Hermione hadn't been quite sure what to expect from herself as the Medi-witch left her and a once more Poly-juiced Thorfinn alone with the findings of her examination. At least this time Draco had been privy to the situation—he'd been the only one they'd told about the possibility—so that he would not be unpleasantly surprised by any shocking gossip about Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy 'secretly' visiting St. Mungo's together. Draco, for his part, wasn't thrilled by the idea, but in a startling show of compassion given his history, he understood the necessity.
Thorfinn wasn't certain what he expected from her, either, but it was not the heart-heavy disappointment in her eyes as she lifted them to meet his gaze.
His shoulders slumping, he stepped up to her, clasping one of her hands between both of his. "You really wanted this, didn't you?"
"I—" She stopped herself and shook her head, frowning. She lowered her gaze, again. "I don't know. I know we only considered it last night and we're both still quite young, so it's hardly as though there's any rush, but . . . ." Her lower lip trembled a bit and she forced herself to go on, her voice dropping to a whisper, "I don't know. Once I knew it was a possibility, I think I started really considering it. I realized I would've been happy to find out we were."
Nodding, he smiled sadly. Thorfinn turned and leaned his hips back against the exam table, his hands still around hers. "What would you have wanted us to name them?"
She met his gaze steadily then, her expression carefully blank.
"Humor me. If we'd just found out we were going to have a child, what would you want to name them?"
Hermione's shoulders moved as she exhaled a heavy sigh. "I'm not sure. If you'd have asked me that a month ago, I think I'd have said 'oh, I'd name my daughter for my grandmother, Jean.' Or 'maybe I'd name a boy after Fred or Remus.'" She sighed again as she went on, ignoring that Thorfinn probably only recognized the names from being on the corrupted Ministry's wartime Undesirables list. "But now . . . I think I might name a daughter for my mother. Though, I'm not too sure how 'Rowena Rowle' would roll off the tongue."
"It's actually got a nice ring to it," he said, a gentle laugh coloring his tone. "And if a boy? Oh, don't tell me. Rowen?"
"Dagfinn," she answered without hesitation.
His entire countenance appeared to crumble. "For my father," he whispered, his heart clenching.
She tacked on to her previous statement with a quick shrug, "Middle name Rowen."
Thorfinn never let himself think on it, but he did miss the man terribly. There was too much pain there. Too much he'd been too young to know should be said. Too much his father, the mighty and honored Jarl, would've been too stubborn and stoic to permit himself to listen to, but Thorfinn would've said it, all the same.
He turned again, putting himself in front of her. He let his eyes drift closed as he shook his head. "You really are amazing," he said softly.
Hermione pressed a finger to his lips as they drew near to hers. "Ah. None of that when you don't look like you, remember?"
Thorfinn laughed, letting his head drop. Smirking, he lifted it again, his eyes capturing hers. "How could I forget? I just . . . got carried away a moment."
She smiled, allowing the kiss he pressed to her forehead.
"You know," he started, folding his arms around her shoulders. "If you really want this, we could try again. On purpose, this time."
"I . . . I do." The witch couldn't believe she was so certain about something this big, this life-changing so soon and so easily, but she was. "But perhaps this is a blessing in disguise that we turned out not to be."
He wasn't nearly as tall in Draco's body as he was in his own, and the way he usually dropped his chin atop her head simply didn't work with only a few inches of height difference between them rather than a foot. Instead, he rested his cheek against the side of her wild mane. "How so?"
"Well, I should think it would only add to the chaos right now were we to be pregnant—Lord knows, I'm not even sure if my father would kill you or congratulate you, and that's just the parent from a thousand years ago, there are two more you'd have to worry about. But it also showed us how we feel about the idea of it. Imagine if we had been and we'd both been sort of 'oh, dear God, no!'?"
He grinned, nodding against her hair. "You've got a point. No more to be done here, so . . . shall we?"
She shrugged. "I suppose so." Yet, as he started walking and used his hand on hers to tug her into step with him, a thought struck. "Wait."
He paused, turning his head to look at her over his shoulder. "Hmm?"
"We're here. At St. Mungo's." Once more, she shrugged, lowering her voice to a whisper, despite that they were alone in the exam room. "We should pop into the Janus Thickey Ward and, well, check."
"Check?" he echoed, arching a brow.
Hermione nodded. "You know, to see if there are any cases that fit the criteria for Professor McGonagall's plan?"
His features puckered. "Yes, I got that. But it's not exactly window shopping we're talking about, here."
She knew it was a bit tactless, and certainly in poor taste, but it was the truth of the situation. "It sort of is, though, isn't it?"
Shoulders slumping, Thorfinn frowned. "What I mean is it's not as though we're going to go 'oh, here, he looks like a good fit' and be able to guarantee that same body will be available when we go through with it. We should at least wait until we let everyone else in on the plan."
"I know." Cupping his jaw with her free hand, she gave him a confident smile. "I'm not going to do anything more than check. I just want to know whether or not this might actually be possible."
"All right. Fine. But no taking any unclaimed bodies with us!"
Her eyes narrowed. "We're not trying to steal a puppy from a petshop, Thorfinn! I know not to try taking any . . . potential hosts with us."
A frown tugged at his lips as she stepped ahead of him and tugged open the door. "Stealing puppies from a—does anyone actually do that?"
Hermione laughed, only answering with a nod.
As they entered the incurable wing, Hermione was overcome with the sense that if Thorfinn could manage it whilst keeping his dignity intact, he'd duck behind her. He clearly did not like being in the presence of people not in their right state. She knew it made a lot of people uncomfortable to see other humans living like this.
"Please," she whispered, her heart sinking merely looking around the ward. "They're just people. Most of them perfectly harmless. They simply need . . . more help than those outside these wall, is all."
Thorfinn waited quietly as Hermione filled out the visitor information.
"Patient name?" the witch at the desk just inside the entryway asked the second she finished.
"Oh." Hermione knew a few names here she could spit out, but she refused to use Neville's parents like that. Defaulting, she remembered a person whose own actions landing him here seemed some form of justice. Someone who was in a state not to notice if she wandered off. "Our old professor, Gilderoy Lockhart."
"Well, now." The witch popped out from behind the desk and started leading the way. "No one's been to see him in a while."
Professor Dumbledore had felt much the same as Hermione had about Gilderoy's fate. As it seemed just reward enough, he'd never revealed to Wizarding Britain that the man was a hack of a wizard and a charlatan. Even with Lockhart's reputation intact, however, it seemed the world had moved on without him in the absence of any ability to shove himself before the public eye at every conceivable opportunity.
"I know he's not really . . . fit for conversation, but we just felt as though someone ought to tell him how his students fared in the War." Hermione forced a warm grin, even as she felt Thorfinn gaping at the back of her head through Draco's eyes for coming up with such believable rubbish on the spot. "It might brighten his spirits, even if only for a few, lucid, moments."
"I understand." The healer nodded as she halted and extended her arm toward one bed in particular. "Who knows, maybe the news will do him some good. Visitors are only permitted on the ward for another hour. I trust you'll be long finished by then?"
Hermione nodded, watching with that grin still plastered in place as the woman bustled back toward her desk—which was thankfully around a corner.
"You're a frighteningly good liar."
She shrugged, nodding again. "Remind me to tell you sometime about how I managed to get Dolores Umbridge kidnapped by centaurs with a lie."
Grey eyes widened. "Dark past you've got, Miss Granger."
"Okay. You keep here with him, I'm going to look about. If I find anyone who fits, I'll come get you. If any staff come by, tell them I went to find the loo."
"Right." Thorfinn eyed the flaxen-haired man on the bed. He curled his lip in a sneer of complete distaste once she started away. "Never did like you, smarmy bastard."
Gilderoy's face lit up at the voice near him, the meaning of Thorfinn's words seeming to go in one ear and out the other. "Oh, a visitor? I suppose you'd like an autograph, yes?"
Thorfinn's sneer melted into a frown.
Hermione felt many things as her gaze passed over the patients in the Janus Thickey Ward. Scared for them, heartbroken for their families. A sick feeling in the pit of her stomach over how lost and without hope some of them—the ones aware of their predicament but unable to do anything about it because of their physical maladies—must feel every day.
Perhaps coming here had been a mistake after—
Hermione nearly jumped out of her skin at the whisper behind her ear. Grabbing for her wand, she spun. Yet, sooner than she could actually draw the weapon, sooner than she could take any true action, she realized she recognized the voice.
Squinting at the empty air before her, she glanced around, assuring herself no one was about to hear her as she whispered back, "Helena?" Honestly, the last thing any of them needed right now was anyone hear to see her speaking to thin air.
"Thank God!" the ghost answered. "I was so lost."
Ducking into a corner, Hermione gestured blindly for her sister to follow. Certain she was hidden from view, she asked, "How did you find me?"
"I don't even know, really." Though Helena was still invisible, Hermione could imagine from her tone that she was shrugging, a mystified expression on her face. "I was just thinking really hard that I wished I could see you and then . . . here I was."
"So you . . . thought yourself to me?"
"I suppose I did. What are you up to? Where's your Viking?"
Hermione tipped her head out of the shadowed nook and peeked around again before explaining to her sister what was going on.
"Oh, then it's lucky I'm here, isn't it?"
Brow furrowing, Hermione couldn't imagine what Helena meant. "Lucky?"
"I can help you do a sort of . . . test-run. That's the term, is it not?"
Hermione's features pinched. "Um . . . for what?"
Helena showed herself, but only barely. Just enough to let the living witch see where she was. "Come with me."
Nodding, Hermione followed Helena across the ward floor. The wispy figure led her to a bed with a man who appeared, for all intents and purposes, dead. Or, he would, if not for the fact that he was breathing.
"This man was in a terrible accident. Some experimental magic that backfired. They don't expect he'll ever wake."
Hermione checked the scroll hanging from his bedside post. "True. How did you know?"
"Oh, while I was looking for you, I passed a Medi-witch going over the patients' conditions to some sort of . . . trainee-child-person."
"Well, what do you think? Would he be a good replacement for Father?"
That question in mind, Hermione turned her attention to the poor, comatose figure in the bed. Shockingly, there was some resemblance there. The dark locks, the facial hair, roughly the same build and stature. Oh, true, the man didn't actually 'look' like the Salazar Slytherin they recalled, but he was near enough that Father could probably be quite comfortable in this body.
Checking the patient's scroll, again, she noted the name and looked for any note of relatives or contacts. "Daughter, also . . . ." Hermione turned her gaze upon the next bed.
The girl lying there, just as near-dead seeming, shared the man's dark hair and pale-olive complexion. "And she's the only family listed."
Hermione's heart wrenched. It was easy to guess she'd simply been too close to her father when the spell they'd been experimenting with had backfired. Though she wondered briefly which one had been the source, she pushed that aside in favoring of considering it a miracle they'd survived. Harry had told her Luna's mother had died from some experimental wandwork going sideways on her.
A realization struck and her blood ran cold. "A test-run?" she asked in an urgent whisper, returning her attention to that faint outline of her sister. "You can't!"
"I absolutely can!" Helena pursed her lips as she shook her head. "True, I'd know idea there'd be a suitable test subject at the ready like this, but it's perfect."
"It's not perfect, it's madness."
"Nonsense. I'll pop in, see if it works, and pop back out."
"Sabina, please." Though she knew her sister couldn't feel the gesture, Helena placed a hand on her arm. "I'm a ghost. I'll be a ghost, still, if this doesn't work, but we should be sure Minerva's plan has a true chance of succeeding before going forward, don't you think?"
Hermione chewed at her lower lip as she tried to weigh all of this. Yes, there were still those predictive spells she wanted to do to make certain there weren't stealing this man's chance at having his life back. Yes, she now would need those same spells done on his daughter to assure them they weren't stealing a father from a child who might still wake.
And yes, there was the worry that Father's circumstances with Dolohov might not be so easily duplicated in an otherwise 'empty' body—that he might not be strong enough to exist in a damaged form.
He wasn't a ghost like Helena. If his will, his memories, didn't graft into the prospective host . . . . Hermione frowned, dropping her eyes a moment. She wasn't sure she could take the thought of losing her father again so soon. Not when there was a chance it could work.
Not when even the smallest oversight on her part could be the reason it might not.
"All right. Fine. You can . . . try it out, I suppose." Hermione held up a hand. "Wait. Let me go get Thorfinn, first."
"We might not have time to—"
Shoulders slumping, Hermione stopped midstride. "He's just around the bend, Helena."
"Oh. Fine then."
Sparing a few more seconds, Hermione let her sister in on Thorfinn borrowing Draco's visage—again—simply so they were all on the same page. She walked away whilst Helena took to inspecting her potential-temporary-host.
Hermione found Thorfinn holding a small stack of parchment slips as Gilderoy Lockhart prattled at him. The befuddled wizard was signing more slips and handing them over.
"Um, what's going on here?"
Wide grey eyes pinned her with a distinctly unhappy look. "I haven't the foggiest. One moment, he was asking me if I wanted his autograph, the next, he'd convinced himself I'm a representative from his fan club."
"Oh." She winced as he—with a pained grin—accepted another slip from Gilderoy. "I'm terribly sorry, Mr. Lockhart, but that's all the time we have for today."
"Do come back soon, won't you? I always make time for my fans!"
The witch forced a kind, warm laugh and nodded. "Of course."
She ushered Thorfinn away, back toward Helena, depositing the slips in a rubbish bin along their way. She was horribly embarrassed to think she'd been infatuated with that poor sod for even a moment before the entire Chamber of Secrets debacle. It was nothing to do with his magical malady, and everything to do with him being an insufferable, preening, jack ass and a fraud of the worst sort. Lying was one thing, taking credit for other's deeds was entirely another, and far more deplorable a thing.
Mother would roll over in her grave to see someone like him in her House.
When Hermione finally reached the pair of beds—issuing a whispered explanation to Thorfinn as they'd walked—Helena's ghostly outline was nowhere to be seen.
"Drat it, where did she—?"
For the second time just that afternoon, Hermione thought she'd jump out of her skin as the comatose daughter bolted upright in her bed. Realizing immediately what had happened in her absence, she hurried to the girl's side.
"Helena?" she asked, her voice low, as the girl's blue eyes opened and locked on hers.
The girl nodded.
Hermione's shoulders drooped in a mix of relief and incredulity. "What? You were supposed to wait for us!"
"I'm sorry! I couldn't help myself." The poor thing's voice sounded like sandpaper brushing against stone. Just how long had she been in this coma? "I was leaning over the body, next thing I knew I was in the body."
"Why'd you get so close?"
The lips moved in a frown. "I was curious."
Thorfinn uttered a scoffing sound. "Bloody Ravenclaws."
Both witches ignored his comment. "Okay," Hermione said, nodding. "So you're in. You've clearly got control of the body, so we know this can work. All right, good. Out now."
Helena nodded—the body nodded—and she lay back down. Her eyes closed . . and then one popped open again, the direction of the gaze darting about.
Her brows pinching upward, Hermione called her sister's name.
Again, Helena nodded. "Still me."
"What're you doing? Get out of there!"
"I, um . . . ." She opened her other eye and smiled sheepishly. "I seem to be stuck."
Hermione's jaw fell and Thorfinn murmured in a pitch so deep it appeared comical slipping from Draco's lips, "Oh, bollocks."