 'around' in getting past solid things.
"I think is was 'around,' now that you mention it, but that didn't make any sense," the statue replied. "Ghosts don't go around walls, they go through them."
"Yes," Hermione nodded again, although her mind was working furiously, trying to sort the pieces of this puzzle. "I suppose I'll have to relate all of this to Harry," she sighed. "Maybe it will make more sense to him."
"Mister Potter?" Rowena's statue chuckled. "From what I've heard of the exploits of that young man when he was a student, he's more likely than not to simply run head-first into the wall and expect it to give way for him."
"That's the thing about Harry," Hermione smiled. "Sometimes the wall does. "
"Vibrations? Vibrations between the planes..." Harry pondered the phrase once Hermione had related the information she'd gleaned from the statue. He walked over to the nearest wall and pressed his palm against it, as if feeling - or listening - for weaknesses in the stone. He stood there motionless for several minutes.
"Perhaps you should lean your forehead against it," Hermione teased. "Rowena thought you might have better luck using your head."
Harry obediently did so while Hermione sniggered to herself at his gullibility. She stopped chuckling when Harry disappeared into the wall!
"That was odd!" Harry muttered as he re-emerged, rubbing his forehead lightly. "It tingles."
"You did it! Harry!? What did you do??"
"Um, I leaned my head against the wall, just as you told me to do."
"Yes, but what did you DO?"
"No idea," Harry shook his head and shrugged. "I thought you were the one who knows how it works."
"No, I don't. I received the information second hand through Rowena and I'm not permitted to ask questions of her daughter directly."
"Oh," Harry sighed.
"Try it again!" Hermione prodded. "I'll watch as you do it."
The trouble with that plan was that Harry could not manage to replicate the feat. He tried for two hours, Hermione continually admonishing him to try harder, before the two finally admitted defeat.
"I'm afraid I have no better news on how the Bloody Baron is able to control Peeves," Hermione changed topics. "Remember the tale he told us about Geoffrey the Enchanter?"
"The Bloody Baron lied to us both. It has nothing to do with 'force of will' or any such silliness. Geoffrey let the Baron in on his plans for that suit of armor. Apparently there is still a remnant of that enchantment that binds Peeves into a poltergeist and the Baron knows how to unravel it."
"How?" Harry asked eagerly.
"The Baron didn't say," Hermione sighed, "so we're no further along on that front, either."
"You mean that the Bloody Baron is blackmailing Peeves?" Harry frowned.
"In a word, yes."
"So we can blackmail our own poltergeists!" Harry nearly shouted. "That's IT! Hermione, you're a genius!!"
"Me!? It's your idea, Harry, and you haven't told me what it is, yet."
"We blackmail Potter and Granger to get them in line, of course!"
"But we don't know how to release the binding on them," Hermione protested.
"But they don't know that we don't know!" Harry grinned back at her.
"So we use a bluff on them?"
"They're poltergeists! They're not going sit down and rationally consider whether we're bluffing. They're going to simply react - hopefully by doing our bidding."
"Hmm..." Hermione's mind began formulating a plan and Harry knew better that to disturb her. "Okay," she announced at last, "We'll not threaten them directly. We'll tell them that we know how the Baron controls Peeves - which we do - and then we'll suggest that they ask Peeves about it. Coming from us it would be received as a threat, but from Peeves it would be taken as more of a warning."
"See?" Harry grinned. "I told you you're brilliant!"
"I rather am, aren't I?" Hermione considered seriously - before breaking out into embarrassed laughter.
They didn't have to wait long before putting their plan into action. The very next morning they were summoned to Greenhouse #3 where dirt was being flung by the trowel-full at a double class of shouting third-years. Professor Longbottom was shouting loudest of all.
"ALRIGHT, YOU THREE!" Harry roared at the poltergeists, who merely paused to blow raspberries his way before turning back to their mischief. "PEEVES! WE KNOW WHAT THE BLOODY BARON KNOWS ABOUT YOU!" Harry shouted over the din.
Three poltergeists froze in midair, their gardening implements dropping to the wooden floor of the greenhouse.
"Whats-ey nosey?" Peeves peered down at Harry cautiously. "Whats-ey nosey that the Baronsey nosey?"
"We know what holds you together," Harry warned.
"RUN AWAY!!" Peeves shouted, wasting no time in doing just that. Potter and Granger followed close on his heels.
It was only two days later that the ghostly pair ventured down to the Chamber of Secrets, their two poltergeists reluctantly following them.
"What's become of our bodies?" Harry frowned in confusion as he looked around. "And our wands?"
"Banished by the magical blasts, I should hope," Hermione answered. "That was my plan, anyway. We wouldn't need the wands anymore and I didn't want to have to look at the bodies every time we came down here, so I added Banishing runes to make sure they didn't survive the explosions. Are you ready, Harry?"
"We simply merge ourselves - our ghosts, that is - with our poltergeist selves?" Harry asked, warily eyeing the poltergeist hovering obediently, if somewhat grudgingly, beside him.
"It would be like getting our magical cores back. They're our cores, so they should be compatible with us," Hermione assured him.
"Mine isn't nearly as well-behaved as yours," he fretted - with a warning glance at his fidgeting ball of energy.
"Duly noted!" Hermione smirked. "By everyone in the castle! I'll allow you the honor of going first," she added.
"You're the Famous Harry Potter! The Boy-Who-Lived! Defeater of Voldemort! The Bravest of the Brave!" she teased.
"What if something goes wrong?"
"Don't worry, Harry," she said more seriously. "If things don't go as planned, I'll fix you. It might take me awhile, but I'll fix you. Promise."
And so with considerable effort, Harry used his force of will to compel his poltergeist into a human shape. Restraining the struggling form was quite difficult, but he managed to occupy the same space long enough to synchronize their projections in the mortal plane.
The poltergeist suddenly stopped struggling.
Harry froze as a strange sensation filled him. It was familiar, yet not. "It's almost like I'm a wizard, again!" he turned to Hermione in astonishment. "Look! I'm not all ghostly white!"
"Rather a golden or yellowish hue. More like candlelight and less like moonlight, I think," Hermione considered his new appearance. "My turn!"
Her poltergeist was much more cooperative. She slid into synchronization quite easily, compared with the difficulty that Harry'd had.
"Well?" Hermione raised her arms and did a little pirouette. "How do I look?"
"As beautiful as when you were alive!" Harry grinned.
"It almost feels as if I am alive!" she noted, reaching her hand up to feel the solidness of her cheek.
Harry's fingers joined Hermione's, softly trailing them along her jaw to her chin and lifting her face to meet his.
"This is different," her eyes smiled into his.
"So is this!" Harry's other hand reached around to claim her waist and he pulled her close. Her eyes closed and then Harry's lips were on hers.
This is different, Hermione repeated to herself - while she was still able to think, that is. Kissing Ron was not like this. At least it hadn't been for many, many years. Even kissing Harry that one time - during the Horcrux hunt - had not been like this. That was more a kiss of desperation. This was a kiss of assurance, a promise for their future, and a guarantee of happier times to come. The kiss started off that way, but then quickly changed into something more. Something much more!
"Harry," Hermione panted, breaking off the kiss when she could no longer trust her knees to support her. "There's a bedroom up in Salazar Slytherin's private suite," she nodded to the statue at the end of the Chamber. "You'll have to open it, though. The entrance is through that statue's mouth."
Harry picked her up bridal style and carried her to the foot of the statue. "Open!" he commanded, his urgency apparent even in his Parseltongue hissing.
"Stairs," Hermione advised.
"Stairs!" Harry repeated, dashing up them even before they were fully extended.
"I certainly do hope that the house-elves have changed the sheets recently," Hermione gave the bedroom a quick once-over as Harry lowered her to the bed.
"We'll leave a hang-tag on the doorknob for them in the morning," Harry replied before giving his full attention to her neck once more.
"Time to wake up, Rosie," a soft voice called as a gentle hand nudged her shoulder.
"It's Saturday, Mum. I wanna sleep in," the girl mumbled into her pillow.
"Yes, but I've something important to share with you," the voice insisted as the hand gripped her shoulder more firmly.
"MUM!?" Rose Weasley sprang awake to gawk at the golden-hued spirit sitting on her bed. "Mum! What's happened to you!?"
"Shh! We don't want to wake the other girls," Hermione whispered. "Pull on your robe and slippers and we'll meet up with Uncle Harry and your cousins in the Room of Requirement.
Rose dressed quickly and followed her mother down the stairs to the common room. There she was surprised when the golden ghost knelt and wrapped her in a warm hug.
"Mum!? You can touch me? And I, you!? Why are you all yellow?"
"Yes; yes; and I'll explain when we reach the Room of Requirement. Ah! Here come James and Albus."
"So your ghosts combined with your poltergeists," James repeated. "And now you can touch things."
"That was our plan from the beginning," Harry nodded. "Er, your Aunt Hermione's plan," he corrected himself when she arched an eyebrow.
"I worked out a way for us to generate poltergeists as we died and I hoped that we'd be able to merge afterwards," Hermione nodded.
"Hoped!?" Harry gulped. "I thought you had this all worked out."
"Be reasonable, Harry," Hermione smiled. "No one's ever done this before. There was no way to know for certain that it would work."
"But what if you'd been wrong?"
"Mum's never been wrong, ever!" Rose was quick to defend her mother.
"I wouldn't be too sure about..."
"Not another word, Harry Potter!" Hermione's finger pointed at him menacingly. "What happened in our youth stays in our youth!"
"Meow!" James muttered into his hand. Albus snickered at his brother's antics, which earned the pair of them a severe look from their cousin Rose.
"The result is that we can now touch the physical plane at will," Hermione confirmed, paying no heed to her nephews' teasing about her Polyjuice incident. "Or we can ignore the physical plane and pass through walls, just like ghosts."
"Not very quickly," James frowned.
"Yes, well," Harry cleared his throat. "It took us a while, but we've finally gotten the hang of it." He demonstrated by sinking through the floor and then rising back up.
"Brilliant!" Albus cried. "I knew you could do it, Dad!"
"There's a bit of a trick to it," Harry explained. "While the other castle ghosts would never tell us how, Peeves was only too happy to show our poltergeists. Now that we're merged, the secret's ours! We've even got the disappearing thing worked out!" Harry demonstrated by suddenly going invisible. He popped his tongue to add the sound-effect, making it appear that he'd popped out of existence. After several seconds of enjoying the looks of amazement on the kids' faces, he 'popped' back in.
"So you can be ghosts when you want to and real when you want to?" Rose frowned in confusion.
"Not real, real," her mother clarified. "We can be like poltergeists, more or less, but without the associated rowdiness."
"I'm going to miss that," James pouted.
"Me too!" Albus joined in, turning to his father. He was encouraged by a sly wink, which was not meant to seen by either of the ladies in the room.
Rosie, of course, sat there attempting to appear innocent while she tried not to laugh.
"What are we going to do about Christmas break?" Rose Weasley began the meeting by stating the issue before them. She, James and Albus were using the Room of Requirement for their first 'kids-only' family conference. She had decreed that since their parents were now very obviously 'together' that their families should be combined. They were no longer cousins, but step-brothers and step-sisters, Rose insisted.
"I don't want to stay here!" Albus shook his head vigorously. "We'd miss Christmas at The Burrow."
"But we'd have the castle virtually to ourselves!" James put forward his opinion. "Think of all the exploring we could get in!"
"James," Rose addressed her new step-brother in a know-it-all tone that was eerily reminiscent of her mother, "Exploring? You're not fooling anyone, especially not me! There will be hardly anyone left in the castle to prank, and it would be blatantly obvious who the prankster was. You'd be caught for certain."
"She's right, Jamie!" Albus sided with his cousin, but only for his own selfish reasons. As a first-year, Al was feeling more than a little homesick.
"You won't get to spend Christmas with Dad," James reminded his younger brother. "He and Aunt Hermione can't leave Hogwarts."
"We get to see them all the time," Albus countered. "I haven't seen Mum in months."
"Nor any of our other cousins," Rose added. "And what about Grandma Molly's Christmas dinner?"
The mention of Grandma Molly's cooking caused even James' resolve to waver.
"Shall we put it to a vote, then?" Rose smiled, confident that the result would go her way.
"I vote to go home!" Al raised his hand quickly.
"As do I," Rose's palm went up. "Jamie?" she looked to their third member expectantly.
"Oh alright!" the older boy huffed. "Dad and Aunt Hermione are going to be disappointed, though. You get to tell them," he informed Rose.
"Helena and I have come to an agreement," Rowena announced, a trace of a smile gracing her marble lips. "She has agreed to pass on and we will work out our differences on the other side."
"I'm so happy for you both!" Hermione grinned widely.
"That leaves us with a dilemma here in the mortal plane, however," Rowena continued.
"It leaves Ravenclaw without a House ghost."
"Oh?" Hermione replied guardedly. She sensed what was about to happen next.
"Helena had a little chat with the Sorting Hat," the marble statue eyed the golden ghost. "You were eventually sorted into Gryffindor when you entered Hogwarts, but I believe there was some discussion about Ravenclaw..."
"Well, yes, but..."
"While I realize that your present coloring is more suited to the House of the Brave, you would be doing a great service to Hogwarts..."
"Um, maybe Sir Nicholas could switch to Ravenclaw and I could be the Gryffindor ghost," Hermione offered, rather magnanimously, she thought.
"I hardly think so," Rowena gave the ghost before her a disdainful look. "Nicholas is scarcely what one would consider an intellect of consequence."
"I see," Hermione sighed. "Harry and I had not planned to stay on at Hogwarts after our children have graduated, but I suppose I could fill in on a temporary basis until then."
"I knew you'd understand," Rowena smiled. "I'll inform my daughter and she can ensure that the transition is painless for all concerned."
"What are you DOING!?" the Bloody Baron thundered! "All Hogwarts ghosts are forbidden from associating with the yellow ones !" he practically sneered his derogatory name for them. "YOU!" he pointed a threatening finger at Hermione, "Leave this tower at once! You!" he turned to Helena, "You and I will have words!"
"Charles..." Helena sighed as she shook her head slowly. "You have always been such a bully. He has," she turned to nod to Hermione. "Just ignore him."
"I said OUT!! NOW!!" the Baron bellowed, thrusting his finger in the direction of the door of the Ravenclaw Tower common room.
"Sod off, Charles!" the golden ghost smiled back pleasantly.
"I'll not be addressed with such familiarity! Not by the likes of you!"
"Would you care to list the reasons why not?" Hermione smirked, reaching over to the nearest desk and picking up a discarded scrap of parchment. "Oh! That's right! You can't hold a quill, can you? Well let's see... What can you do to make yourself useful...? Nothing? Pity! Well then, perhaps you should run along and leave us to our labor."
His vitriol seeming to have no effect on the impertinent newcomer, the Bloody Baron turned his ire on the Grey Lady. "HELENA! What is the meaning of this!?"
"Sod off, Charles!" the departing Ravenclaw House ghost repeated. "Can't you see that we're busy here?"
"Helena?" he repeated more gently. "What are you about? What busies you so?"
"I'm leaving, Charles," she stated simply.
"Yes, it's time for me to pass over at last. Thanks to the good Lady Hermione, I find myself finally at peace and prepared to do so."
"Pass over!!? But you can't!!" the Baron protested, his voice somewhat panicky. "You simply can't!!"
"And why not? Because you command me to stay? You command me no longer, Charles. I despise you! I have always despised you! Even when we were alive I despised you! Now, I have found a way to leave you behind. I hope that you will not, cannot, follow me over to the other side."
"FINE!" the Bloody Baron blustered, stamping his foot, which merely sank into the stone floor for several inches, causing him to stop to pull it back out before he could turn and stomp off properly.
"Lady Hermione?" Harry smirked as he floated in through the wall. "You've received a Ladyship, then, have you?"
"You were listening?"
"Yes, Your Ladyship, by your leave..."
"Prat!" Hermione laughed. "Helena and I were just going over everyone's schedules, especially the lower years."
"Your lady takes her responsibilities seriously, good sir," the Grey Lady treated Harry to a rare smile. "She does credit to her Houses both old and new."
"There she is!" Rose Weasley jumped up from her place at the Gryffindor table and raced across the Great Hall to catch up to her mother's ghost.
"Mum?" she whispered, "Can we talk?"
"Sure, sweetie! What's bothering you?" Leave it to a mother to be able to read her child's face like an open book.
"Room of Requirement?" Rosie gulped.
"It must be serious!" Hermione replied with an exaggerated air of gravity.
"Okay, what's on your mind, sweetheart," the ghost smiled once the door was shut and secured.
"Well, it's about Christmas break..."
"And you wanted to go home, but you felt guilty leaving me here," Hermione finished for her daughter.
"How did you know!?"
"I was a first-year once, remember? What about your cousins?"
"We've decided to be step-bothers and sisters," Rose informed her mother. "Al wants to go home, too. James wanted to stay here and pull pranks, but not all by himself," she advised.
"Step-bothers and step-sisters, you say? Are Hugo and Lily included in your new family?" Hermione teased.
"Well, yes," Rose nodded. "If that's alright?" she added quickly.
"My! I've gone from two children to five in the blink of an eye!" the golden ghost gasped. "I'll agree on one condition," she eyed her daughter.
"Our new family must remain a secret among you kids and Harry and me. None of the other Weasleys can know about it. Can you manage that, do you think?"
"Hmm..." Rosie considered. "Hugo's awfully young..."
"He's nine," Hermione reminded her daughter.
"I was nine once and I was much more mature than my brother. Even Lily is more mature than Hugo and she's almost a year younger."
"They'll both be firsties together in two more years."
"Lily won't blab, but I'm not sure whether I can trust Hugo," Rose frowned.
"Just explain to him that his mother is counting on him. I'm sure he won't let you down," Hermione assured her.
"I'll bet he misses you," Rosie fretted. "He won't get to see you for two more years."
Hermione so wanted to assure her daughter that Hugo would indeed get to see his mum for Christmas, but it was a surprise she didn't want to spoil. "He'll just have to wait, I suppose," she said instead.
"Are you sure you'll be alright here, Mum, alone in the castle over the holidays?"
"I won't be alone, sweetie," the ghost gave her daughter a comforting hug. "I'll have your Uncle Harry with me."
"Oh there you are!" the Fat Friar rushed through the wall of the Ravenclaw common room. "Thank heavens I've found you, Lady Hermione!"
"What is it, Friar? What's wrong?"
"It's the Bloody Baron! He's gone!"
"Gone?" Hermione furrowed her brow. "What do you mean, gone?"
"Gone! Passed over! Left! No longer here!" the Fat Friar blurted out in a rush. "He's gone!"
"The Bloody Baron's passed over!?" Hermione was nearly speechless, but not quite.
"Yes! He's passed over!"
"When?" the statue of Rowena Ravenclaw demanded.
"Sometime last night. He left a note."
"How could he leave a note?" Hermione frowned suspiciously. "He's a ghost. He can't hold a quill."
"He made Peeves write it for him," the Fat Friar explained. "It's in the Slytherin common room," he informed the golden ghost.
Hermione dashed off through the floor in the direction of the dungeons. She returned a minute later. "It's true," she told the marble statue. "I read the note, myself. He's gone to be with Helena. Oh dear! What about your daughter!?"
"I would worry more about Charles," Rowena chuckled. "Between Helena and me, Charles will not find a warm welcome in the afterlife. I can't even imagine what Helena's father will do to him!"
"He knows? Her father? You told him about his daughter?"
"I relented and told Helena before she passed over," Rowena explained. "She promised to tell her father on the other side."
"I'm almost sorry that I won't get to watch the fun!" Hermione chuckled. "Two Ravenclaw women and an angry father! The Baron will wish he'd remained a Hogwarts ghost!"
"I assume you know what this means?" Rowena sobered, sending Hermione a meaningful look.
"Oh dear!" the golden ghost's face paled slightly as realization dawned. "He's not going to like this!"
"Tell him it will merely be a temporary position," Rowena suggested.
"Maybe Nick could fill in, instead..."
"The Slytherins would mock him mercilessly," the statue shook her head. "It has to be Harry Potter."
"WHAT!!?" Harry exploded at the news. "There's no way! Slytherin!? What is everyone thinking!?"
"You'd get to torture Draco Malfoy's son..." Hermione tempted him.
"Then I'd be no better than Snape at his worst!" Harry spat.
"Point taken," she blushed. "It's only temporary," she tried another angle. "We're both leaving when Lily and Hugo graduate."
"Although..." Harry considered.
"What if I were to merely insinuate to Draco that I'd be in a position to torture his precious Scorpius. I wouldn't have to actually do it..."
"You'd be punishing Draco without hurting his son! The Sorting Hat was right! You should have been a Slytherin!" Hermione laughed. "You'll do it, then?"
"Keeps me off the streets, er, out of the corridors," Harry shrugged.
"Thanks, Harry!" she gave him a big hug and a thank-you kiss. "I'll tell Rowena!"
"I'll want a lordship!" Harry called after her as she dashed off to Ravenclaw Tower. "They gave you a ladyship..."
"What are you doing down here?" the Slytherin prefect sneered. "And why are you all yellow? Did someone piss on you and the stain wouldn't come out?" He laughed heartily and the gathering throng of Slytherins in their common room laughed with him.
The prefect suddenly found himself pinned to the wall, his feet six inches above the floor and his airway severely constricted.
"That's 'Lord Potter' to you, Philby, and I am your new Slytherin House ghost. What? Nothing more to say?"
Prefect Philby could only choke out a feeble, "Ehh..."
"I'll interpret that as, "I do beg your pardon, Lord Potter. That was rude of me and unbefitting my position as prefect. I beg of you, please don't report me to my Head of House.' Was there anything you wished to add to that apology?" Harry smiled, releasing the boy.
"N-no!" Philby gasped, rubbing at his throat as he dashed for the exit.
"Does anyone else have anything rude to say?" Harry surveyed the wide eyes and gaping jaws that surrounded him. "No? Good!"
"Er, Lord Potter, sir?" a small voice piped up. Harry thought the girl might be a second-year. "What happened to the Bloody Baron?"
"There was a disagreement. He left," Harry stated simply. There was no reason to air the Ravenclaw family's dirty laundry, especially not in front of a bunch of Slytherins.
"He left the castle?" someone else wondered.
"He passed over," Harry set them all straight.
"How did you do that to Philby?" a fourth-year called from the rear of the group. "Ghosts can't touch us!"
"Jacoby, is it?" Harry narrowed his eyes at the boy. "I'm a Potter. I killed Voldemort - twice! That counts for something in the spirit world. I have special powers," he answered. "By the way, Lady Hermione helped me do in Voldemort. Don't mess about with her. She can and will hurt you!"
As the huddle of Slytherins disbanded, Harry noticed a blonde first-year hurrying for his dorm.
"Scorpius Malfoy!" Harry called. "A word!"
All movement seemed to stop in the Slytherin common room. Students froze at the sound of the ghost's voice, especially Scorpius Malfoy.
"Wh-wh-what?" the boy asked nervously as he turned to face his father's nemesis.
"Come with me," Harry nodded to the door.
The clearly frightened first-year tagged along behind the ghost as the two climbed the stairs to the first floor. "In here," Harry opened a classroom door. It was the History of Magic classroom where Binns taught. He was currently absent.
"As you're probably aware," Harry began, "your father and I have a long history of animosity. If you wish to continue your father's vendetta, be my guest. If you'd prefer to remain neutral in our feud, now is the time to declare your neutrality."
"It's Malfoy family honor!" Scorpius replied fiercely.
"Draw your wand and curse me," Harry offered, spreading his arms wide. "I'll not retaliate in any way. Go on..."
"Locomotor Mortis!" the young Malfoy drew his wand and sent off a leg-locker jinx. It passed straight through the ghost.
"Come on," Harry encouraged. "You can do better than that! I'm sure your father has taught you to cast stunners."
"Stupefy!" Scorpius sent off the curse but it, likewise, went right through its target.
"Now," Harry addressed the boy, "you can see what your wand does to me. I hope that you also witnessed what I did to Philby." The boy nodded nervously. "With that in mind, shall we be enemies?" Harry asked.
"N-no?" the young Malfoy replied.
"You ask it as a question. Are you not sure?"
"No!" Scorpius repeated, more forcefully this time.
"Good!" Harry smiled. "I will honor our truce on one condition: that you never let your parents find out that it exists. Are we agreed?"
The young Malfoy frowned as he considered the ghost's terms. "I suppose so," he finally allowed.
"I'll need a definite yes or no on that. Are we agreed?" Harry repeated.
"Yes," Scorpius frowned at being pinned down so thoroughly. His father would be disappointed if he learned that Potter's ghost had gotten the better of him. But then again, his father need never know...
"Good!" Harry smiled once more. "Now run along and keep out of trouble."
"What did Lord Potter want?" his fellow first-years demanded when Scorpius re-entered the Slytherin common room.
"He tried to intimidate me, of course!" the blonde boy replied. "I told him that a Malfoy will never be afraid of a Potter!"
"Wow!" was muttered by several of the Slytherins.
Scorpius stood just a little taller as he straightened his green-trimmed robes and smirked at how easily he could manipulate the minds of the masses.
Christmas break was upon them at last. The students were all queued up in the Entrance Hall, Mister Filch checking off their names as they left to board the horseless carriages that would carry them to Hogsmeade and the waiting Hogwarts Express.
Not all of the students were leaving the castle, of course. Harry and Hermione stood amidst the professors and the stay-behinds who were waving goodbye to their friends. Harry and Hermione were waving, too, but to their children. James and Albus were much too cool to show any emotion, but little Rose darted out of line to give her mother one last hug.
"Merry Christmas, Mum," she sniffed into her mother's shoulder. "I'll miss you."
"Eat some extra Christmas goose for me," Hermione teased as she hugged her daughter comfortingly.
"Merry Christmas, Uncle Harry," Rose gave her favorite uncle - and now step-dad - a big hug before she took her place in the queue once again.
The two golden ghosts waited until the last of the carriages had departed and the rest of the students were being escorted back to the Great Hall by their professors.
"Ready?" Harry smiled to Hermione.
"Ready!" she replied, becoming invisible to everyone except the other ghosts.
The pair floated as far as Hogwarts' gates but then they bumped into an unseen barrier.
"The wards!" Hermione gasped, panicked. "We can't get through the castle's wards, Harry! I hadn't counted on that! Rose was right! We're trapped here! Forever!"
"Come on!" He grabbed her hand and pulled her in the direction of the Whomping Willow. Pushing at the knot on the root with his will, Harry stilled the tree's branches long enough for them to dive into the concealed hole. Fifteen minutes later they emerged, still invisible, from the trapdoor in the basement of the Shrieking Shack.
"Whew!" Harry sighed in relief.
"What made you think of that?" Hermione demanded.
"My awesomely brilliant cleverness!" Harry beamed.
"Prat!" she swatted his arm - quite a bit harder than she'd intended.
"Neener-neener! Didn't hurt!" Harry laughed, dancing in a circle around her and taunting.
"Come on, you!" Hermione rolled her eyes and grabbed her best friend's hand. "We have to get to the station before the Hogwarts Express pulls out! Otherwise we'll have to walk to London!"
End of Part One.
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