In Pieces

O..1..O

 

 

Harry’s return to Hogwarts was quiet and anti-climactic, just as he preferred.  He unpacked his trunk and looked around the room that was to be his new home.  It was cosy and warm with a blazing fire illuminating the dark wood and rich fabrics.  Most of the colours were Gryffindor red, making him feel that he had, once again, come home.

 

He touched the bed curtains and sank down onto the mattress before giving it an experimental bounce.  It was exactly as he liked it—the magic of Hogwarts was as strong as ever.  With a sigh, he felt a weight lift that he hadn't realized he'd been carrying.  Despite his friends' assurances, Harry had not been certain that leaving Auror training to become the DADA instructor at Hogwarts was the best decision, but being in the comforting, familiar surroundings of the school made it seem right.

 

Ron strolled into the room and dropped a satchel on the floor as he looked around and nodded.  "Nice quarters, mate.  Now I know why Snape wanted the job so bad."  Ron sprawled in an upholstered chair and wiped the back of his hand across his brow.

 

"Yeah, much better than the dungeons."  Harry grinned at him.  "You look terrible.  You carried one satchel up two flights of stairs.  Hard workout, that."

 

Ron flipped him an obscene gesture.  "I was dodging spells all day yesterday!  I'm knackered."

 

Harry's grin faded.  Ron was still training to be an Auror.  Harry wasn't sure if Ron resented Harry for dropping out, or was pleased that he had done so.  Probably a bit of both.  Ron had tried to talk him out of it, of course, but Harry had not enjoyed Auror training at all.  Abandoning it still felt like a relief.  Secretly, he hoped it would give Ron a chance to shine on his own and stop lingering in the shadow of Harry's fame, whether real or imagined. 

 

They had missed the Sorting Ceremony—mainly because Harry had not wanted the attention—and it was getting late.  "You hungry?" Harry asked.  "Up for a trip to the kitchens?"

 

"You're staff now.  Don't you just have to snap your fingers and ask for food?"

 

"Where's the fun in that?"

 

Ron snorted a laugh.  "I wonder if teachers can get expelled?"

 

"No, just fired.  Come on; let's see if they have treacle tart."  He pulled Ron to his feet and they set out for the kitchens.

 

O….O

 

Once Ron had left the school and Harry had assured McGonagall he was settled and ready for classes the next morning, he crawled into bed with a thick book Hermione had given him as congratulations on his new position.  He was actually looking forward to reading it, since it was fiction and he'd had little time to do anything as relaxing as reading a book in a very long while.

 

He was barely four pages into the volume when a shocked-sounding "Potter?" rang through his room.  He jerked his head up, not having heard the door open.  The reason was instantly obvious—his visitor was a ghost.  And not just any ghost.

 

"Malfoy?"

 

They stared at each other wordlessly.  Harry remembered hearing the news about Draco Malfoy's death, not long after the battle of Hogwarts.  Harry had sent a sympathy card to Narcissa Malfoy and remembered feeling a pang of regret.  Narcissa Malfoy had betrayed Voldemort in order to reach her son; Harry had saved his life twice, and for what?  Malfoy had survived the war to be snuffed out just when the danger seemed to be past.  It seemed a senseless waste, even though Harry had had little hope of Malfoy ever turning into a model citizen.  Now he could not even remember the details of Malfoy's death.  He had been busy with Auror exams at the time, and it had happened two… maybe three years ago?

 

"What are you doing here?" Malfoy asked, gliding forward.

 

Harry pursed his lips.  Draco Malfoy as a human being had been difficult enough; Harry had never anticipated dealing with him as a ghost.

 

"Considering I am in the quarters of the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, I would think that would be obvious."

 

Malfoy glared malevolently.  "What happened to Fairwood?"

 

Harry shrugged.  "Moved to the Continent."  Fairwood had lasted three years as Hogwarts DADA professor, proving that the curse on the position had died with Voldemort.

 

"I thought you would end up an Elite Auror and Minister for Magic," Malfoy said and Harry noted that the sneering tone had not changed at all.

 

"You thought wrong," Harry replied, hoping his antagonistic words would persuade Malfoy to leave.

 

Malfoy's face ricked into a nasty grin.  His features were plainly visible, if amorphous.  "They boot you out?"

 

"No, they did not boot me out.  Isn't there someone else you can haunt?"  As soon as Harry asked the question, he wished he hadn't.

 

Malfoy threw his head back and laughed.  "Actually, no, there is not.  I can't think of a single person I would rather haunt other than you, Potter."  Malfoy strode across the room, looking thoughtful, and Harry cocked his head in puzzlement, wondering why Malfoy did not just glide.  It seemed to take extra effort to move his legs in a semblance of walking, especially when his feet did not quite touch the floor. Malfoy continued, "So many possibilities…"

 

Harry's eyes narrowed when Malfoy turned and snapped his fingers, although the gesture made no sound.  "I've got it!"  He turned and "walked" to the chair nearest the bed and rose into the air before settling into it in a cross-legged pose.  Affecting a serious mien, Malfoy said, "Abas.  Also known as the guava tree, the leaves and bark are effective against dysentery, vomiting, and nausea.  Finely ground it is a useful remedy for vertigo.  Young leaves are also used as a preventative for bleeding gums and is a little-known ingredient in Droobles Best Blowing Gum for that very reason.  It is also a prime component of Hangover Potions and is quite useful in toning up the vaginal walls after childbirth."

 

Harry stared at him in horror.

 

Malfoy smirked and went on.  "Abas flowers are used in the treatment of conjunctivitis, eye injuries, and sun-strain.  The fruit is edible, of course, but the seeds are a useful element in pain unctions and poultices against haemorrhaging."

 

"What are you doing?" Harry demanded.

 

"Don't interrupt, Potter.  You might learn something.  The unripe fruits, of course, are used to arrest gastroenteritis, dysentery and diarrhoea owing to their astringent features."

 

"No, what are you doing?"

 

Malfoy rolled his eyes.  "I am listing every potion ingredient I know, of course.  A well-rounded education is useful for every member of the Hogwarts' staff.  Your knowledge of potions is abysmal, as I recall, so I am simply trying to help you."

 

Harry glared.  "Are you?  Can't you help me in the daytime?"

 

Malfoy's stare was merciless.  "Certainly not.  Now, where was I?  Oh yes, an infusion prepared with abas leaves may treat cerebral disorders, cachexia and nephritis.  I'm sure you know what those are, don't you, Potter?  Since you are so smart, and all.  I am positive you know that an extract of guava leaves can assist in treating certain epilepsies and chorea."

 

Malfoy droned on even when the book Harry threw plunged through his midsection to land harmlessly on the seat of the chair.  Malfoy only gave him a withering look and spoke louder.

 

Silencing Spells had no effect, nor did any of a number of hexes and charms Harry tried.  Malfoy simply moved to the bed and sprawled at the foot of it with his arms crossed behind his head as he floated a couple of inches above the blankets.  Despite the pillow clamped to Harry's head, it was long into the night before he fell asleep to the sound of Malfoy's voice endlessly listing the properties of aluka and alumroot.

 

O..2..O

 

Harry learned a lot about ghosts during his first day as the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.  For one thing, they don't sleep.  When Harry awoke, Malfoy was still on "A" potion ingredients, causing Harry to cringe at the thought of the twenty-five letters remaining.

 

For another, closed doors meant nothing to ghosts.  Harry discovered that fact when he stumbled out of bed and made his way to the loo to relieve his bladder.  He was only dimly aware that Malfoy's irritating voice had ceased before he heard it say, "Well, at least the stories about that were true."

 

He nearly jumped out of his skin, instantly energized with adrenaline, and he yanked his pyjama pants back up and glared at the ghost.  "Fuck off and get out of my bathroom!" he shouted.  Malfoy smirked and shrugged before drifting back through the door.  Harry waited for a few minutes to make sure he wouldn't reappear before taking his prick out again and coaxing his traumatized bladder into releasing the last few painful drops.  Sodding bloody Slytherin bastard ghost.  He planned to go straight to McGonagall to complain as soon as he dressed.

 

Unfortunately, Malfoy was still lurking in his room when he returned.  He opened his wardrobe and pulled out a shirt.  Despite his awareness that if he didn't speak to the prat, the better his chances of Malfoy getting bored and going away, Harry found himself asking, "What stories?"

 

Malfoy examined his nails… or what used to pass for nails before they became intangible, Harry supposed.  "Wouldn't you like to know?" Malfoy replied cagily.

 

Harry pulled at his hair and then shrugged into his shirt.

 

"No shower?" Malfoy asked.

 

"I hate you so much," Harry said.  "I hated you as a person and I hate you twice as much as a ghost."

 

"Good.  Let's go to breakfast, shall we?"  Malfoy sounded perfectly chipper and bright.  Harry vowed to read every book in existence in order to find a way to destroy him.

 

O….O

 

Four bracing cups of tea and a bacon/toast sandwich partially revived Harry, although he still found himself yawning frequently in his place at the teacher's table.

 

Headmistress McGonagall asked, "Were your accommodations not to your liking, Harry?"

 

"They were fine," Harry assured her.  "It was the company I had trouble with."

 

She threw him a disapproving look.  "Mr Potter, need I remind you that this is a school?  You should exercise discretion—"

 

"Not that sort of company!" Harry hissed, mortified.

 

Madam Hooch, seated next to him, nearly choked on her juice and started to giggle.  Harry opened his mouth to explain, but McGonagall stood up to read the morning announcements and then recited instructions to the students regarding their first classes.  Harry sighed and sipped his tea, realizing it was going to be a long day.

 

He found out how long during his second class.  Harry had a fairly simple curriculum lined up for his First-year students, consisting of defensive spells such as Lumos, Flippendo, and a Water-to-Ice Charm.  The young students were somewhat in awe of him and he found himself immensely enjoying the way their eyes lit up when they first cast an effective spell.

 

I am definitely in the right place, he thought with a sense of satisfaction.

 

His satisfaction was shattered an hour later when the Fifth-year group filed into the room.  They consisted of Slytherins and Gryffindors, looking quite grown up and rather sullen.  They chattered loudly amongst themselves until Harry had to bang on the desk with his hand to get their attention.

 

"Good Morning, students," Harry called once each pair of eyes had fixed on him.  "My name is Professor Potter."

 

"Or Professor Prat," came a very-unwanted voice from behind Harry.  The students snickered and Harry closed his eyes for a moment before turning to confront the ghost that seemed to sit casually on the top of his low bookshelf.

 

"Mister Malfoy," Harry said in the calmest tone he could manage, "I would appreciate it if you would not disrupt my class."

 

Malfoy rolled his eyes.  "How can I possibly disrupt your class?  I'm not even corporeal.  See?"  Malfoy passed his hand straight through the antique globe that showed locations of wizarding settlements in the 1700s.

 

Harry glared at him and turned his back, determined to ignore the git.  "Now then, class, how many of you have cast a successful Patronus Charm?"

 

A couple of hands reluctantly went up.  Harry grinned.  "Excellent.  Would you please stand up, Ms…"  Harry consulted his roster.

 

"Persah," Malfoy intoned behind him.  "Persephone Persah.  Another Gryffindor know-it-all.  You should adore her, Potter.  Twenty points to Gryffindor for successfully standing up, Persy!"

 

The Slytherin students snickered and Persephone glared at Malfoy.  "You shut up!  You shouldn't even be in here!"

 

"Shut it, Malfoy," Harry growled.  "Ms Persah, can you please try to show us a Patronus Charm?  Remember to concentrate on a happy memory."

 

"Think about moonbeams and unicorns, Persy," Malfoy chided.  Several students laughed.

 

Persephone's face tightened in determination and she lifted her wand.  "Expecto Patronum!" she said loudly.  A burst of white sparked from the tip of her wand and fizzled.

 

Malfoy made a derisive noise.  "Not enough unicorns, Persy," he said.

 

Harry rounded on him angrily.

 

"Perhaps you should think of Eric Thames, Persy!" one girl called.

 

Several more students laughed.  "That's not funny, Becky!" Persephone cried.

 

"Eric and Persy sitting in a tree!"  The chanted song was quickly picked up by others.

 

"That is quite enough!" Harry shouted.  He lifted his wand and sent a crackling shower of sparks singing across the ceiling.  The silence was instantaneous.

 

A dry voice broke across it.  "Very impressive, Potter.  Are you going to teach them the Cruciatus next?"

 

Harry snarled and turned on Malfoy with a shouted, "Expecto Patronum!"  The stag exploded from Harry's wand and tore through Malfoy's shimmering form, ripping it to shreds.  The white glimmers dissipated slowly and Harry stared at the empty spot for a moment before turning to face the shocked visages of his students.  "Now, as I was saying…"

 

He continued doggedly with the lesson, ignoring the whispers and the fearful looks.  Bloody hell, how had he allowed Malfoy to push him into uncontrollable rage on the first day?  Minerva was going to kill him.  While the students practiced their Patronus Charms, Harry glanced at the place on the bookshelf where Malfoy had last been.  Was he gone for good?  Could a Patronus destroy a ghost?

 

It did not sit well with Harry that he had lashed out twice at Malfoy without knowing the consequences of his actions.  Despite the fact that Malfoy was already dead, Harry should have known better.

 

Of course the incident was all over school by lunchtime.  Harry dutifully made his way to the Headmistress' office without being asked.  She gave him a disapproving stare.

 

"I'm really sorry, but he was in my room all night reciting potion ingredients and when he started disrupting my class…"  Harry snapped his jaw shut, realizing he sounded like a whinging student.

 

"Harry, I realize your animosity with Draco extends back to your shared childhood experiences, but you must remember that he is a ghost now and cannot actually harm you."

 

Harry scowled, wanting to protest that Malfoy had been making him look like a laughingstock in front of the students, who would have lost all respect for him if he hadn't done something.  Still, his reaction might have been excessive.  "Do you know if…?  Well, do you think the Patronus destroyed him for good?"

 

Minerva sighed.  "I do not know.  If a Patronus Charm has ever been cast at a ghost, I am not aware of it, although the library should contain mention of any documented incidences.  Perhaps you should research it.  I do hope, for your sake, that Draco was not destroyed, or you might have more company in your room than a single ghost."

 

Harry gave her a puzzled look and she smiled grimly.

 

"You might find yourself entertaining all of the Hogwarts ghosts."

 

Harry blanched, but knew she was right.  Malfoy was one of them now, and they would probably not take kindly to him destroying one of their number.

 

"No more casting Patronus Charms on the resident ghosts, all right?" Minerva asked.

 

Harry quickly agreed. 

 

He avoided everything ghostlike that afternoon and spent his non-class time in the library, but found no mention of the effects of a Patronus on a ghost.

 

When he finally climbed into bed that night, he reflected that his first day teaching had not gone at all as expected.

 

O..3..O

 

"You absolute prick!"  The shouted words brought Harry straight to gasping wakefulness and he sat up, reaching for his wand.  An icy chill brushed across his cheek and he reached up to touch it.  His hand dragged through the same cold sensation and then a blur of motion came into vague focus.

 

"Malfoy?" Harry asked, realizing he must have touched Malfoy's ghostly form.

 

"Do you know how unpleasant that was?" Malfoy snarled.  "Do you have any idea how difficult it was to regain this form?  If I could hold a wand, I would… I would…"

 

"Good job you can't hold a wand, then," Harry said dryly and reached for his glasses.  He slid them up his nose and Malfoy came into focus, looking none the worse for wear.  Harry cocked his head.  "Your hair is different."

 

"…floating around the castle in hundreds of miniscule bits…  what?"  Malfoy ceased his angry speech and reached up to touch his head with a pale hand.  "What do you mean my hair is different?"  With a swoosh of air, Malfoy was gone, straight through the closed bathroom door.

 

He returned a moment later.  "My hair is exactly the same, you complete twit.  If you're trying to get rid of me, you're barking mad, because—"

 

"I mean it's different than it was before…"  Harry waved his hand.  "When we were here.  As students."

 

For the first time, Harry seemed to have silenced the brat.

 

"Oh," Malfoy said at last.  "Well, I changed it after I left Hogwarts.  I was on my own for a year before…"  He grimaced and Harry filled in the blanks.  Before I died.  The memory seemed to bring back Malfoy's simmering rage and he turned his glare on Harry.  "Now.  Where was I?  Oh yes, I believe it was Artemesia."  Malfoy turned and floated into the chair again before his voice rose to strident levels.  "Artemesia is also known as wormwood.  It is frequently steeped and made into a tea or a tincture…"

 

Harry groaned and fell back onto his pillows.  It was going to be a long night.

 

O….O

 

"Don't you ever get tired?" Harry asked roughly, awakening from a doze to find Malfoy prattling on about basil.  Ironically, one of its uses was an agent against insomnia.  Harry was too exhausted to find it even vaguely amusing.

 

"No, Potter, I do not get tired.  I do not get thirsty or hungry or sleepy.  I do not get itchy feet or an upset stomach.  I do not feel hot or cold or wet or dry or fucking anything at all!  I am dead!"

 

Harry closed his eyes.  Malfoy was blurry in the darkness, anyway.  "Well, apparently you can still feel anger."

 

There was silence for a moment and then Malfoy muttered, "Yeah, that never goes away."

 

Harry frowned.  From what he knew of ghosts, it wasn't always anger that kept them around, but often remorse.  That and fear of death.  What had Nearly-Headless Nick told him so long ago?  Something about certain people being too frightened of what lay beyond to move on properly, choosing to cling to what they knew, trying to hold onto the life they once had?  Why would Malfoy fear death?  Did he think Voldemort awaited him beyond the veil?  Or was it something else?

 

As Malfoy launched into the uses of basil in treating migraines and whooping cough, Harry decided now was not the time to ask.  He rolled over and put the pillow back over his head, trying to tune out the annoying voice.

 

Despite his promise to Minerva, he was strongly tempted to throw another Patronus at Malfoy, if only to achieve a few precious hours of quiet.

 

Sometime later his alarm penetrated the fog that had become his mind and he staggered out of bed, cursing Malfoy and the universe.  "Stay the fuck there, you complete sodding bastard," Harry growled and headed for the bathroom, bypassing Malfoy, who merely gave him a wink and leaned back in the chair as if he wouldn't go completely through it if he kept leaning.

 

Harry muttered invectives and kept his eye on the door, but Malfoy seemed content to have ruined his sleep for the second night in a row.  Harry shed his pyjamas and turned on the shower.

 

The hot water helped to revive him and he sighed in contentment.  He had just shampooed his hair and turned around to rinse the suds out when he saw Malfoy lounging against the shower wall, watching him with a wide grin.

 

Harry yelped and spun around.  The water poured over his head, sending soap into his eyes.  "Malfoy!  What the hell?  GET OUT!"

 

"Just enjoying the show, Potter," said Malfoy's lazy drawl.

 

"Me, too!"  The voice was young and full of amused glee.

 

Harry shrieked and scrubbed furiously at his hair, wanting nothing more than to escape the suddenly-crowded shower.

 

"Myrtle!" Malfoy yelled.  "Go away!"

 

"You're no fun," she protested, but then she screamed and Harry felt something cold brush his side.  Squinting through stinging eyes, he saw Malfoy reach for Myrtle, but she dove down the drain and disappeared.

 

"Fuck this," Harry snarled and slammed his hand against the faucet before tearing aside the curtain and stumbling for a fleece.  He blotted his eyes and turned to snarl at Malfoy, but the ghost was gone.

 

After a soothing eyewash, Harry towel-dried his hair and then wrapped the fleece around his waist.  He entered the bedroom fully prepared to snatch his wand and send Malfoy back to the land of particles, but the pest was nowhere to be found.

 

In a black mood, Harry dressed and went to the Great Hall for breakfast, cursing every ghost of the wizarding world and one in particular.

 

O….O

 

Harry did not see Malfoy again until his second class.  He supposed he should have been grateful that Malfoy was sparing the younger children his obnoxious behaviour, but the older students were far too amused by Malfoy's antics.

 

This time Malfoy chose to hover next to Harry's right shoulder and loudly sing bathing songs while Harry tried vainly to ignore him.

 

"That's right, Regina, strike a bit more sharply with your wand—you've got to mean it, like any other spell."

 

"Wooden duckies, floating on the water

Wooden duckies, splash splash splash!"

 

"And don't forget to hold your happiest memory in your thoughts.  I know it's difficult, particularly when there are annoying distractions."

 

"Wooden duckies floating on the water

Wooden duckies, quack quack quack!"

 

Harry's teeth clenched so tightly he thought it might be impossible to speak without lapsing into Parseltongue.  Unfortunately, that language had deserted him with Voldemort's demise, so it would be a pithy substitute.

 

Several students took up Malfoy's rhyming songs and many others were giggling so much that spellwork of any sort was impossible.  Only one student had managed a partial Patronus and his countenance was so severe that he reminded Harry of a miniature Snape.

 

"Very good, Gerald.  I could nearly see the shape your Patronus would take that time.  Do keep on."

 

"I'm rather surprised yours is a stag, Potter," Malfoy commented, leaving off singing in order to comment.

 

Harry ground his teeth.  He preferred to ignore the ghost, but engaging in conversation was far less distracting for the students than listening to toddler songs.  "Why is that, Malfoy?" he asked quietly.

 

Malfoy shrugged.  Harry caught the movement from the corner of his eye.  "I don't know.  It just doesn't seem very you.  I would expect something flashier, like the Gryffindor lion or an erumpent."

 

Harry rolled his eyes.  "How little you know me, Malfoy.  What's yours?"

 

Malfoy made a huffing sound.  "I wouldn't know, would I?  There wasn't much call for casting a Patronus in the service of the Dark Lord, now was there?  We had other means of communication."  Malfoy's left arm twitched and Harry nodded.

 

"Pity.  I would like to have known what it was."

 

"Why?  Hoping it was laughable?"

 

Harry made a noncommittal sound.  "Knowing you, I doubt it would be laughable."

 

Malfoy seemed uncertain whether or not to take the statement as an insult, so he satisfied himself by launching into another song involving suds.  Harry shook his head and sighed.  His headache was growing.

 

O….O

 

"He has to be stopped!  Isn't there some way to… I don't know… contain him?" Harry demanded.

 

Minerva watched him with a sober expression.  "Have you tried speaking with him?"

 

"Speaking?  I can barely get a word in edgewise with all the singing and the reciting of potion ingredients and the—do you know he was in my shower this morning?  In my shower!"  Harry knew his voice was strident and he probably looked a complete mess, but he was tired and frazzled and it was only his second day at Hogwarts.

 

Thankfully, the Headmistress' office seemed to be the one place safe from the nebulous git.

 

"Really, Harry, if you ignore him he'll just get bored and go away."

 

He gave her a sardonic look.  "Great theory, but Malfoy is a ghost.  It might take centuries before he gets bored."

 

She picked up a murky globe from a crystal stand on her desk and examined it with a frown.  "Well, perhaps it would behove you to assist Malfoy in moving on."

 

"Moving on?  What do you mean?"

 

"Obviously there is some reason that Draco became a ghost.  Perhaps you should determine what that is and assist him in resolving it.  That way, he will release his hold on this life and move on to whatever awaits him."

 

Harry frowned.  Was it possible to "help" a ghost to move on?  Had it ever been done?  He sighed, sensing more research in his future, although a trip to Hermione would probably save time and give him a place to start.

 

"How did he die?" Harry asked.

 

"Perhaps you should ask him."

 

Harry scowled, but her words, followed by a pointed look and judicious paper-shuffling, had been a dismissal.  He went out.

 

Malfoy awaited him in the hallway, looking slightly too-human from his casual slouch against the wall.  "Complain about me?" he asked.

 

"Don't flatter yourself," Harry snapped, even though he flushed at the lie.

 

"She can't do a thing about me, can she?  Told you to figure it out for yourself?"

 

"I'm not the first person you've haunted, am I?" Harry asked dryly as Malfoy fell into step beside him.

 

"I knew you were complaining about me," Malfoy replied smugly.

 

"Why do you do that?" Harry asked, gesturing to Malfoy's pretend walk.  "Why not just…"  He made a floating motion with his hands.

 

"Because I don't want to," Malfoy snapped.  When they reached the stairs, Malfoy made a sighing sound and said, "I do miss this, though."  He sat on the railing and glided down while Harry took the steps.  Sliding on the stair-rails was forbidden, but the students did it whenever possible.  They all knew there were permanent Cushioning Charms at the bottom to prevent injury whenever someone fell off.

 

Malfoy reached the newel post at the bottom and went right through it before turning and continuing his pseudo-slide down the next level.  He moved much slower than a true slide, keeping abreast of Harry.

 

"How did you die?" Harry blurted.

 

Malfoy's stare seemed just as intense as it had when he was alive.  "Why am I not surprised that you do not know?"  With that, he sank through the railing, and then the steps, and disappeared.

 

"If I'd known that was all it took to get rid of you," Harry muttered, "I would have asked two nights ago."

 

Still, he felt a bit guilty for not knowing.

 

O..4..O

 

Hermione bustled around the kitchen, adding seasonings and splashes from assorted jars.  Whatever she was cooking smelled divine and Harry assumed she had been taking lessons from Molly Weasley again.  His mouth watered just thinking about it.

 

"I still can't believe Draco Malfoy is a ghost.  It seems so strange.  Set the table, will you, Harry?  Ron is running late and George isn't coming tonight, so it's just the two of us for now."

 

Harry opened the cupboard and then used his wand to spell a few plates onto the table.  "Do you remember how he died?" Harry asked.

 

"Something to do with Gregory Goyle, wasn't it?"  She licked reddish sauce from the spoon in her hand and nodded with an approving sound.  "Hot pot coming through."  She Levitated the bubbling pan over to the table and set it down upon an iron cruet.

 

Vague details returned to Harry's memory.  Gregory Goyle.  "That's right.  Malfoy was killed at Hogwarts during the renovation.  No wonder he's haunting the school; he died there."

 

"And Goyle is still in Azkaban for it.  Remorseless, that one is."  She waved Harry into a chair and Levitated utensils from a ceramic holder on the counter.

 

"Professor McGonagall—Minerva—suggested I help Malfoy move on."  Harry sat down and poured pumpkin juice from a pitcher that wept condensation from the sides.

 

She looked at him in surprise.  "Really?  Can it be done?"

 

"I was hoping you would know," Harry admitted.

 

Hermione looked thoughtful as she ladled pasta onto her plate.  "I haven't done ghost research for years.  Not since…"

 

"Not since Sirius died, yeah," Harry supplied.  "I thought you might give me an idea where to start.  I have access to the library at Hogwarts.  Can't tell you how odd it is to walk straight into the Restricted Section without feeling like I'm breaking rules."

 

Hermione laughed.  "I'll pull up my notes and see if I can give you some idea.  I know a couple of volumes offhand."

 

They ate in silence for a while and then Hermione asked, "So, what is Malfoy like?  As a ghost?"

 

Harry's brows drew down in annoyance.  "He's a bloody nightmare.  He's like Peeves in a prettier package."

 

Hermione nearly choked and took a drink of juice before grinning at him.  "You just called Malfoy a pretty package."

 

"Yes, well, thankfully he's not here to hear it.  God knows what he would do if he thought I was…"  Harry trailed off, flushing.

 

"If he thought you were attracted to men?" she finished quietly.

 

Harry nodded, looking at her and then away.

 

"Don't worry, Harry.  We've known for a while."

 

He blinked at her.  "What?  We?"

 

She made a point of spreading butter on her bread, but gave him a wink.  "Ron figured it out first."

 

Thankfully Harry had nothing in his mouth.  "Ron?"

 

"Honestly, Harry, he's not stupid.  He asked me months ago if I thought you were… that way."

 

"I know he's not!  He's just…"  Well, frankly, most of the time Ron seemed pretty emotionally clueless.  "I mean, it took him years before he figured out you even liked him, Hermione.  Years."

 

She sighed.  "I know, but that's because it involved him.  He's quicker when he's an observer and not a participant."

 

"I really don't want to hear about your sex life," Harry said and snickered.

 

"Oi!"  She tossed her half-chewed bread at him.  Harry laughed aloud and snatched it out of the air, ignoring the butter it left on his fingers.  He took a bite.

 

The sound of the Floo flared to life in the other room and then Ron entered, stripping off his robes as he did so.  He flung them across the back of a chair with a sigh and then leaned down to press a kiss to Hermione's forehead.

 

"Hey, Harry!  Hermione, what's for dinner?  I'm starved."

 

"It's in the pot, see for yourself," Hermione replied.  "How was training?"

 

"Fine."  Ron took the seat across from Harry and dragged the pot closer.

 

Something in his tone made Harry look askance at Hermione.  "Fine?" Harry prodded.

 

Ron threw him a warning look and then he forced a grin.  "Fine," he repeated.  He took a bite and made a sound of pleasure.  "Mmm, this's great, Hermione."

 

She stopped looking at him suspiciously long enough to beam with pleasure and Harry resolved to ask him what was up later.  Hermione gave Harry a look that told him to report back to her as soon as he had worked it out with Ron.  There weren't many secrets between the three of them; that was certain, even if the exchange of information was sometimes a complex process.

 

Ron asked about Hogwarts and Harry launched into several tales about how the place had changed, carefully avoiding all mention of Malfoy.  He knew Hermione would fill Ron in later.

 

The thought of Malfoy made Harry nearly groan aloud at the prospect of returning to another sleepless night filled with potion ingredients.

 

"Hey, do you mind if I kip on your couch tonight?" Harry asked.  "I'll Floo back to the school in the morning."

 

Ron's brows rose and Hermione visibly bit back several questions.  "Of course I don’t mind, Harry," she replied.

 

"I'll just head home, then," Ron said.  "I'm ready for an early night.  Up early for more defence training and then we're back in the field next week."  He sounded less than enthused and Harry suppressed a smile, remembering that he didn't miss Auror training at all.  The four-year program had periods of extreme difficulty, including field training in the most barren and inhospitable locations imaginable.

 

Harry did the washing up while Hermione and Ron went into the living room and Hermione bid Ron goodbye—a process that took a good quarter hour—and then she returned to help him put away the dishes.  She looked well-snogged.

 

Harry grinned at her.  "What do you suppose that was all about?"

 

"I'm sure he'll tell one of us later.  I know training has been hard on him.  He fell asleep Sunday in the middle of dinner."

 

"He does that a lot."

 

"We were at the Oceanic Inn."

 

"Oh.  Well, I'm sure he'll be fine.  Only a few weeks left and then he'll be certified."

 

Hermione nodded.  "You know where the blankets are.  I'll get started on your list and have it for you in a bit."

 

"Thanks.  Goodnight, Hermione."

 

"'Night, Harry."

 

O….O

 

Ron entered his flat and went straight to his bedroom, shedding clothing as he went.  He could hardly remember being so tired.  Even kissing Hermione had been a chore, and it was one of his favourite things.

 

He sprawled on his bed and realized he was still wearing his socks, but he couldn’t be arsed to remove them.  His bed felt too lovely.  He honestly wasn’t sure how he would survive the next month, when he was already this exhausted.  Sometimes he thought Harry was the smart one for getting out when he had, but then he caught the look of pride on the face of his parents or siblings when he talked about something that had happened during training, and he knew he would never drop out.  Besides, he loved it, really.

 

It was just damned exhausting.

 

His last thought before he drifted off to sleep was of Harry and Malfoy.  Hermione had mentioned that Malfoy was tormenting Harry in ghost form.  Ron wondered why their fates always seemed to be entangled.  Even in death, Harry couldn’t be rid of the blond git.  It was puzzling.

 

O….O

 

Harry had a difficult time waking up the next morning.  Somehow achieving a good night's sleep had left his body feeling even more sleep-deprived.  He pushed himself off the couch with a yawn and staggered to the bathroom where he took a thankfully ghost-free shower.

 

Once dressed in spelled-clean clothing, he returned to the living room to find a list on the tea table.  Hermione had left him an entire page of suggestions.  He rolled it into a scroll and tucked it into a pocket before tossing a handful of powder into the Floo and stepping through to Hogwarts.

 

Harry Flooed to his private quarters, which were no longer very private.  Draco Malfoy was lying atop his bed.  Or hovering atop it.  Whichever, Malfoy sat up when Harry entered, looking almost guilty for a moment.

 

"Where have you been?" Malfoy snapped.

 

Harry threw him a smug look and began to strip off his shirt.  He opened his wardrobe and pulled out a staid white button down and a Gryffindor tie.  "Somewhere that you were not," Harry replied.  "And having a grand sleep, I might add."

 

Malfoy made a snorting noise.  "Planning to do that every night, then?"

 

Harry ignored him and finished tying his tie before shrugging into his staff robes.  He was late for breakfast, but planned to swing through the kitchen before his first class.  He looked at the scroll once more.  At the bottom of the book list, Hermione had written:  Talk to Sir Nicolas.

 

Malfoy had risen from the bed and glided over to peer at the scroll, which Harry allowed to roll back into a tube before he dropped it on a nearby table.  Malfoy's eyes narrowed and Harry could practically see the curiosity burning there, but since Malfoy was intangible, he had no way to open it and read it on his own.

 

"So how is the Weaslette?" Malfoy asked suddenly with a hint of a sneer.

 

Harry gave him an amused look.  "Since when do you care about my personal life?"

 

"I don't.  I am merely making observations and I assume the only thing that could keep you out all night on a Tuesday is the lure of a shag.  Did she put out, then?"

 

Harry chuckled.  He had never known that ghosts could retain their curiosity after death.  Malfoy had always been far too nosy for his own good.

 

"I have no intention of discussing my sex life with you, Malfoy.  Not ever."

 

Malfoy made a choking noise.  "That's good, because I don't want to discuss it with you!"

 

"You're the one that brought it up," Harry pointed out, moving to the mirror to try and adjust his tie.

 

"I did not," Malfoy replied.

 

Harry rolled his eyes at the lie and tried to get the crease out of the centre of the knot—why did that always happen?

 

"You are crap at that," Malfoy commented with a snicker.

 

"You don’t need to point out the obvious," Harry said and gave up on the tie.  He tucked his wand into a robe pocket and headed out.  Of course, Malfoy followed.  Harry descended the stairs at a quick clip and Malfoy did not bother with the railing trick this time, he simply glided behind Harry like a pale shadow.

 

When they reached the third floor, Malfoy vanished, sliding through a nearby wall almost quicker than thought.  Harry was puzzled until he saw the Fat Friar, Hufflepuff's ghost, floating near the third floor gallery.

 

"Hello," Harry said and then felt a moment of chagrin because he couldn't remember the Fat Friar's name.

 

"Good morning, Harry!" the friar said jovially.  "A lovely day, isn't it?"

 

Harry nodded.  "Indeed.  Can you tell me where I might find Nearly Head—I mean Sir Nicolas?"

 

"Of course, my boy.  When he's not in the Great Hall greeting the newcomers, he is usually patrolling the battlements between the keep and Ravenclaw Tower.  It offers an exquisite view in the morning."

 

"Thank you, um… Friar."

 

"Glad to be of assistance, Harry.  Have a fabulous day."

 

Harry departed and was not surprised when Malfoy joined him on the second floor.  "You don't like the Fat Friar?" Harry asked with a smirk.

 

Malfoy shrugged.  "Not particularly."

 

"Why not?  He always seems so cheerful."

 

"Shut up, Potter," Malfoy muttered.

 

Harry glanced at him, but shrugged off his questions.  His goal was to be rid of Malfoy, not figure out his personal ghostly oddities.  When Harry reached the ground floor and tickled the pear to gain access to the kitchens, Malfoy hesitated, but eventually phased through the opening and lurked near Harry.

 

"Why aren't you eating in the Great Hall?" Malfoy asked.

 

"I don't feel like it," Harry replied and took a plate from one house-elf and a great handful of bacon from another.  A small table rested in a corner and Harry sat down as toast and marmalade appeared, along with tea and juice.

 

Malfoy gravitated away, lurking in a far corner while Harry ate.  He remembered Sir Nick remarking on missing the taste of food.  Malfoy probably hated watching people eat.  Harry made certain to exclaim loudly over the flavour of the food and make appropriate sounds of pleasure.

 

Malfoy's scowl was black by the time Harry finished and got to his feet.  The ghost trailed behind as Harry left the kitchens and headed back up the stairs.  "Food is brilliant," Harry commented.  "I'll bet you miss it terribly."

 

"Not really," Malfoy replied.  "I don't have to worry about indigestion, food poisoning, or weight gain.  Those strawberries you ate looked a bit off.  You'll likely regret those."

 

"You hope," Harry said with a laugh.

 

Malfoy only sniffed.  "Where are you going?"

 

"You'll see."

 

It was a beautiful September morning, clear with only a hint of forthcoming winter in the air.  The view across the grounds was, as the friar had said, exquisite.  Harry breathed deeply of the air and bid a good morning to a pair of Seventh-year girls dressed in Muggle athletic-wear, jogging.

 

"Muggleborns," Malfoy muttered after they had passed.

 

Harry ignored him, spotting Nick, who floated near the covered archway that led to Ravenclaw Tower.  He raised his hand and waved.

 

"Sir Nicolas!  Good morning!"

 

Malfoy stopped immediately and then drifted backwards.  Harry left him behind and approached Nearly-Headless Nick.

 

“Harry Potter!  A very good morning to you!”

 

"It is a good morning, so far," Harry admitted and lowered his voice so that Malfoy could not hear.  "Actually, I need your advice."

 

Sir Nick blinked at him in surprise.  "My advice?  Well, of course, Harry.  I will be glad to give you any such benefit of my wisdom as I am able.  What seems to be the problem?"

 

"Well, it's about Malfoy."

 

Sir Nick's gaze snapped to Malfoy and back before a wrinkle marred his brow.  "You need advice regarding Mr Malfoy?"

 

Harry nodded.  "Yes, you see, Malfoy and I have something of a history.  We disliked each other intensely when… well, when he was alive, and he seems to have taken that animosity with him into his ghostly state."

 

Sir Nick pursed his lips.  "Indeed, that frequently happens.  Why, when I died I still very much disliked Sir Arturo Pendergrass.  He was a pompous jackanape and took great joy in bringing misery to my very existence.  I was quite cheered when he developed incurable boils later in—"

 

Harry coughed.  "Um… I hate to interrupt, but…"

 

"Of course, Harry.  This is not about me.  What do you want to know?"

 

Harry stepped closer and lowered his voice even more.  "Since Malfoy still hates me, he has made a habit of disrupting my sleep schedule and my classes.  It's almost like having Peeves in class, except that I know how to deal with Peeves.  Malfoy, I do not.  I was just wondering if you had any ideas…?  Um, also, I was wondering…"  Harry frowned.  He supposed it would be a faux pas to ask a ghost how to go about assisting another ghost into moving on.  "I was just wondering why Malfoy doesn't seem to like the rest of you."

 

Sir Nick smiled softly.  "That is easily explained, Harry.  Malfoy is newly dead.  It will take years before he can truly accept that he is one of us.  Right now our methods and habits are strange to him and he is more familiar with the ways of the living.  It is difficult for him to accept that he is a ghost and he will prefer not to linger near us, lest it remind him of what he has lost.  It is quite sad.  I have made overtures, of course, but I have, thus far, been rebuffed."  Harry glanced at Malfoy, who looked suddenly very lonely hovering by himself and pretending to look out over the vista.  "Also, I believe Mr Malfoy harbours feelings of guilt for certain actions he committed during his attendance here at Hogwarts.  No doubt he feels that we will judge him for his living actions and, indeed, some will."

 

Harry sighed, feeling even more confused than he had when he'd sought out Sir Nick.  He had hoped for an easy answer to his issues with Malfoy.

 

"He does seem to get on well with Myrtle," Sir Nick added.  "It is a comfort, since she has very few friends, even amongst us ghosts."

 

Remembering the shower incident, Harry's jaw clenched.  There's a surprise, he thought sarcastically.  Myrtle was confined to Hogwarts, Harry recalled, after she had haunted the girl she blamed for events leading to her death, and the girl had subsequently complained to the Ministry.  Harry knew he could do the same in regards to Malfoy, but he would feel idiotic running to the Ministry for help with a ghost.  "Yes, I defeated Voldemort, but this ghostly teenager is too much for me."   The press would have a glorious time with that story.  No, Harry had to deal with Malfoy on his own.

 

"Is there any way you can think of to keep him from disrupting my classes?  I can deal with him wrecking my sleep, I suppose, but I cannot allow him to destroy my students' ability to learn.  Is there some sort of ghost repellent, or something?"

 

Nick gave him an affronted look.  "Harry!  We are not insects or pixies!"

 

"I'm sorry!" Harry said quickly.  "I didn't mean you or… or the others.  Just him."

 

Sir Nicolas relented.  "Very well, since Mr Malfoy does not seem ready to associate with the rest of us, perhaps it would be enough for one of us to sit in on your classes?"

 

Harry was immediately cheered.  "Would you?"

 

Sir Nick patted him on the head, leaving him with a disturbing case of brain freeze.  "Of course, Harry."

 

Grinning, Harry gave him a quick rundown of his class schedule and then departed.  He would have just enough time to prepare a lesson plan before his first class.

 

"What was that all about?" Malfoy asked suspiciously as he fell into place beside Harry.

 

"Nothing," Harry sang with a smirk.

 

For once, Malfoy was quiet as they made their way to the DADA classroom.

 

O..5..O

 

Harry practically hummed through his first lesson, which was made up of Third-year students this time, a mixture of Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs.  The blue-clad students picked up Trip-Jinxes quickly and the Hufflepuffs tried very hard.  Persistence was a little-acknowledged Hufflepuff trait and by the end of the lesson even the ones with difficulty remembering the spell mechanics were happily sending their neighbours sprawling to the cushioned floor.

 

Malfoy watched from his perch atop the bookcase, silent, as his strange code of ethics seemed to have an age-limit in regards to harassing Harry.  Nearly-Headless Nick popped his head through the door once, but Harry gave him an all-clear gesture.

 

Harry graded the students based on notes he had taken during class.  Malfoy broke his silence and prattled on about Harry's wretched fashion sense and inability to tie a tie.  Harry managed to ignore him to the point where Malfoy began to make things up, such as wagering that Harry had only four pairs of matching socks in good condition and the rest were mismatched or full of holes.

 

Harry bit the inside of his cheek to keep from commenting.  In truth, he had six pairs of perfectly decent socks and only two mismatched sets, for which he was certain the matches existed somewhere buried in his trunk, and a single pair with holes (and those were his favourites).

 

He did not mention any of that to Malfoy, however, since his silence apparently annoyed the ghost more than any arguing Harry could have done.

 

After his first class, Harry had free time, so he went to watch Madam Hooch try and teach a group of First-years to fly.  Harry watched from the shadow of an open gallery so as not to make the children nervous.  Malfoy hovered near him and snorted with laughter when one lad sat on his broom and immediately swung upside down.  His head dangled a handspan from the grass.

 

Harry shook his head.  "It seems like we were just out there, having our first lesson."

 

"During which you proved yourself to be the 'youngest Seeker in a century'."  Malfoy's voice was high-pitched and mocking.

 

"And you proved yourself to be a complete prat by stealing Neville's Remembrall."

 

"You should thank me.  If I hadn't, they never would have discovered your stunning prowess."

 

"Thank you, Malfoy, for being a git and allowing me to play Quidditch my first year."  Harry's voice gushed insincerity.

 

Malfoy appeared not to notice.  "You are welcome."

 

Harry rolled his eyes.  "Oh look!  She's quite good!"

 

Malfoy made a concurring sound.  "Hufflepuff.  I suppose some of them are good at some things."

 

"The Hufflepuff team took the House Cup last year, so some of them are very good at some things."  Harry laughed.

 

"There is no accounting for luck," Malfoy said.

 

Harry nearly ground his teeth to bite back a retort, not in the mood to argue with the prat.  "I'm going to the library."  It was too nice a day to stay inside and do research, but the sooner he got rid of Malfoy, the better.

 

O….O

 

As the Sixth and Seventh-year students filed into Harry's class, Malfoy did not have a chance to wind them up.  On the heels of the last student trailed Nearly Headless Nick and another ghost that Harry only vaguely recognized.  Nick waved to Harry, who waved back cheerily.

 

At the sight of them, Malfoy vanished through the back wall of the classroom and did not return.  With a renewed sense of confidence, Harry launched into the lesson.

 

That night it was with a feeling of accomplishment that Harry put on his pyjamas and crawled into bed.  Malfoy was not in his room; in fact, Harry hadn't seen him since the classroom incident.  He wondered vaguely where the Slytherin ghost had gone.  It seemed almost odd to be in the room alone.

 

Shrugging, he put out the light and looked forward to a second night of restful sleep.

 

An icy cold grip on his ankle yanked him awake with a cry.  Harry fumbled for his wand, ready to strike first and ask questions later.  The room was pitch-dark and then Harry heard a familiar laugh.

 

"Goodness, Potter, you scream like a girl."

 

Harry fell back against his pillows.  "Malfoy, you bloody bastard.  Did you touch me?"

 

"Well, you insisted on sleeping.  I kindly awakened you for your lesson, which will be more intense than usual since you deserted me last night to sneak off to… wherever you sneaked off to."

 

"I did not sneak," Harry snapped.  "I left via the Floo like a normal person and I returned the same way.  Will you please bugger off and let me sleep?"

 

Malfoy tsked.  "Afraid not, Potter.  Did you invite Nearly Headless Nick and the others into your classroom?  Was it to protect you from me?"

 

"I thought Nick might want to observe.  Besides, there was no need for you to leave.  I assumed you would enjoy showing the other ghosts how disruptive you can be."

 

Even in the darkness, Harry could sense Malfoy's malevolent stare.  He felt something brush over his feet, cold as ice.  He yelped and drew his legs back as Malfoy sat—hovered?—over the bed.  Before he could ask what Malfoy was doing, the prat said, "Now, I believe we were still on basil."  He launched into his usual rote description of ingredients and uses.

 

Harry groaned and tried to tune him out, made even more difficult this time by Malfoy touching him with frost-tipped fingers any time Harry was about to fall asleep.

 

Tomorrow, Harry thought.  Tomorrow I will find the books that tell me how to be rid of him.

 

O….O

 

It did not go as planned.  The library had very few of the books Hermione had recommended, and the ones available were mainly concerned with the biographies of famous wizarding ghosts.  Most of the ghosts seemed to love to talk, like Sir Nicolas and Malfoy, and the books were filled with pages and pages of their rambling, dutifully jotted down by scholars who seemed to have nothing better to do.

 

"What are you looking for, anyway?" Malfoy asked, hovering close and pretending to be seated atop the table next to Harry's elbow.

 

"I am looking for a way to get rid of you, obviously."

 

Malfoy chuckled.  "Good luck with that."

 

Harry slammed the book shut and opened another.

 

"You actually think there is a spell to make me… what?  Disappear?  Why not just use the Patronus again?  Granted, it's only temporary.  I'm surprised you haven't, frankly."

 

Harry glared at him, but didn't bother to mention that he had promised Minerva he wouldn't do so, despite the temptation.  "I don't necessarily want to destroy you, although it has crossed my mind more than once.  I just want you to leave me alone."

 

"The Patronus didn't destroy me; it just made me incredibly angry and even more determined to haunt you until the end of your days."

 

"Thank you, but I don't know what effect repeated disruption of your molecules or whatnot will do, so I'll just keep trying to find something that will send you on."  Harry waved a hand and it grazed through Malfoy's sleeve, leaving his fingers cold.

 

"Send me on?"  Malfoy sounded horrified.

 

"Yes.  You know that ghosts remain bound to this world because they refuse to 'go into the light' or whatever."

 

"Oh.  That."

 

"Yes.  So, um…  why did you stay?"

 

"Because I wanted to haunt you, Potter.  Why else?"  The answer was flippant and blatantly untrue.

 

"It's interesting that ghosts can lie."

 

"Why is that a surprise?  I'm still me, even though I'm…"

 

"Dead," Harry finished.  He knew it was mean.  Malfoy hated anything that reminded him of his lifeless state, but Harry was not feeling charitable after yet another sleepless night.

 

Malfoy left the table and floated towards the Restricted Section with his usual stride.  "Maybe you're looking in the wrong place, Potter."

 

Harry sighed and debated ignoring him, but curiosity won and he got up to follow the ghost.  A very small, dusty glass case held four ancient-looking volumes.  Only one had a visible title.  Nekros Compello.

 

"Necromancy?" Harry burst out.

 

"Why don't you just put an announcement in the Prophet?" Malfoy asked dryly.

 

Harry glanced around, but there weren't many students in the library at the moment and most of those were far from the dark corner where he and Malfoy stood.

 

"Why would I want this?  Isn't necromancy about making Inferi?"

 

"Not all necromancy is about raising the dead, you idiot.  Most of it originated because of people trying to communicate with their dead relatives.  You know, widows trying to contact their poor dead husbands to find out where the bastard hid the Galleons she knew he was hoarding.  That sort of thing."

 

Harry looked at the books, suddenly remembering his desperate need to communicate with Sirius after the veil incident in the Department of Mysteries.  And even though he had spoken to his parents in the forest when he walked to his own death at the hands of Voldemort, it had never been enough.  To be able to truly communicate with those that had moved beyond...  The temptation was enormous.

 

Still, Harry made a scoffing noise.  "If any of it worked, don't you think people would know about it?"

 

"It's really Dark magic, Potter.  You know how the Ministry and those on the side of all things good and right love to suppress knowledge."

 

Harry glared at him.  "And rightfully so!  Look what Tom Riddle was able to dig up all on his own.  Enough to make him nearly unstoppable.  If such knowledge was readily available, we could have a new Dark Lord popping up every other month."

 

"Well, then you wouldn't be here being haunted, you would be out there, destroying evil.  I'm surprised you aren't.  What brought you here, anyway?  Auror Department not enough of a challenge?"

 

Harry didn't bother to answer, mostly because Malfoy was exactly right.  Auror training had been filled with repetitious casting of spells he already knew, loads of reading about wizarding law and procedure, more essay writing than he'd had to endure at Hogwarts, and very little application of that knowledge.  And into that mix he added the bizarre behaviour of everyone around him—they either treated him like an amazing celebrity or reviled him for not acting like some sort of larger than life figure.  In short, it seemed he could please no one.

 

Harry cast Alohomora on the case, but it only glowed with a wicked-looking green light and remained locked.

 

"Apparently they don't want any students with invisibility cloaks getting their hands on those," Malfoy said.

 

"Yeah, probably useless anyway."  Harry frowned, wondering what need he had for books about communicating with the dead.  He was already communicating with the dead—it was the reverse he sought.

 

"Funny, isn't it?” Malfoy said.  “Inferi are dead bodies without their souls and ghosts are souls without their bodies.  Or something." 

 

Harry looked at Malfoy sharply, surprised at the insight.  Sometimes Harry was shocked by Malfoy's intelligence.  Not that he thought the Slytherin was stupid, never that, but generally his annoying personality overwhelmed any appreciation of his wisdom.

 

"Too bad we can't shove you into a dead body then, yeah?" Harry joked.

 

"Why would I want to animate a rotting corpse?"

 

"Because then your outside would match your inside."

 

Malfoy pushed a hand through the side of Harry's face.  The icy sensation was particularly unpleasant against Harry's nasal passages and he felt an explosive sneeze building.  "Stop that!" he yelped, falling away and waving his hands at the irritating ghost.  That was a mistake, as he only succeeded in chilling his hands as well.  He sneezed three times in succession and then glared at Malfoy before Conjuring a handkerchief.  "You're such a prat," he mumbled and blew his nose.

 

Malfoy only crossed his arms and looked smug.

 

A ghost suddenly materialized from the floor.  This one looked to be another child.  His robes were long and lace-covered and his neck was cocked at a strange angle.  Harry vaguely remembered hearing about a maudlin student that had hanged himself in the days before Dumbledore had taken over as Headmaster.  The sight made Harry look at Malfoy with new eyes.  How was it that there were no visible wounds on Malfoy’s body?  How had he died?  The Killing Curse?

 

"Your mother approaches, Draco," the boy said.  "I thought you might want to know."

 

"Thank you, Cyril," Malfoy replied.

 

The other ghost vanished back into the floor and Harry blinked.  "Your mother?"

 

"She visits me sometimes," Malfoy said flatly.  "See you later, Potter.”

 

With that, Malfoy turned and headed for the door.  Harry followed and watched until Malfoy reached the portal and went through it like a wisp of smoke, pausing only slightly.  Harry knew he wished he could open the door rather than phasing through it and he sighed, thinking he would much rather move on to whatever mystery death held than remain trapped in such a thankless existence.

 

O..6..O

 

Harry glanced at the books on the table and bit his lip with indecision.  Then he moved to the door and hurried after Malfoy.  Despite his pretence at humanity, Malfoy moved quickly without a fleshy body and Harry had to run to keep him in sight. 

 

Instead of heading down, Malfoy went up.  Harry lurked back, trying not to be obvious about following, and wished he had brought his cloak along.  Of course, he was a grown man now and carrying an invisibility cloak around would be silly.  And he really shouldn't be eavesdropping, anyway.  He was only curious.

 

After a moment, Harry knew where Malfoy was going.  Partway up, the Astronomy Tower contained several round, private rooms, generally used for storage and off limits to students, but two of the rooms had large windows that looked out on the grounds.  They contained a number of desks and tables and were used by older students for revising and preparing for their exams. 

 

Harry stopped.  There was nowhere for him to wait without being completely obvious.  He was not even sure why he felt like spying.  Surely it was normal for a mother to visit her son, even if he wasn't… alive.

 

Harry left the tower and kept walking, waving vaguely at students as he passed them.  He recognized only a handful and knew it would take a long time before he knew more of them on sight.  Only Minerva seemed to know every single child, as had Dumbledore before her.  Harry wondered how they did it.

 

Harry decided to lurk on the front steps.  He Conjured a scroll and quill and pretended to write a letter to Hermione.  It was a good idea, so instead of pretending he decided to actually do it.  He had just seen her, of course, but she got ridiculously excited whenever she got mail.  Harry understood.  She had theorized it was somehow related to "only-child syndrome" but Harry figured everyone liked to get a nice letter or package now and again.

 

He had a good page filled with descriptions of his classes and students when the door opened and Narcissa Malfoy stepped out.  She stopped short when she saw him and then composed her features.

 

"Hello, Mr Potter."

 

Harry put the scroll and quill away awkwardly as he stood up.  "Hello, Mrs Malfoy.  It's good to see you again."  He reached out his hand and she took it.  Her fingers were slender and cool.  Her lips moved as she attempted a smile, but the sadness in her face seemed too great to sustain it.  "I'm, um, sorry about Draco."  Harry nearly winced at how insincere his words sounded.

 

She nodded and took her hand back and then pulled the hood of her black hood over her pale hair.  "Thank you."

 

She started down the steps, obviously making for the front gates.  Harry felt foolish, thinking he should talk to her.  She had saved his life, after all.  He hurried to catch up with her.

 

"Do you mind if I walk with you for a bit?" he asked.

 

She glanced at him askance and the gesture was so reminiscent of her son that Harry smiled.

 

"Of course not," she said.  "Your return to Hogwarts was newsworthy, or rather your departure from the Ministry."

 

"Yes, I suppose it was something of a surprise to most people."

 

"Not to me."

 

Harry nearly stopped walking.  His steps hitched and then he regained his equilibrium.  "Excuse me?"

 

Narcissa smiled at him wanly.  "It seemed obvious.  You spent your entire childhood running from a madman.  Why anyone expects you to open yourself up to more of the same as an adult seems foolish.  I always thought you might hide yourself away, or perhaps travel."

 

Harry glanced at her, amazed at her insight.  Even his closest friends had been shocked at his decision.  "I considered it, but travelling alone did not seem particularly appealing."

 

"The press had you all but married to that Weasley girl."

 

"Ginny?  Yeah, it was a close thing.  We were looking at rings one day and she suddenly blurted out that she wasn't ready and I nearly passed out from relief.  After having a huge laugh we moved on to being great friends.  She's in Argentina now, playing Quidditch."  Harry had spent a lot of time explaining himself to Ron and the other Weasleys.  He knew they all wanted him and Ginny to marry and settle down, but Ginny's latest correspondence hinted at growing feelings for one of her teammates.  Harry wished her well.

 

"People should not marry too young if they plan to marry for love."

 

"Did you?" he asked and then wondered if he had overstepped his boundaries.

 

"No.  My marriage to Lucius was arranged when we were both young, but we used to play together as children.  Strangely, we always knew we were meant for one another and we never questioned it.  Of course, it did no harm that Lucius grew up to be beautiful, but I fell in love with him long before then.  He was a somewhat awkward teenager, although I would never admit that to him."

 

Harry grinned.  Lucius was handsome enough, he supposed, if you liked them tall, blond, and evil.  The thought drew his mind back to her son.  "You came to see Draco?" he asked.

 

She nodded.  "I probably shouldn't.  It would be easier to accept the loss, I think, if I did not."  She stopped walking and clasped her hands together, even though her features remained placid.  Her knuckles whitened.  "But… he's here and he looks like himself and he remembers everything and…"  She looked away, staring out over the heather-crusted hillside.  A gasp made her chest hitch and Harry felt his heart clench in sympathy.  He thought of all the times he had wished Sirius had remained behind as a ghost and for the first time he saw how horrific it might have been.

 

"I can't…  I can see him, but I cannot touch him, or stroke his hair, or even hold his hand—"  She buried her face in her hands for a moment and then lifted her face and glared at Harry through eyes that gleamed with tears.  "Damn it, he's dead!  Draco is dead.  Why can I not accept that my son is gone forever?  Why can I not let him go?"

 

To Harry's dismay, her shoulders hitched and she began to cry in earnest.  Harry touched her shoulder sympathetically and then held her gently when she turned and sobbed on his shoulder.   It was something of a surprise to find he was taller than her, and she was not a short woman.  He patted her lightly on the back and tried to make soothing noises.

 

"I miss him so much," she said, voice roughed with tears.  "I miss my Draco.  Oh god, I would give anything to bring him back.  It's not…  It's not fair.  He was so young.  He was so young and full of life."

 

Harry felt his throat tighten and tears well in his eyes.  Bloody hell, he was crying for Malfoy.  Narcissa's pain was like a dark well of despair, pulling him into its depths.  Harry blinked back tears and held her until she slowly pulled away.

 

She stepped back firmly and wiped at her face with a lace-edged kerchief she pulled from a pocket.  "Circe, you probably think I'm a wailing ninny.  I am terribly sorry, Mr Potter, for putting you through that."

 

Harry forced a weak smile.  "Please don't apologize.  Grief takes time and never really goes away, even though it gets easier as the years pass.  There is no shame in tears. And please call me Harry."

 

"Well, thank you for indulging me.  I have not broken down like that in some time."  She shook her head and then attempted to smile.  "You know, I had once hoped you and Draco would become friends."

 

Harry's grin turned genuine.  "That would have been a trick."

 

"Oh, stop.  You might have found you were more alike than you knew.  I admit Draco was spoiled, but he had a good heart."  She turned and began to walk once more.

 

Harry found it hard to imagine Malfoy having a good heart lurking under all the prattishness, but he held his tongue, doubting Narcissa would be amused at Harry's lack of faith after her breakdown.  He managed to give her an encouraging nod and then they were at the gates.

 

"Well, Harry Potter, thank you for your time.  I am sure you had better things to do than listen to my weeping."

 

Harry shook his head.  "No, I wasn’t busy.  And I still owe you, you know."  He made a vague gesture towards the forest where she had saved his life, and thereby saved the wizarding world.

 

She waved her hand and the gates opened.  "There probably will not be much opportunity for you to repay your life debt, Mr Potter.  Harry.  But do not fear; I will not ask you to expend it on something frivolous."

 

"I know."  She stepped through and the gates swung shut with a clang, locking them apart with iron between.  Her eyes met Harry's.  "Goodbye, Mrs Malfoy."

 

"Goodbye, Harry Potter."  She lifted her wand and vanished.

 

O….O

 

Harry did not see Malfoy that afternoon, nor did he make an appearance at bedtime.  Harry was tired, but he found himself lying awake wondering about Malfoy.  Did he still feel sorrow when he saw his mother?  It seemed likely, if he could still feel anger and annoyance.

 

What was Malfoy doing now?  Brooding?  Where did ghosts go to brood?  Moaning Myrtle mainly resided in the girls' bathroom where she had died.  Where had Malfoy died?  It disturbed Harry that he had no idea.  It seemed important to find out and he resolved to search old Daily Prophets for the details. 

 

Still thinking about his conversation with Narcissa, Harry drifted into a fitful sleep.

 

He awakened sometime later and rolled over, blinking into the darkness.  His room was quiet.  He peered at the chair where Malfoy usually sat, trying to make out his ghostly form, but the seat was empty.  He sighed and closed his eyes, burrowing deeper into the blankets.

 

Something cold brushed his ankle and his eyes snapped open again.  He sat up to see Malfoy perched cross-legged on the bed.  His elbows were propped on his knees and his face rested on his palms.

 

"Malfoy?" Harry questioned.  "What are you doing?"

 

"Sitting here."

 

"No ingredients lesson?  No singing?  What's wrong?"

 

Malfoy shrugged.  "Don't feel like tormenting you, I suppose.  It's interesting watching you sleep.  You look different without your glasses.  Younger."

 

Harry frowned.  It occurred to him that he was now older than Malfoy, who was frozen in time at nineteen and would remain so forever while Harry moved on.  Eventually Harry would grow old and die while Malfoy would retain the semblance of youth.

 

Harry pushed his pillows up against the headboard and scooted into a half-sitting position.  He rubbed his eyes and debated casting a Tempus Charm, but supposed the time was irrelevant; he had no need to rise early.

 

"You okay?" he asked instead.

 

"No, Potter.  I'm dead, in case you haven't noticed."

 

"Very funny.  I meant...  I don't know; does it make you sad when your mum comes round?  Today she seemed very—"

 

"You spoke to her?"  Malfoy's voice seemed to have a catch in it.

 

"Yeah.  She misses you."

 

Malfoy was silent for a minute and then he said, "Of course she misses me."

 

"You miss her, too," Harry ventured.

 

"Shut up, Potter."  Malfoy words were surprisingly quiet and without venom.

 

They sat in silence and then Harry asked, "How did you die?"

 

Malfoy was silent so long that Harry feared he wouldn't answer at all, but then he said, "Greg killed me."

 

Harry let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding.  "I know that much.  But why?"

 

Malfoy shrugged, a barely-visible movement of silver in the darkness.  "He blamed me for Vince's death.  I thought he'd got over it, considering Vince was the one who set the damned fire in the first place, but..."  He sighed.  "We were sentenced to work on rebuilding Hogwarts.  Did you know?  That's why we were here.  Probably not, if you don't even know how I died.  Didn't care much about my pathetic life, did you, Potter?"

 

Harry couldn't deny it, so he said nothing.

 

Malfoy kept talking.  "We were working on the castle doing trivial, mundane tasks.  They wouldn't allow us wands, so everything was manual labour, clearing out broken desks and rubble and whatnot.  That day Greg and I took a break and walked down by the lake.  We argued about something stupid and it turned ugly fast.  Greg said I was responsible for Vince's death since it was my fault we came back to Hogwarts during the battle.  He claimed I was obsessed with you or something like that.  I got angry.  We fought like Muggles, wrestling and grappling—a stupid move when you're a foot shorter and four stone lighter.  Last I remember was him choking me."

 

Malfoy's hands went to his neck and Harry realized why there were no marks on his body—Goyle must have strangled him to death.  Malfoy's hands fell and it wasn’t until then that Harry noticed faint, bruise-like marks in a slightly darker shade of grey, just visible around Malfoy's throat.  Harry shuddered.

 

Malfoy snorted a laugh.  "Yeah, choked to death by my own best friend.  I always was the lucky sort."

 

Harry nearly said, "Maybe you should have chosen better friends," but then it occurred to him that Malfoy might have tried to do just that in his first year, only to have Harry rebuff him in favour of Ron Weasley.  Harry held his tongue.

 

"I hate being dead.  I miss my mum and I miss food and I miss things I shouldn't even miss, like the feel of pond slime and the prick of nettles, or the icy bite of air when you leave your blankets on a cold morning."  Malfoy moved suddenly, shifting forward and reaching out a hand.  Harry held his breath as Malfoy's hand slid over his cheek.  "Can you feel that?"

 

Harry nodded.  "Yeah, it's… cold."

 

Malfoy's head bobbed curtly and he pulled his icy hand away.  "Well, I can't feel anything.  Not cold, not heat, not soft nor smooth nor rough nor…"  Malfoy floated off the bed and headed for the door, gliding like a ghost instead of pretending to be alive.  "Enjoy your solitude, Potter.  I'm going to see the thestrals."  With that, he went through the portal and was gone.

 

Harry frowned as he slid lower into his blankets and punched his pillow into a more comfortable position.  He hated to feel pity for Draco Malfoy, but it was too late; the damage was done.  All of Harry's anger and satisfaction were gone, drowned in a deluge of compassion.

 

As he closed his eyes and tried to sleep the last thought flitting through his mind was, Did he say thestrals?

 

O..7..O

 

Harry felt brilliant after sleeping until nearly noon the next day.  He had survived his first week of teaching, no thanks to Malfoy.  Since he had no real plans for his first weekend at Hogwarts, he decided to go and visit his friends, starting with Hagrid.

 

The weather was much like the previous day and Harry found Hagrid outside tending his garden.  The pumpkins were just beginning to turn orange and most of them had not quite reached Quaffle size.

 

"Looks like you’ll have a fine crop this year, Hagrid," Harry said with a smile as he leaned on the fence.

 

"Harry, my boy!  Come inside for a cuppa!"  Hagrid left the garden and walked with Harry to the hut.  It had been rebuilt after the war, but still looked exactly the same, except for some feminine touches that had apparently been gifts from Madame Maxine.  As far as Harry knew, she and Hagrid still had something, although the seriousness of the relationship seemed to vary from month to month.

 

Hagrid threw some mysterious leaves into a teapot and added water from a bucket before setting it on the flame.  Harry made a mental note not to drink it.

 

"How was your first week, Harry, my boy?"

 

"Fine, for the most part," Harry admitted.  "I've been having a bit of an issue with Malfoy."

 

"Biscuit?" Hagrid asked and took a basket of something that looked like lumps of coal from a shelf to place before Harry.

 

"Um, no thank you."

 

Hagrid took one and bit into it with a tooth-grinding crunch.  "Malfoy?" he asked as his jaw worked.  "Malfoy the ghost?"

 

Harry nodded.  "Yeah, he doesn't like being a ghost."

 

Hagrid snorted, spewing a number of crumbs onto the table.  "'Course he don't.  Takes ages to let go o' being human and know yer not coming back."

 

"It seems difficult.  Last night Malfoy mentioned he was going to see the thestrals.  Do you know why he would do that?"

 

Hagrid nodded.  "Sure.  Ghosts like thestrals.  I think it's 'cause thestrals exist partly on the astral plane, like ghosts, which is why humans can't see 'em 'til they see death.  Some say that flips a switch in the brain."  Hagrid tapped a huge finger to his forehead.  "Lets people see 'em."

 

Harry supposed it made sense, but something still seemed odd.  Malfoy had never seemed to be an animal lover, and had sneered at the very existence of thestrals back when he had been innocent and untouched by death.

 

He turned the conversation to the upcoming Halloween festivities and they chatted for some time, but Harry wisely departed before Hagrid could suggest he stay for lunch.  There was no sign of Malfoy as he made his way back to his room and put on warmer clothing and a travelling cloak.  Although balmy in Scotland, there was no telling what the weather would be like in London.

 

He Flooed to the Leaky Cauldron and chatted amiably with the patrons over a bowl of hearty soup and some crusty bread.  Luckily the topic of conversation was gossip surrounding a minor Ministry official whose wife had tossed him out on his ear after he was caught in a shady business dealing in order to pay for an expensive trinket for his mistress.  Harry willingly joined in, thankful he was out of the Ministry limelight and much of the public eye.

 

Harry left the Leaky and then went to Gringotts to withdraw some gold.  He had a vague idea of where he wanted to go and it solidified once he had coins in his pocket.  When he stepped back into Diagon Alley, he Apparated straight to Grimmauld Place.

 

The house was still dusty, dark, and depressing.  Harry rarely visited, except to make sure Kreacher had everything he needed, mostly on Hermione's insistence.  Harry assumed the elf would get what he needed through whatever magic he possessed, but Harry made sure the pantry was always well-stocked just the same.

 

Harry checked on the old elf, who crawled blearily from his cupboard to ask if Harry had need of him.  Harry assured him he was only passing through, so Kreacher disappeared into the depths once more.  Harry made a note to drop in more frequently, lest Kreacher die without anyone noticing.  The thought of that happening was depressing; Harry had grown fond of the old house-elf.

 

He double-checked the pantry, left a note for Kreacher to order more tea, and headed for the Floo.  After the war, Harry had felt the need to travel, mostly to escape the press and the fame, so he had taken advantage of his celebrity to have the old house connected to as many global Floo-points as possible.

 

Harry took the Floo network to Berlin.  It was a familiar place that he often travelled to with Hermione.  The Berlin Wizards' Library was famous for its book collection, but Harry was slightly more interested in the seedier side of the city, particularly the area that contained a German version of Knockturn Alley.

 

The place was built around an unusual sort of spiralling street that looped in upon itself, and seemed to draw the unwary closer and closer towards the centre.  The shops were close together and Harry always felt they loomed forbiddingly over the street, even on days that were brilliant and sunny, quite unlike the downpour Harry currently splashed through.  He was glad of the hood that protected his identity and kept his glasses dry without a Charm.

 

"Brilliant day to shop," Harry muttered to himself and received a suspicious glare from a hunched-over witch in a brightly patterned kerchief and orange robes.  Despite her vibrant dress, she seemed eager to be unobtrusive and scurried up the street.

 

Harry made a show of pausing to look into the display windows.  A tobacco shop with a collection of delicate blown glass pipes made him think of Dumbledore.  He thought Hagrid might like one, except he might need something a bit sturdier than glass.  If time permitted, he would stop back and look at their hand-carved stone pipes.

 

A shop with naughty robes and lingerie left Harry wondering at the purpose of the black leather thing with the buckles…  He blushed and hurried on.

 

The bookstore was marked only by a dangling sign in the shape of a book, looking like it had been hung in the Dark Ages and never touched again.  The words were barely visible and said only Buchhandlung.

 

A muted magical ping sounded when Harry opened the door, and a grizzled-looking man took his attention away from the book he was reading to peer at Harry, and then he grunted and returned to his reading.  Harry walked through the stacks, smiling when he recalled the last time he'd been in the store with Hermione.  Simply passing a shelf had been impossible; she had stopped a dozen times when some random title had caught her eye.  They had been in the store at least two hours before finding what they sought, and she had left with an armful of books.

 

Harry was far less curious.  He scanned the section guides posted at the ends of each shelf, made his way deeper and deeper into the store, and finally ascended a set of rickety wooden stairs until he located a tiny section devoted to "Ghosts and Undead Creatures".

 

Even though there weren't many books, the ones available were not easily read.  One was written in Greek, one in Latin, and one in a Shakespearean sort of English that made Harry's brain ache just to see it.  One looked promising, written in modern French and subtitled in English: The Afterlife:  Why Not Seek It?  Harry took that one, along with a book Hermione would have frowned at disapprovingly simply by looking at the cover; it was blood-red leather branded with several arcane Dark symbols.  The book glowed with a wicked light when Harry cast a Charm to detect wards.  It would be a chore just to open that one, but the title: Phasmatis Auctoritas seemed it might be worth the effort.

 

Harry purchased them both with a handful of Galleons and kept his hood low over his face.  The old man barely glanced up from his book as he wrapped them in a paper parcel and tied them with a cord for easy carrying.  He bid Harry a gruff good day and Harry stepped back into the rain before making his way back to Grimmauld Place.

 

He dropped the books on the kitchen table and debated going to see Hermione or Ron, but then remembered that Ron had field training on Monday.  He and Hermione were most likely making the most of their weekend together.  Harry grimaced.

 

"Will Master Harry be requiring dinner?" Kreacher asked, sounding completely uninterested in preparing it.

 

"No, I think I'll go see George, but I'll be back later."  Harry planned to spend the night at Grimmauld Place, since one more ghost-free night sounded lovely, just in case Malfoy had recovered from Narcissa's visit.  Plus, visits to George Weasley had a tendency to end in visits to the local pub and staggering home drunk, so it was wise to plan for the worst.

 

As it turned out, George wasn't in, having gone to Ireland to seek out a particular potion ingredient.  Left to his own devices, Harry decided on dinner at the Leaky, but since he was in Diagon Alley he popped into Flourish and Blotts to look for some of the books Hermione had recommended.  The questionable books he had procured seemed more promising, but Hermione had been right a time or two in the past, so Harry would be stupid to rule out her suggestions.

 

Three of the books were easy to locate and he had them in his arms when he brushed by a woman and then did a double take.

 

"Hello, Mr Potter.  Fancy seeing you again so soon."

 

Harry grinned at Narcissa Malfoy.  "Twice in one week."  He glanced at the books in her hands.  One was fiction, a recent release by a popular witch author, and the other was a book on the magical care of hyacinth.  He nodded at it.  "You enjoy gardening?"

 

"Yes, it relaxes me and keeps my mind from… things."  Her gaze sharpened as she spied the books Harry held.  She frowned and Harry had the urge to hide the tomes behind his back, even though it was too late.

 

"I'm just curious," he said lamely.  "Malf—Draco likes to keep me awake at night.  I've dealt with it so far, but I would sort of like to prevent it long-term."

 

"I could speak with him, if you'd like?" she suggested.

 

Harry shook his head.  "Even as a ghost I think he would have something to say about my tattling to his mum."

 

She smiled.  "You are probably right about that."  Narcissa looked thoughtful.  "I have some books at the Manor.  I read them already after Draco…  Well, I don't know what good they might be, but you are welcome to them."

 

"Thank you.  I appreciate it."

 

"Then I will have them sent along."  With that, Narcissa nodded politely, bid him good afternoon, and departed.  Harry perused a few more titles and then headed for the Leaky before going home and spending the night in his lonely bed, reading long into the night.

 

O….O

 

Malfoy was in Harry's room when he returned to Hogwarts, lying atop his bed with his arms crossed behind his head.  He glanced at the packages in Harry's hands.  He had re-wrapped the books for easier transport.  "Shopping took you a full day?"

 

Harry made a noncommittal noise and set the books on the table, glad they were covered.  He did not particularly want Malfoy to know he planned to study ghosts, especially considering his intention was to encourage Malfoy to move on towards whatever lay beyond death in order for Harry to be rid of his irritating presence.

 

"You're probably pants at it.  I should have gone with you," Malfoy said.

 

"Do you ever go places?" Harry asked, curious.

 

"Sometimes.  I went home, at first."  Malfoy looked away and then sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed and seeming to stare at the opposite wall.  Harry swallowed, remembering his conversation with Narcissa.  He could well imagine how painful Malfoy's presence at the Manor would have been for them both.  "I go to London during the holidays.  It's festive."  Malfoy stood up, as if embarrassed to have admitted so much.  "Anyway, it's good you're back.  I was bored."

 

"Ran out of people to annoy?" Harry asked dryly.

 

"You're my favourite person to annoy, Potter, you know that."  His tone was scathing, but Harry sensed the truth of it.

 

"So, you missed me," he said with a grin.

 

Malfoy turned around to glare at him.  "Ghosts do not miss people."

 

Harry rolled his eyes at the blatant lie and set about putting away his cloak and setting aside clothing to be cleaned by the house-elves.  Even with Malfoy annoying him, he much preferred Hogwarts to the cold emptiness of Grimmauld Place.

 

Malfoy hovered near his shoulder, watching him sort socks.  One of them always seemed to get lost beneath the bed or some alternate dimension where lost socks congregated.

 

"One of your socks is wedged between the mattress and the bedpost," Malfoy commented.

 

Harry retrieved it and decided not to comment on Malfoy being helpful lest it cause him to never do it again.

 

"Why thestrals?" Harry asked suddenly, turning to look at the ghost.

 

Malfoy's eyes widened and he floated away a couple of feet before looking away.  He moved over to the window and looked out on the courtyard where it was just beginning to rain.  The weather in Berlin seemed to have followed Harry home.

 

"Because I can touch them."

 

"Because you can touch…  You mean you can feel them?"

 

Malfoy nodded without looking at him.  "Yes.  It's weird.  They seem to be more substantial on the astral plane.  I suppose that's why people can't see them; they really are part ghost.  I still think they are sort of hideous, but it is nice to touch something and have solidity beneath my fingers."

 

Harry looked at him pityingly but averted his attention when Malfoy turned.  "But enough of that.  Myrtle has been asking when you next plan to shower."

 

Harry gave him such a look of horror that Malfoy threw his head back and laughed.

 

O..8..O

 

Malfoy disappeared while Harry ate dinner, but reappeared and lurked nearby while Harry sat in the DADA office and prepared his lesson plan for the week.  He was surprisingly quiet.

 

When Harry finally snuffed the candles and went to his room, he expected another sleepless night and tried to mentally prepare himself while he disrobed and put on his pyjamas.  He made sure to turn his back when he dressed, self-conscious of Malfoy's presence despite the fact that he was only a ghost.

 

"What's in the packages?" Malfoy asked when Harry exited the bathroom after brushing his teeth.

 

Harry glanced at the table.  "Books."

 

"You read?"

 

"You're hilarious," Harry said and dragged back his blankets before sliding beneath the covers.

 

"I miss reading," Malfoy said pensively, so quietly Harry almost did not hear him.

 

"Do you want me to read to you?" Harry asked sardonically.

 

"Would you?"

 

Harry's head lifted at the eager tone.  He hadn't been serious, but Malfoy looked so animated at the idea.  "Well… um, sure.  I guess."

 

"Potter, that's brilliant!  I was reading this novel before I—well, before Greg.  You know.  I was nearly finished and it's been making me crazy not knowing how it ends."  Malfoy had approached the bed and was floating erratically, hands waving as he spoke.  "I would…  I would be willing to make a trade."

 

"A trade?" Harry asked.

 

Malfoy nodded in a decisive manner.  "Yes, Potter.  If you read to me, I will allow you to sleep undisturbed."

 

"Really?"  It seemed too good to be true.  Harry's eyes narrowed.  "How long do I get to sleep undisturbed?  And I don't have to read all night, do I?"

 

"I suppose I will settle for an hour or two.  And you can sleep the rest of the night without my bothering you."

 

Harry glanced at the clock.  It was still early.  He had assumed he would be getting little sleep and had made an early night of it just in case.  "Deal.  What do you want me to read?"

 

"My novel, of course.  It's still in my room.  Come and get it."

 

"Now?  Can't it wait until tomorrow?"

 

"Potter, I've been waiting three years to learn how the bloody book ends."

 

About to suggest that one more night would hardly matter, Harry sighed and gave in, fearing refusal would cause Malfoy to rescind on their bargain.  "Fine.  Where is it?"

 

"In my old room, in the dungeons.  Greg and I shared it while we were here, but they took him away the day he killed me.  McGonagall locked the room up and no one has been in there since."

 

"In the Slytherin dorm?"

 

"Of course not.  Down the hall from Snape's old rooms."

 

Harry remembered the corridor.  It was largely deserted now.  Only the first room in the corridor was used to store potion ingredients.  "All right.  Let me get dressed."

 

"Just put on your cloak, Potter, or don't you have it?"

 

Harry glanced at his trunk.  The invisibility cloak was there.  He hadn't used it in ages.  He left the bed and tugged on a dressing gown for warmth, then tucked his feet into his slippers.  A quick search of his trunk revealed the cloak and he slung it on, surprised at the feeling that accompanied it.  The feel of it brought back memories of excitement and danger and he felt himself looking forward to the silly mission of retrieving Malfoy's book.

 

"Come along, Potter."

 

A few students and teachers were still out, but the school was beginning to grow quiet.  The rustle of Harry's cloak and the pad of his feet sounded loud as he trotted down the steps after Malfoy, who floated along quickly.

 

The dungeons were reached without incident and Malfoy gestured impatiently at the door when they arrived.  Harry pulled out his wand.  "Wait, you said Minerva locked this?  How do you know I can open it?"

 

"Just open it, Potter."

 

Harry sighed and cast several Unlocking Charms that he had learned in Auror training.  The third one brought an audible click to their ears.  Harry pushed the latch and entered the dark room.  He lifted his wand and cast a Lumos.

 

The room was clean, of course; no Hogwarts house-elf would allow dust a foothold, but the air seemed stale from disuse and Harry felt a strange sense that the place was almost a memorial to the boys that had once occupied the room.

 

Two beds filled most of the small space.  One was angled against a corner, taking up more area than warranted, while the other filled a spot nearer the door.  A false window on one wall showed a barren winter landscape, doing nothing to dispel the depressing chill of the room.  Two trunks, two chairs, and a single desk were the only other furnishings.

 

Malfoy had hurried to the angled bed and hovered near the bedside table.  His hand passed over a book that rested thereon.  "Here it is.  I've been dying to know if Mordecai killed Regina."

 

Harry shook off the pall of the room and walked over.  He picked up the book with a grin.  "It's fiction?"

 

"Of course it's fiction.  You don't think I'd be worked up about something any teacher would know, do you?"

 

"I don't know.  Sometimes you act pretty…"  Harry coughed and resisted completing the sentence with the word crazy.

 

"Shut up, Potter, and let's go."

 

Harry obediently followed.  He locked the door when they left, glad to leave the depressing room behind.  It seemed more like a cell than a bedchamber and Harry doubted Malfoy and Goyle would have been given such accommodations if Professor Dumbledore had been alive.  Dumbledore had always believed in second chances, but most people were not so forgiving.  And Minerva was far more practical than fanciful.

 

Malfoy practically raced back to Harry's room, forcing Harry to jog a couple of times in order to keep up.  The ghost did not make impatient gestures, but Harry thought it likely that he was only suppressing them with effort.  His excitement was almost… cute.

 

Harry shook his head at the thought and hurried on.

 

Once back in his room, it did not take long for Harry to return to the comfort of his bed and set a ball of light to hover over his shoulder.  Malfoy sat cross-legged, floating only a bit, at the foot of the bed.

 

A green velvet ribbon marked the place in the book where Malfoy had left off reading and Harry opened the yellowing pages.

 

"I was at the part where Phillipe and Mordecai were in the forest," Malfoy said.

 

Harry's finger skimmed the page until he found it and then he began to read.  "Phillipe turned on him and Mordecai drew back apace at the anguish and rage on Phillipe's face.  'You killed her, Mordecai.  You killed my Regina!  I know it.'  Mordecai shook his head and held up a hand beseechingly, wrestling his own anger to keep from lashing out.  Always, Phillipe misunderstood him, and now it was worse than ever between them."

 

Malfoy nodded, hands gripping his knees as he leaned forward.  "She deserved it," Malfoy muttered.  “Wretched bint.”

 

"'I don't know why I argue with you, Phillipe.  Never will you see my side, and thanks to that vixen I have been cast in a bad light and our friendship has been torn asunder.  I will not say I am sorry to see her gone, but I did not kill her, damn you.  Once, you would have known better than to accuse me.  Once, you knew me better than anyone.'"

 

"I knew it," Malfoy said and then moved closer, crossing the bed to recline next to Harry, who pulled the blankets more tightly around himself to combat the chill of Malfoy's ghostly presence.  "Keep going."

 

Harry tilted the book so that Malfoy could easier see the pages.  "Do you want me to hold it while you read?"

 

"No.  I like it when you read.  You have a nice voice."  There was a moment of shocked silence and Harry looked at him in bemusement.  Malfoy added, "For a git."

 

Harry snorted and shook his head.  He shifted the book back, located his place and kept reading.  "Phillipe's eyes burned.  'You always spoke loudest against our love, Mordecai.  How could I not suspect you?  Your jealousy drove the wedge between us.  I know you wanted her—'  Mordecai laughed at that, harshly and without mirth.  'You are stupid, Phillipe, though it pains me to say it.  Yes, I was jealous, but not of her, you blind fool.'"

 

Malfoy made a loud exclamation and Harry jumped.  "I can't believe it!  I suspected, but I wasn't completely certain.  It was hard to tell, earlier, whether Mordecai’s feelings for Phillipe were more than friendship."

 

Harry was shocked, but let none of his surprise show as he kept reading.  "'What are you saying, Cai?'  Mordecai glared, knowing it was a mistake to press on, but he had already lost Phillipe once to a foolish, scheming woman.  Their friendship, and more, had been destroyed and Mordecai had nothing left to lose.  He would reveal all and then leave England for Italy, hoping to forget the terrible events of the summer.  Wait, he's in love with Phillipe?"

 

"Naturally, Potter.  Don't be dense.  Wait, I forgot who I was talking to for a moment."

 

Harry jabbed him with an elbow, which felt like he had submerged it in ice water.  He drew back quickly.  "Very funny.  I just didn't expect it in… where did you get this book?"

 

"I ordered it.  Now keep reading, I want to see how Phillipe reacts."

 

Phillipe, as it turned out, was almost as shocked as Harry, but when Mordecai tried to leave after his announcement, Phillipe wasted little time chasing him through the forest and tackling him to the ground, an event that caused Malfoy to crow in delight and make a fluttering motion with his hands.

 

"Mordecai fought to free himself, but Phillipe pinned him to the forest floor, using his greater muscular strength to his advantage.  'Stop, Cai, what are you saying?  I must know the truth.'  Mordecai's frustration was near to boiling.  He had already confessed; why did Phillipe find it necessary to humiliate him further?  'I already said it.  I love you, damn my soul to hell.  I did not kill Regina!  Even though I detested her, she made you happy and I would sacrifice anything, even my own desires, to see you happy.  She and her father had enemies, you know that.'"  Harry frowned, suddenly wanting to read the beginning of the story to determine who had killed the mysterious Regina.

 

"It was Eleanor," Malfoy said decisively, spoiling it.  "Because of the potion."

 

"I should start at the beginning so I know what is going on," Harry said.

 

"Do and you will never sleep again," Malfoy replied threateningly.

 

Harry sighed.  "Fine."  He kept reading as Phillipe expressed disbelief and forced Mordecai to admit that he loved him in more than a brotherly fashion.  Phillipe at last released him and said that he had much to think about.  Mordecai fled.

 

"Oh no, he's going to get on the ship and go to Italy.  I know it," Malfoy lamented.

 

"Will Phillipe go after him?"

 

"I don't know!  His bloody fiancé was killed and he just discovered his best friend is in love with him.  What would you do?"

 

Harry was silent, considering.

 

"Oh never mind.  Your best friend is a Weasley and they are all heterosexual, thanks be to Merlin, except possibly the dragon-tamer.  I've often wondered about him."

 

"Charlie?" Harry burst out.

 

"That's the one.  For a ginger, he's decently fit.  For a Weasley, he's stunning."

 

Harry wasn't sure how many more surprises he could take in.  "You're gay?"

 

Malfoy shoved a cold arm through his side.  "I'm dead, Potter, so it really doesn't make any difference, does it?"

 

"No, I mean... of course not.  It didn't... I didn't..."

 

Malfoy glared at him.

 

"It wouldn't matter even if you were alive, I just thought, since you were with Pansy Parkinson and all..."

 

"It is possible to like both men and women, Potter."

 

"I know that!"  There was a brief silence as they watched each other.  Harry reflected that Malfoy's eyes hadn't changed colour all that much and his hair was a more silvery shade of pale.  Only the colourlessness of his skin was different, and the hue of his robes, which were not quite student robes and not quite professor robes, but had probably been something in-between.  He wore a tie, no doubt defiantly Slytherin to the end, although now it was merely two shades of gray.  "So.  Um.  Boys and girls in school, then?"

 

Malfoy looked away and shrugged.

 

"Which boys?" Harry prodded, suddenly curious.

 

Malfoy sneered.  "Wouldn't you like to know?"

 

"Besides Charlie Weasley," Harry said with a smirk.

 

"I never said I fancied him!"

 

"Cedric Diggory?"

 

"A Hufflepuff?  Certainly not."

 

"Well, that leaves out Zacharias Smith, as well."  Malfoy's horrified look made Harry laugh.  "Okay, right, um... Blaise Zabini?"

 

"He's hopelessly straight," Malfoy replied.

 

"I take that as a yes, then," Harry said and felt a curious lurch at the thought of Malfoy attempting something with Zabini and being rebuffed.

 

"Not enough to bother," Malfoy said.  "He ploughed through the ranks of girls willingly enough, although I often wondered if he did so only to deny a secret yearning for blokes."

 

"You never asked?"

 

"I didn't fancy a permanent hex."

 

Harry grinned.  He could well imagine a similar response if he had ever chosen to accost one of the Gryffindor boys.  To his recollection, there had only been one homosexual couple at Hogwarts, a pair of quiet boys that had been inseparable since their first day at Hogwarts, even though one was Ravenclaw and the other Hufflepuff.  No one had been surprised when their friendship had grown into something deeper.

 

"Enough speculation about my former love life.  I am more concerned with Mordecai and Phillipe."

 

"Fine," Harry said and turned back to the page he had left off.  His mind wandered, however, and instead of seeking his place and he said, "Oliver Wood."

 

"That's not in the book."

 

"I mean did you fancy Oliver Wood?"

 

"Everyone fancied Wood.  The bastard was gorgeous, for all the good it did him.  He was so in love with Quidditch he never paid attention to any of his hangers-on.  Crushed the hopes of half of Hogwarts."

 

"Including yours?" Harry teased.

 

Malfoy shook his head.  "Not really.  There was someone else I preferred."

 

"Who?"

 

"No more heart-to-heart, Potter.  Commence reading."

 

Sensing that Malfoy would refuse to disclose his crush, Harry gave up and continued to read.  The hour grew late as Mordecai fled to Italy and lamented his loss of Phillipe by opening a fencing school under an assumed name.

 

Harry's voice grew rough from talking and he tried to flip to the back of the book.  "This is annoying.  Does he ever see Phillipe again?"

 

"Stop that, Potter!  You'll spoil it!"

 

"It won't spoil anything.  I want to know what happens."

 

"Then keep reading."

 

"I don't want to read it if they aren't together in the end."

 

Malfoy snickered.  "Merlin, are you one of those idiots that demand a happy ending?"

 

Harry growled. "What is wrong with a happy ending?"

 

"What is wrong with tragic, unrequited love?"

 

"It's horrible, that's what's wrong with it!"

 

"Your soul has no poetry, Potter.  Where would the world be without Jemina and Reginald?"

 

Harry vaguely recalled the pair to be a wizarding version of Romeo and Juliet.  The story  had led Hermione to speculate that the wizarding author had stolen the story from William Shakespeare… or vice versa.  "Happier?" Harry suggested.

 

"You are an unrefined heathen."

 

"An unrefined heathen who likes happy endings, so let's see how this one ends."  He began to flip through the pages.

 

Malfoy growled and turned away.  "Fine!  But don't tell me.  And you have to keep reading, even if they both die."

 

"They'd better not die!" Harry cried.  He skipped to the end and discovered, to his relief, that Phillipe located Mordecai and there was, indeed, a happy ending.  Feeling smug, he continued reading, even though Malfoy grumpily complained about being spoiled simply by Harry's pleased attitude.

 

Later that night, Harry put out the light and settled into his bed, reflecting that the evening had been rather pleasant, and his ghost-free sleep was even better.

 

O..9..O

 

Harry pulled a face and made a sound of disgust.  "I shouldn't even be reading this."

 

Malfoy made a snort of amusement.  "Why are you?"

 

Harry frowned and turned the page.  The book was full of Dark Magic and horrible ideas, everything from creating an Inferius to trying to drag a soul back through the veil in order to communicate.  Every word made Harry's skin crawl.  "I dunno, trying to discover why you're still a prat even though you're dead."

 

"If you think to find the answer in there, you're dimmer than I thought," Malfoy said.  "Page."

 

Harry absently reached over and turned the page of the book Malfoy was reading.  They were both on Harry's bed, Harry propped against the pillows and Malfoy reclining on his stomach next to Harry.  A book was braced against the other pillows and Harry would occasionally turn the page for him while reading from the book open on his own lap.

 

It had been two weeks since Harry had first read to Malfoy and they had fallen into a strange routine.  Malfoy was always in Harry's room when Harry awoke and he would hang around while Harry shaved and dressed, mostly staying out of the shower unless Myrtle showed up, after which Malfoy would gleefully chase her away and then make snide comments regarding Harry's genitals off and on throughout the day.

 

Malfoy would disappear while Harry ate breakfast and then again during Harry's classes.  After Nearly Headless Nick had made several suggestions regarding Harry's teaching methods, Harry had banished him politely but firmly.  Even then Malfoy did not return to plague Harry's classes.

 

Harry would read essays and prepare lesson plans while Malfoy talked about random things, utilizing topics that ranged from Quidditch supplies to Ministry politics.  When Harry finished, he would go have dinner in the Great Hall and then retire to his room to read aloud to Malfoy.

 

After their first argument over reading material—honestly, Malfoy preferred the most inane fiction—Harry came up with the idea of turning pages for him.  It was brilliant and worked wonderfully, except that Malfoy read really fast and the command "Page!" was uttered far too frequently for Harry's comfort.  When he got too annoyed with it, he simply picked up Malfoy's book and continued on, reading it out loud.  Malfoy never complained, which Harry found slightly strange.  He wondered if Malfoy really did like the sound of his voice.

 

"What is disturbing enough to result in that particular expression?" Malfoy asked.

 

"There is a recipe in here for a potion made with goats' blood.  For ghosts to drink."

 

Malfoy's face mirrored his own.  "What?  Why?"

 

"To take on a temporary corporeal form."

 

"That's ridiculous!  We can't drink anything.  Not water, not butterbeer, not wine, not potions.  I certainly doubt it would be possible to drink goat's blood.  Who wrote that book?"

 

Harry flipped it closed to look at the cover.  The name looked Latinized and was largely unpronounceable.

 

"Obviously a charlatan," Malfoy said and sniffed.

 

"Have you ever tried to drink blood?" Harry asked, turning back to the page he'd been skimming.

 

"Of course not.  Why would I?"

 

"Yeah, good point.  Besides, this is a blood-based potion, not blood itself."

 

"Still revolting," Malfoy said and went back to his reading.

 

Despite his disgust, Harry continued reading, reaching over every now and again to flip another page for his non-corporeal companion.  The silence was comfortable enough now that Harry had (almost) stopped wondering at the oddity of it.

 

Harry gasped aloud when a gleaming Patronus appeared next to the bed.  "Harry, come quick," said the silvery otter.  "St Mungos—it's Ron."

 

Ice gripped Harry as the Patronus dissipated into mist.  His book went flying as he left the bed, shucking his pyjamas as he went.  He stepped into his jeans as fast as he could ever remember.  The comfortable old t-shirt he slept in would do, and he stepped, sockless, into his slippers.

 

He glanced at Malfoy, who had rolled onto his side and was watching him.

 

"I'll…"  Harry stopped, not certain what to say.  He would be back, of course, but he had no idea when.  "Can you tell Minerva where I've gone?"

 

Malfoy nodded.

 

Harry hurried to the fireplace and left in a flash of Floo Powder.

 

O….O

 

St Mungos was a madhouse.  An abundance of blue and gold suggested some sort of themed accident, but the tired-looking Welcome Witch only said, "Puddlemere United tryouts today.  Between Quidditch injuries, fan brawls, and drunken idiocy, we've got our hands full.  How can I help you, dearie?"

 

"Ron Weasley," Harry said.

 

She cast a quick spell and then replied, "Second floor.  Room 229."

 

Harry hurried to the lift and made his way to the designated room to find Hermione standing in the hallway twisting her wand in a way Harry hadn't seen since his Hogwarts days.

 

"What is it?  What's happened?" he asked as soon as her gaze swung to him.

 

She bit her lip and shook her head.  "They don't know.  He collapsed during a routine training exercise.  He's been so tired lately.  I don't think he's eating properly and…"  Her scolding words broke off and Harry recognized them as camouflage for worry.

 

He jerked his head toward the door.  "We can't see him?"

 

"They won't let us see him.  It hasn't that been long, I suppose."  She twisted her wand and Harry leaned close and put an arm around her shoulders.  She sighed heavily.  "He'll be fine," she whispered.

 

"Where are the others?" Harry asked, curious that the place wasn't overrun with Weasleys, particularly Molly and Arthur, but also George and Bill.  Ginny was still in Argentina.

 

"Romania," Hermione replied.  "Visiting Charlie.  I'm waiting to contact them until we know more.  There is no sense having them come back if it's something silly, is there?"  Her hand clutched at his and she squeezed.  He mentally seconded her hope that it was something trivial.  "Bill should be here soon."

 

As if called by her words, footsteps sounded in the corridor and Harry looked up to see Bill Weasley approaching.  Hermione abandoned Harry to hug him and then quickly filled him in, seeming grateful for the chance to do something other than silently wait.

 

By the time she finished, the door swung open and expelled two Healers in lime-green robes.  "I'm his brother," Bill said authoritatively.  "What's wrong with him?"

 

"We're still running tests, Mr Weasley.  The diagnosis is inconclusive at the moment, although it is obvious that he is suffering from exhaustion and dehydration."

 

"I knew it," Hermione muttered.  "Didn't I tell him to rest more and drink more water?  Ale is not the same thing."

 

"Can we see him?" Harry asked.

 

One Healer started down the corridor and the other nodded.  "I see no reason why not.  We will keep him overnight for observation, but you may all go in.  Please stay no more than fifteen minutes.  He is very tired and needs to rest."

 

The others nodded agreement and then Hermione pushed quickly into the room.  Harry and Bill followed.

 

Ron lay back against the pillows, eyes closed.  He looked paler than Harry had ever seen and his freckles stood out like dots of blood on his skin.  His eyes snapped open when the door closed and a wan smile twisted his lips.

 

Hermione threw herself forward and hugged him.  "You complete idiot!" she said.

 

Ron chuckled.  "You need to work on that bedside manner, Hermione.  I'm a very sick man, you know.  I need coddling."

 

"You need a thump on the head!" she said hotly.  "You've not been sleeping or eating properly, or getting enough liquid and—well, just look at you!"

 

"Sorry, mum," Ron said and laughed.

 

Harry smiled, relieved, but he had to admit that Ron looked terrible.  His eyes seemed embedded in dark pools that left him looking wide-eyed and somewhat skeletal, an image not helped by the fact that he seemed far thinner than normal.

 

"Harry, Bill, what are you doing here?"

 

"When your best friend ends up in hospital, it's a bit of bad form not to show up, don't you think?" Harry asked.

 

"And I'm here to decide whether or not to call Mum," Bill said.

 

"Merlin, please don't," Ron said with a groan.  "Honestly, I'm sorry to have worried everyone.  I just let myself get worn down from training.  I'll be more careful."

 

"You certainly will once Mum hears about this," Bill warned.

 

"Come on, Bill.  Don't do that.  This is nothing."

 

"It'd better not be.  We'll see what the Healers say tomorrow when they decide whether or not to release you."

 

"They'll release me.  I'm fine.  And this will get me a couple of days away from training, so I'll be able to rest instead of running.  Bloody Thompson hates me and thinks running is the greatest training tool ever made.  Sodding sadist."

 

Hermione hugged him again.  "Well, I'll be back in the morning."

 

"To make sure the Healers are doing it right?" Ron asked with a snicker.

 

Hermione stabbed him with a finger.

 

"I'll be back, too," Bill said.  "Just to be sure."

 

"I have class in the morning," Harry said with a frown.  "You two will call if anything is awry, yeah?"

 

Ron rolled his eyes.  "Nothing will be awry.  I'm just tired!"

 

"All right, then.  I'll come see you tomorrow when I'm done with my classes.  Get some rest."

 

The door opened and the Healer gave them a pointed look.

 

"We're leaving," Hermione assured her.  "Goodnight, Ron."  She gave him a quick kiss and pushed away from the bed.  Bill walked over and took his brother's hand in a hard squeeze.

 

"Don't do anything stupid," Bill warned.

 

"Yeah, not much chance of that," Ron said and grinned.  Harry lifted a hand and waved and Ron raised his own hand in return.  It seemed to Harry the movement was sluggish and took far too much effort.  He hoped Ron was able to rest.  From his experience, sleeping was next to impossible at the hospital, since they seemed to enjoy prodding and poking at the patients every few hours.

 

When Harry turned back to look before the door closed, Ron's eyes were already closed.  Harry hoped to hell the diagnosis was accurate.  After making worried small-talk with the others and promising to meet again the next day, Harry found a Floo and went back to Hogwarts.

 

He stopped off at McGonagall's quarters—it seemed strange that he had never had occasion in all his years at the school to even locate the Headmaster's personal chambers.  It took a bit of questioning of house-elves for him to find it and finally one offered to personally escort him.  When he stood before the portal and lifted his hand to knock, the door swung open to reveal Minerva, still fully dressed, thankfully, even though it was quite late.

 

"Is everything all right, Harry?" she asked.  "Draco told me where you'd gone."

 

Harry nodded, relieved that Malfoy had done as he'd asked.  He explained the situation with Ron and assured her he would teach the next day, and then he returned to his own quarters, suddenly feeling very tired. The adrenal rush of panic had dissipated, leaving him drained.

 

Malfoy was lurking near the window in his room and Harry watched as emotions flickered across his face.  He was getting better at reading Malfoy now, he thought.  Strange how two weeks of peace could change his perspective.  Malfoy almost looked relieved for an instant, and then his features schooled into its usual haughty lines and Harry waited to see if something caustic was forthcoming.  Finally, he settled on, "How is Weasley?"

 

"Fine, as far as the Healers can tell.  Just exhausted.  He's been in Auror training."

 

"Lucky Weasley," Malfoy murmured and turned away.

 

Harry frowned at the words as he kicked off his slippers and removed his jeans.  He watched Malfoy as he did so and noticed something he'd only begun noticing since the romance novel incident.  Malfoy liked watching him undress.

 

As expected, the rustle of cloth drew Malfoy's attention and the ghost swung around and drifted closer to the bed.  Harry let his jeans slide to his feet before stepping out of them and then bending down to hook a finger in his pyjama pants.  For the first time he felt a rush of something that was not discomfort at Malfoy's open interest.  Malfoy's eyes lingered on Harry's thighs and moved to his crotch.  Malfoy had seen his bits before, of course, even though his forays into Harry's shower were infrequent.  For some reason, those incidences always seemed borderline slapstick, but this…

 

Harry swallowed hard and tugged on the soft pyjama bottoms, slightly mortified that his cock was beginning to take an interest in the path of his thoughts.  He realized it had been weeks since he'd wanked, thanks to Malfoy's eternal presence.  Obviously it was beginning to take a toll.

 

"What do you mean by 'lucky Weasley?" Harry asked and pulled back the blankets to hide inside the bed.  "Lucky that he's fine or lucky that he's in Auror training?"

 

Malfoy's lips pursed.  "The last one."

 

"Really?"  Harry shifted, glad that he was fully concealed beneath the blankets, because his libido refused to go quietly.  Malfoy moved to the bed and mimicked crawling onto it.  For a moment Harry cursed Malfoy's need to act like a human instead of a ghost.  The languid, careful movement made Harry's cock snap to attention as he noticed, not for the first time, that Malfoy had been a beautiful man.  Harry lifted one knee to hide his arousal.  Bloody hell, he needed to get laid.

 

"I thought about becoming an Auror," Malfoy said.  The words jolted Harry into not thinking about his condition.

 

"What?  You?"

 

Malfoy scowled at him.  "Not good enough for the Auror Corp, am I?"

 

Harry shook his head.  "It isn't that!  I'm just surprised you would want to.  Um… why did you want to?"

 

Malfoy rolled over and crossed his arms behind his head, gaze fixed as if studying the ceiling.  "Why did you want to?" he countered.

 

"Well, for me it was expected, wasn't it?  The Boy Who Lived defeats Voldemort and goes on to fight evil and champion justice.  That sort of thing."  Harry thought the bitterness in his voice was only barely detectable.  "Your turn."

 

"Maybe I just wanted to be you."  Malfoy's words were quiet.  Harry couldn't help but stare at him in horror until Malfoy turned his head to fix a dark stare on him.

 

Harry shook his head.  "You wouldn't.  You wouldn't want that at all."

 

"Because you had the Dark Lord after you?  I lived with him, Potter.  He was in my house.  Don't you think he was more of a threat to me than he ever was to you?  At least you found an eventual means to defeat him.  I was simply lucky."

 

"Not just because of that," Harry said.  "My entire life, well it wasn't the picnic you seem to think it was, evil wizard aside."  Harry was grateful for the gravity of the conversation.  His erection began to recede and he breathed a sigh of relief.

 

"Enlighten me," Malfoy said and he seemed genuinely interested.

 

"Only if you tell me why you wanted to become an Auror."

 

"Fine."  Harry waited, but if he expected Malfoy to divulge his answer first, he was quickly disabused of the notion when Malfoy said nothing.

 

Harry shook his head ruefully and took off his glasses before settling more comfortably into his pillows.  He should sleep, but Malfoy's curious expression made him want to share something of himself, if only to encourage Malfoy to change a few misconceptions.  He had to admit that having a friendly Malfoy dogging his footsteps was far nicer than having an irritated git reading potion ingredients all night long.

 

With that in mind, Harry began to talk about his life with the Dursleys, admitting to things he had not even confided to Ron and Hermione.  Something about Malfoy's riveted attention kept him talking until his voice grew scratchy and his eyelids drooped.  Somewhere along the way, Harry dropped off to sleep without ever hearing why Malfoy wanted to be an Auror.

 

O….O

 

Ron was released from St Mungo's with orders to take Dreamless Sleep for two days and drink as much liquid as possible.  He was encamped on Hermione's sofa when Harry dropped in.  She waited expectantly while Ron drained a glass of butterbeer, and then she took the mug and went to refill it.

 

"No weird complications, then?" Harry asked.

 

"Only that I'm turning into a liquid-filled balloon," Ron replied with a groan and patted his stomach lightly.  He felt like he might burst at any moment.

 

Harry grinned.  "I'm just glad you're out of the hospital, mate.  Try to take better care of yourself."

 

"You know it.  I don't want to go back there any time soon.  Some of those medi-witches could have been Death Eaters.  They seem to enjoy the poking and prodding a bit too much, if you know what I mean."  Ron frowned when he remembered one old harridan.  He rubbed a spot on his ribs he was sure was bruised from her diagnostic wand-jab.

 

Harry nodded, looking sympathetic.  He had been in the hospital far more than Ron.

 

"How is Malfoy?" Ron asked.

 

Harry started.  "Um… fine.  Why?"

 

Ron's eyes narrowed, wondering at Harry’s strange expression.  "You were complaining bitterly about him a couple of weeks ago and then nothing.  Did you find a way to hex him?"

 

Harry only shrugged.  "We came to an agreement," he said simply.

 

Ron's brows went up in surprise.  "An agreement?  With Malfoy?  What sort of agreement?"

 

Harry shrugged, obviously reluctant to discuss Malfoy.  "He's not so bad as a ghost," he admitted.

 

Ron snorted.  "Yeah, I imagine a dead Malfoy would be much better company than a living one."

 

Harry looked away, without a smile, nod of agreement, or anything resembling his normal behaviour.  Something had changed, and Ron wasn’t certain it was for the better.  If Harry felt sympathetic towards Malfoy, it would require drastic alteration of Ron’s world-view.

 

"Dreamless Sleep, then?" Harry asked, obviously changing the subject and pointing at the two vials lying atop the tea table.

 

Ron yawned and allowed the topic to drop, but he fully intended to keep his eyes open.  "Yeah, I need to take one soon.  No less than ten hours sleep a night, they said.  I feel like an old man."

 

"You'll get to be an old man if you do what they say and stop acting invincible," Hermione said as she returned from the kitchen and thrust a full mug of water into his hands.  "Now, drink."

 

Ron moaned.  "I can't, Hermione.  There's no room left in my stomach.  Look at this."  He raked his shirt up over his abdomen, hoping to distract her with his manly physique.

 

Hermione scowled.  "Nice try, but you're drinking this anyway.  And then you're taking your potion."

 

Ron opened his mouth to make a reference to nagging, but the sight of Hermione's face, obviously worried beneath the façade of badgering, had him closing his mouth and taking the mug.

 

Harry grinned and headed for the Floo.  "G'night, Ron," he said.  "Glad you're okay, you big git.  'Night, Hermione."

 

Ron flipped him an obscene gesture and Harry laughed as he stepped into the fireplace.  Ron drank his water and pondered.  Something was up with Harry and Ron intended to find out what it was.

 

O….O

 

Harry was thoughtful when he entered his room at Hogwarts.  He had been curiously reluctant to discuss Malfoy with Ron.  The time Harry spent with Malfoy had become something private and almost, though he hated to admit it, intimate.  Harry now looked forward to reaching his chambers each night.  Odd, considering he'd never really cared for reading all that much.  Until now.

 

Ron’s joke about a dead Malfoy being better than a living one had almost made him angry.  Harry felt a flare of guilt that he would have gladly expressed the same sentiment merely a month ago.  Now the name "Malfoy" conjured images of Draco sprawled casually on Harry's bed with his feet in the air and his stare fixed on a book as Harry languidly turned the pages.  Either that or he thought of Narcissa Malfoy, sobbing heartbrokenly for her lost son.  Neither was conducive to derision.

 

Harry sighed and suddenly realized his room was curiously ghost-free.  He wondered where Malfoy had got to.  As Harry stripped off his clothes and yawned, he realized it might be for the best.  After the previous night, he was exhausted.  Even so, a shower would not be remiss.  Eva Cook had miscast a spell that had covered half the class in ink.  Harry had erased it as best he could with Cleaning Charms, but he could still feel bits of it in his hair and clinging to random places on his skin.

 

The water automatically adjusted to his preferences—once again he spared a brief thought of love for the castle and for magic in general—and it felt wonderful sluicing down over his skin.  He scrubbed his hair and then his skin, slowing his movements as he soaped his privates.  It was a novelty taking a shower without wondering if Malfoy would barge in on him.  Harry hadn't realized how rushed showers had become until now.

 

The thought of Malfoy made him remember how Malfoy normally looked sprawled out on Harry's bed.  His casual elegance was beginning to have a serious affect on Harry's mental state.  Harry's cock swelled immediately at the thought and Harry groaned.  He supposed it wasn't just that Malfoy was attractive, but also that he had been somewhat nice lately.  His sense of humour had been a surprising discovery, at least when it wasn't directed at Harry's misfortunes or delivered in tones of caustic criticism.

 

Harry smiled and then shook his head at the fact that he was actually grinning at the thought of Malfoy's condescending voice.  Surely there was something wrong with him?  He tipped his head back and let the water warm his hair as his hand gradually moved faster over his cock.

 

He thought about the way Malfoy watched him when he undressed and his blood quickened.  It had been a long time since anyone had looked at him that way.  After his epiphany with Ginny, even knowing he wasn’t ready for a relationship, he hadn't exactly rushed out to experiment.  At the time he had been in Auror training and helping to rebuild Hogwarts, and just trying to pick up the pieces after the war.  He had always been too busy and it had seemed too difficult an endeavour to put himself out there.  The thought of people lining up to shag the "Saviour" had not been a pleasant prospect.

 

Harry’s nose wrinkled and he shook off his negative thoughts to concentrate on the feel of his hand stroking his cock and the building sensation of impending climax.  He thought about the way Malfoy's hair sometimes fell over his eyes, making Harry's fingers itch to push it back.

 

Thinking about how Malfoy would react to that and ignoring a twinge of sadness that it could never be, Harry gasped and came.  He shuddered blissfully and gave his cock a few finishing strokes before turning to rinse.

 

"God," he muttered.  "I'm attracted to a ghost."  As he turned, his blurry vision caught sight of something—Malfoy leaned against the bathroom door, casually watching him with arms crossed and expression unreadable.  Time seemed to freeze as their gazes locked and held, and then Malfoy melted through the door and was gone.

 

Harry rinsed with shaking fingers and then rested his hand against the side of the tub to keep from collapsing in a mortified heap.  Fuck.

 

O….O

 

Harry delayed his exit from the bathroom as long as possible, but finally his hair was nearly dry from frantic brushing and he could put it off no longer.  He wrenched open the door and stalked out.

 

Malfoy hovered by the window in his usual contemplative spot.

 

"Ever hear of privacy?" Harry snapped as he wrenched the sheets back and slid into bed.  He had thankfully taken his pyjamas into the bathroom with him, so at least he hadn't been forced to walk out in a towel and locate his clothing.

 

Without turning around, Malfoy said, "So, you have a crush on me, yeah?"

 

Harry made a sound of disgust and wrenched the blankets up to his chin.  He glared at the ghost.  "I knew you would be insufferable about this."

 

Malfoy left his post and glided closer.  A tiny smile played about his lips and it was almost worse than his trademark smirk.  "Of course, I am making assumptions.  You could have been speaking of Moaning Myrtle or Mimsy de Porpington."

 

Harry's expression of pure horror made Malfoy laugh in delight, and damn it if he wasn't attractive as hell when he did that.  It made something in Harry's chest tighten and he clenched his teeth with annoyance.  "Fine.  You can be somewhat attractive when you're not being an utter git like you are most of the time.  It doesn't mean anything."

 

Malfoy climbed over him in a semi-crawling, semi-floating manner and stretched out on the bed in his usual place.  "Potter, you were wanking while thinking about me."

 

Harry closed his eyes, refusing to see Malfoy's face.  "You're going to be irritatingly smug about this, aren't you?"

 

"For eternity," Malfoy assured him.

 

Harry turned to look at him then, but instead of a self-satisfied smirk, Harry saw nothing but a soul-searing sadness.  The breath seized up in Harry's chest and his heart thudded with sudden, wrenching pity.  Oh god.

 

"Too bad, isn't it?" Malfoy whispered.

 

Harry nodded, suddenly needing to touch him, if only for comfort.  Funny how he had always taken such small gestures for granted.  Too bad Malfoy was a ghost.  Too bad Harry had never known him well enough in life to find him attractive.  Too bad it was too late.  "I'm sorry."

 

A sad smile curved Malfoy's lips and he reached out to place an icy hand against Harry's cheek.  "I never did have very good luck."

 

Harry forced a smile and then shifted down in the bed until his head rested more comfortably on the pillow.  He shut his eyes, feeling an unwilling prick of wetness there that accompanied a strange tightness in his throat and made it difficult to speak.  "Goodnight, Malfoy."  He cast a wordless Nox and the room went dark.

 

"Goodnight, Potter."

 

Just before he fell asleep, Harry thought he felt something cold brush against his forehead.  Something that might have been the light touch of a ghost's lips.

CONTINUED

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