Disclaimer – all characters and canon situations belong to JK Rowling and I make no money from the writing or publishing of these stories. Thank you!
(Written for The Maple Bookshelf's 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' October 2012 Challenge. Prompt used: "I never thought I'd see you again. Can the dead feel love?")
A Ghost of a Chance
There came a time in a person's life when she had to decide one way or another exactly HOW she would face a problem. Either she would face a problem head on, rise to the occasion, take the bull by the horns and all that rubbish… or she would sit idly by and try to act as if there was no problem happening at all, and hope that the problem would either go away or solve itself.
Today, Hermione Granger was trying very hard to act as if no problem was happening at all. Of course, today's problem was rather small in the scope of things, and she should know, for she had faced some rather large problems in her life.
Her problem today was her shoes, or more aptly, her lack thereof. Slipping her shoes off while under her desk was a common and everyday occurrence to her. Nevertheless, there always came the inevitable moment when she was faced with the task of placing her shoes back on her feet. Usually this happened without fanfare or fuss. Usually it happened without anyone else being any the wiser, for USUALLY when she slipped her shoes off her feet (as she USUALLY did) she almost, ALWAYS was able to put them back on again without anyone noticing.
But not today.
So now she was faced with the problem of having to stand behind her desk as the Minister of Magic, the Head Auror and one of her fellow investigators in the Department of Mysteries all entered her office – and she had to face them shoeless. All because twenty minutes earlier she had the misfortune of slipping off too tight shoes, kicking them somewhat too far away, and then faced with the dilemma of being in her stocking feet when three rather important men entered her office.
Although really, she would only be embarrassed if ONE of the three found out she couldn't find her shoes underneath her desk. The Minister of Magic was a wizard by the name of Andrew Williams, and he was remarkably popular, talented, young, and so far, successful as an elected official. She would hate him to find her lounging about her office with her shoes kicked off her feet. In fact, she would be mortified.
The Head Auror was none other than Harry Potter. Harry had seen her without more things than her shoes, so she was all right on that account.
Her fellow investigator was Draco Malfoy, and frankly, though he sometimes still made Hermione cringe, she could care less what he thought of her.
Harry smiled as the three made their way into her office. Only the Minister of Magic held out his hand as Hermione stood (sans shoes). Taking his hand, she shook it and smiled. Harry nodded his hello and Draco grunted and mumbled something akin to a greeting under his breath.
"Hello, Gentlemen, to what do I owe the honour of your presence?" Hermione greeted, motioning to the two seats in front of her desk. Two of the men could sit. One could stand.
Draco and the Minister of Magic sat even as Harry drew something out of his pocket and threw it on her desk.
Hermione picked it up. It was a bracelet with blue stones, probably sapphires, interwoven with silver beads with intricate etchings on the silver. It looked to be an antique, and worth a great deal of money.
Hermione took it that 'this' was the answer to her first question, but still, she asked, "What's this?"
Harry pointed toward the bracelet in her hand and said, "That is an heirloom that was sold by Amos Diggory last year upon his wife's death."
Hermione frowned as she continued to finger the bracelet, finally placing it on top of her desk. "Didn't Mr. Diggory just die a while back, too?"
"Yes," Harry supplied. "Amos died of a heart ailment three months ago. Then two months ago…" and he suddenly stopped talking to look at the other men.
Hermione continued to frown. "Two months ago?" she prompted.
"Two months ago, the items that Mr. Diggory had sold a year prior, pieces of his wife's jewelry, and pieces of art from their home, had started coming up missing from their new owners. Stolen, if you will."
Hermione raised her eyebrows while Draco said the obvious, "Which leaves Mr. Diggory out as a suspect, since he's gone on to the afterlife."
Glaring at the blond man, Hermione moved her left foot forward to try to locate her left shoe. She felt something. It was a shoe! She edged it closer. The Minister said, "It's a mystery, to be sure, but so far, at least ten items that Amos sold in the year between his wife's death and his has been stolen."
Looking at Harry she asked, "Do you have a suspect?" Again, Harry looked sharply at the other men before he looked back at her. "What?" she asked annoyed. "Tell me."
He sighed. "It's so preposterous, Hermione," he began, "but the witnesses' accounts were all the same. A man, late twenties, tall, light brown hair, grey eyes, extremely handsome, and they even said he was kind. They all even said that they 'wanted' to give the items back to him, and didn't notice what they were doing until he left."
"You said 'back' to him," she pointed out. "What aren't you telling me?"
Harry rubbed the back of his neck, and then brought his hand up to his mouth, stalling to answer. Looking over toward the two men sitting, he said, "Draco, why don't you tell her."
Raising her eyebrows, she turned her rapt attention to Draco.
"My mother saw a lovely brooch in a jewelry store three months ago. Mother of Pearl inlay, solid gold, intricate design. She told my father about it and he dispatched me to get it for him. Being the ever obedient son, I went to the jewelers the next day."
Hermione snorted. Moving her right leg forward she started her search for her wayward right shoe, since her left shoe was now firmly on her foot.
"I was walking down Diagon Alley with the purchase, not done with my errands for the day, when suddenly a man appeared in the mouth of an alley, pointing a wand directly at my chest," Draco said.
Hermione sat upright, her search for her shoe on hold. Now the story was interesting. She always liked hearing about Draco having a wand pointed at him. "Go on."
"Let me tell you, Granger, if a man points a wand at your chest and tells you to follow him, you do it, and so I did. I walked down the alley, at this point though I was in front of him. The alley was so dark. It was narrow, between two tall buildings. There was hardly any light. When we got toward the middle, he told me to stop. I turned around and he was holding out his hand. He said, 'The brooch please'. Well, I tried to act nonchalant, and said, 'What brooch', but he said, 'if you value your life, you'll give me the brooch'. Well, of course, I value my life, so I gave him the bloody brooch. I was sure my parents would have approved."
"Did you feel compelled to give it to him, as some of the other witnesses claimed?" she asked.
"The only thing I felt compelled to do was to live, Granger," he said dryly.
"So that means he doesn't necessarily use the Imperius curse to compel the person to give the item to him, or at least, he didn't with you," Hermione reasoned, standing up, one shoe on, one shoe off.
Draco laughed. "No, his wand pointing at my chest was all the convincing I needed."
Hermione walked toward Draco's chair. "Did you get a good look at him?"
Draco looked down at her legs. "Are you missing a shoe, Granger?" He looked back up at her and smiled. "Is your salary inadequate to the point where you can only afford one shoe at a time?"
"Never mind that, did you get a good look at him?"
"Yes, I did," Draco said, the smile gone. Then he looked back toward Harry.
Harry swallowed hard and said, "Hard as this is going to seem to be, Hermione, by all accounts, the person stealing all of the Diggory's items is none other than Cedric Diggory."
At that astounding news, Hermione sucked in a breath, and then went back to her chair so she could sit down before she fell down from shock. She wasn't even going to argue with Harry, because he had that look on his face that already told her that he believed it to be true.
"How can that be, Harry?" she said in almost a whisper, leaning forward slightly in her desk chair. "You know better than anyone that Cedric Diggory was killed by Voldemort on June 24, 1995."
Harry walked over toward her and sat on the edge of her desk. Taking her hand in his he said, "I know that, but I've seen stranger things in my lifetime as a wizard, and so have you Hermione. Stranger than this. Listen, it's not only Malfoy's word that I'm taking as the final say on this…"
"Well thank you, Potter," Draco sneered from his chair.
Harry ignored him and continued, "but given the other witnesses accounts, and the fact that it's only the Diggory items that have been stolen, I think we have to put credence to the fact that it might be Cedric, or at least, some form of him."
Narrowing her gaze, she leaned back in her chair. "What do you mean, some form of him?"
The Minister spoke up. "Several witnesses claimed that the culprit came into their warded homes, and that he was more of a spectral, or a spirit."
"Yet he was corporeal enough to handle jewelry," Hermione snorted. "Listen, gentlemen, I don't really think the ghost of Cedric Diggory is going around stealing his mother's jewelry, do you? I also don't think he's an Inferi, so what does that leave us? Could it be Polyjuice potion? But no, I don't think so." She swirled on her chair to face Draco. "Draco? Was the person who took the brooch from you alive or a ghost?"
"He was most certainly alive, and he looked just like Cedric Diggory would look, if he was older, so that leaves out Polyjuice, but yet that's impossible too, isn't it, Granger, because we were all on that field when Potter brought his body back. We all saw him dead." Draco stood from his seat, pushed her chair (and her) back to some extent, reached under the desk and pulled out her last 'lost' shoe. "Here, I believe this is yours."
"Thank you," she said sincerely, placing it on her right foot. She took a deep breath while she considered the option that Cedric Diggory, as either a ghost or something more sinister, was back from the dead. She quickly thought of the last time she had seen him alive - and then just as quickly squashed that memory back into the deep recesses of her mind.
None of the men here needed to know exactly WHAT Cedric Diggory meant to her. And certainly, none of these men needed to know what it might mean to her to know that he was back. Looking up at the three men, she asked, "How do you want to continue?"
"That's where the bracelet comes in," Harry remarked. "We want you to take the bracelet and wear it to the Ministry's dinner tomorrow night. There'll be plenty of Aurors about, but in addition to that, you're a trained investigator, and there's no one more capable than you if something should occur, which we hope will."
Hermione bit her lip and picked up the bracelet. Should she tell the men that she had her own piece of jewelry, a ring, that Cedric gave her when she was just a girl? He once claimed it belonged to his mother. She could use that to draw out 'his ghost' just as easily as she could use this bracelet. "I wasn't planning on attending," she said. "I haven't bought a dress, nor do I have an escort."
Draco shrugged. "And that's where I come in, Granger. I'll pick you up at seven sharp and I'll send you over something appropriate to wear." He stood, as did the Minister of Magic. After the Minister left her office, Draco turned around and said, "How about I even send over a pair of shoes that fit?" He laughed and flitted out the door.
Hermione sighed then turned back to Harry. "What do you really think of all of this?" She stood and walked over to him.
"I just don't know, Hermione. I really don't know," was all he said in return. He kissed her cheek and turned, leaving her office.
Hermione plopped back into her chair. Slipping the bracelet onto her wrist, she decided that her earlier assessment remained the same, but slightly altered. It was true that there came a time in everyone's life when they had to decide how they would face a problem – no matter how big, no matter how small – and since this was a big problem, Hermione Granger would face it as she had all the other big problems in her life: Head on.
Why was Hermione nervous? For one thing, this wasn't a date. For another thing, the person for whom she was to meet tonight was Draco Malfoy – her nemesis/foe/workmate – therefore it really wasn't a date, which was a good thing, because she hadn't been on a date in almost a year. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, she was more than capable of defending herself against a real person, let alone a ghost, so she wasn't nervous about a ghost showing up tonight. Not that she believed he would anyway.
The ghost of Cedric Diggory.
She snorted as she checked her hair in the mirror over the fireplace in her office. The ghost of Cedric Diggory was supposedly going around stealing his mother's jewelry – oh – and his family's priceless heirlooms and pieces of art. She wondered something. Where did a ghost put such things? In a haunted house? She giggled at her own little joke.
Of course, Draco Malfoy walked into her office right at that moment. "While I agree that your looks are somewhat amusing, I'm not sure they're funny enough that one would laugh out loud at them."
She gave him her best glare.
He merely smiled at her in return, blasted man.
She sighed and replaced her glare with a look of apathy. "I wasn't laughing at my appearance. I thought I looked alright, actually." And she did. The dress Draco picked out was beautiful. It was a soft lilac colour, made of pure silk, crisscrossing over her breasts. High-waist, with little pleats in the skirt, it came to her knees, with a matching silk wrap.
"That dress will do, but I thought the dress I picked out for you would have looked better. Didn't you get it?" He plopped down in her desk chair and opened the top drawer of her desk, then began to look around her drawers.
"This isn't the dress you bought me?" she asked, confused, looking down at the beautiful, short dress.
"No," he said shortly, rummaging around another drawer even as he kept the first drawer open.
"What did the dress you buy for me look like?" she wondered, even as she continued to look at the dress she was wearing.
He continued to snoop in her belongings. "Red. Short. Low neckline. Garishly attractive."
She almost growled. "What are you looking for?"
"I don't know," he replied, opening yet a third drawer. "Nothing, really."
"Well stop it," she ordered, tapping her pointed shoe on the floor.
He closed those two drawers and opened yet another. "I'm just messing around," he said without looking up.
"Stop messing around in my drawers immediately, Malfoy!" she demanded, walking over toward the desk chair to stand directly in front of him.
He smiled, leaned back in her chair, and propped his feet upon her desk. "Usually women love for me to mess around in their drawers." He wiggled his eyebrows at the double entendre, leaned forward and closed all the open drawers.
She hit his feet off her desk and looked down at her dress once more. "Are you sure you didn't send this dress?"
"It's fetching, and makes your breasts seem large, which is a plus, but no, I didn't." Standing suddenly, he came before her, looked down at her feet and said, "Nice to see you in shoes. I do have something for you. It's not a priceless heirloom, like the bracelet, so the ghost won't steal it, but it might look good with your outfit. May I?" He produced a diamond and amethyst studded comb from the pocket of his jacket. Placing it in her upswept hair just so, he offered her his arm and then asked, "Are you ready?"
"I think we need to discover who sent me this dress, Malfoy," she ensued, biting her bottom lip with worry, her hand coming up to the comb.
Grabbing her hand, he pulled her out the door. "Don't worry about it. It was probably someone who's seen your wardrobe before, and knows how dismal it is. Now are you coming or not?" As he took her arm in his, he looked at her wrist and cursed. "Granger, where's the bloody bracelet?"
"It's here, it's here." Slipping her arm from his, she put her hand in her small purse and pulled out the bracelet, then placed it on her left arm. Checking her purse for her wand and lipstick, she placed her hand back on Draco's sleeve.
They started out of the threshold, when suddenly Draco stopped. Turning to her, he said, "You really do look outstanding, Granger."
She was taken slightly aback by what she could tell was a genuine compliment from the man. A true smile found its way to her lips and she thanked him and nodded as they made their way up to the banquet, which was being held in a Muggle hotel, not far from the Ministry of Magic.
Though the hotel was well guarded by Aurors, and warded as well, Hermione could only hope that the thief, whoever he was, would strike tonight, and that they would catch him. Then all of this silliness of ghost and dead men would end. She was still thinking about Cedric as she and Draco entered the large banquet hall amongst a series of whispers and a low hum of gossip.
She wasn't aware of it, or that it concerned her. She wasn't aware that people were curious as to why she was there with Draco Malfoy. She wasn't aware that men were turning their heads to stare at her. She wasn't aware that women were slightly jealous. The only thing she was aware of was the beauty of the hall, and her assignment for the night.
The interior of the room shone like stain glass, with a multitude of colours bathing the interior of the banquet hall in a perfect display of beautiful splendor. There was a glorious feeling of this being a perfect place… a perfect day. Hermione couldn't remember the last time she felt like this.
Wait, yes she could. She felt this way the first time she went on a date with Cedric Diggory when she was only 15 years old.
Draco leaned over to her and said, "They're all staring."
"You're so egoistical," she laughed. "You always think everyone's looking at you."
Draco shook his head, incredulously, and said, "Dense as a doorknob, smart as a whip. They're looking at you, love. You're beautiful, and the fact that you're on my arm doesn't hurt."
She wanted to believe him, but it had been so long since she had felt beautiful. She hadn't even dated for almost a year. She looked back down at herself, then up at him and said, "Are you jesting?"
"As if I would jest," he said with cocky smile. "Shall I get us a refreshment? You just remain right there, glowing in the light of your own beauty."
She laughed outright and said, "You're so cocky. Go on with you, get me a drink." He bowed, brought her wrist (with the bracelet) up to his lips, kissed her fingers deftly, and then left her in the middle of the room.
She took a deep breath and then looked at the bracelet on her arm. It almost felt like a shackle, a leaden weight. Then she stared at the ring she placed on her fourth, left finger. She wore it as an afterthought, and now she regretted it. About to take it off, she glanced across the room and caught Harry's eye. He nodded an infinitesimal amount toward her, and she at him, and then she began to circulate around the room.
Saying hello to a few people, she didn't stop at any one place for any amount of time. Without being too obvious, she tried to make sure that the bracelet was noticeable. However, after circling the room twice, no one asked her about it, or seemed overly interested.
Draco brought her a drink, and then they danced.
It was a long, and frankly wonderful, night. But nothing happened. When the party was dying down and everyone was leaving, Hermione stood by an exit with Harry, Ron, and Draco and she said, "Well, you didn't really expect the ghost of Cedric to swoosh down during the party and steal the bracelet right in front of everyone, did you?"
"Of course not," Harry answered. "If it's going to occur, it's more than likely to happen on your walk back to the Ministry from the hotel or at your home tonight."
Ron chimed in, "It was grand that everyone got a good look at the bracelet. I made sure people knew it was a Diggory heirloom, too."
"Wait a moment," she began, "then why all the pretense? If you didn't think anything would happen during the party, why did I even have to come here tonight?"
"Shall I answer?" Draco drawled. He leaned toward her, smiled, and said, "Because, darling girl, just on the off chance that it's not a ghost, we want to give the illusion that you and I are having a ripe old time tonight. If the culprit is a good old man, instead of ghost, we wanted to give the chap a ghost of a chance, little play on words, to steal the thing the old fashion way."
Ron interjected, "And if the items are really being stolen by an entity, in this case, the ghost of Cedric Diggory, then it'll happen when you get home, or perhaps at the Ministry. A person couldn't breach the wards at either place, but a ghost could."
Hermione growled and then bit back the retort she almost replied and said instead, "I'm too pretty tonight to tell you all off for not giving me all the facts."
Harry smiled and said, "I think you're a bit pissed. How many drinks did you have?"
"I'm on duty," she gasped. "I don't drink on duty!"
Draco held up one hand with four fingers showing.
Hermione swatted his hand. "I did not have four drinks! Wait, were those alcoholic drinks you gave me? You said they were punch!"
"I lied," he quipped, leaning against the wall, while loosening his tie.
She swatted him again, just because she felt like it.
"Seriously, why didn't you tell me this?" she asked the men.
Ron said, "Because we know you always think on a purely logical level, and you would have pointed out that there's no way a ghost could have stolen anything, and so you wouldn't have even thought about the possibility that anything might have taken place that wasn't reasonable and believable, therefore we kept quiet, too."
"Also," Harry explained, "we sort of thought you would have figured all of this out by now."
"This stinks! I hate it when you all think of things that I don't! Furthermore, you should trust me more! If you come up with a plan, you should tell me it right away so I can tell you if its good or bad, you ruddy fools! I don't even want to help you now." She started to take the bracelet off to hand it to Harry, but the clasp was stuck. "And I was going to take this off and give it back to you, so the ghost could steal it from you, but I can't get it off. No matter! I'm leaving!"
She stormed out of the room, the bracelet still on her wrist.
Harry expelled a long breath and said, "She's right of course. No good has ever come from keeping things from Hermione Granger, but frankly, I seriously thought she would have figured it out on her own. What if she takes the bracelet off before the plan can work?"
"Don't fret, Scarboy," Draco smirked. "Our plan may still work. I slipped a jeweled comb from the Diggory's estate in her hair earlier tonight."
"Malfoy, that's, that's…" Ron looked for the right words.
"Brilliant?" Draco asked, taking a drink from a passing waiter and downing it in one drink.
"No, regrettable," Harry answered for him, "Because we have to tell her! You're a fool!"
"No you are!" Draco fired back, pointing at Harry. "You said it earlier! No one's more capable than she is! She'll be fine! If she goes back to her house or the Ministry, there are wards up, so a wizard won't get it, so she'll be safe. If it's a wizard, he has to strike her from here to there, and believe me, it was a WIZARD not a GHOST that stole from me! And the Aurors are already following her! Have some faith in her! I do! Now if you don't mind, I'd like to follow her myself!"
Draco started to walk away, when a young Auror named Timmons ran up to Harry and said, "We lost her, Mr. Potter. We lost her. I don't even know how it happened, but Miss Granger had just left this building to walk back to the Ministry, and she was there one moment, and the next minute, poof, she was gone! And we found this on the ground of an alley!"
In the young man's hand was the hair comb.
Harry took the comb from the man's outstretched hand, held it aloft, and then looked at Ron, then at Draco. "Gone... just like a ghost," he mumbled, clutching the comb in his hand as they all ran out of the hotel.