Chapter 4

A month had gone by. Salazar had started to get used to the idea of following and watching her all the time. Of course, she had been suspicious whenever she accidentally felt his presence, but she'd always brushed if off after checking to make sure that no one was there. Salazar had even caught her wondering at her own sanity at one point when she felt his presence (but not detect anyone around).

He'd been following her so often lately that he hardly even left her side. Since she never went to quidditch practices, he hardly went himself.

One day, while reading along with Hermione in her room, Salazar realized with a start that he had missed his Slytherins' quidditch practice. And surprisingly, he didn't mind.

Salazar blinked.

When had that ever happened? Salazar frowned. He never missed quidditch practice. They were the highlights of his dull and horribly long 'life'. But the more he thought of it, the more he realized that, in the past month, he had missed at least three Slytherin quidditch practices. And not once had he even noticed.

He stared at Hermione, who was so intent on reading her Charms book that she hardly noticed anything else around her. Her cat, Crookshanks, sat at the far corner of the bed, sleeping.

It was then that he realized why he didn't mind missing quidditch practices so much.

He realized that his time with her was growing short. As long as Hogwarts continues to hold tournaments, he would always have quidditch practices. But he would only have Hermione for another six months. And then she would be gone. Forever.

He didn't like to think about it. He wanted her here, in Hogwarts, preferably forever.

He reached out, but stopped short of touching her. No, he didn't want to bother her. She needed to study.

Suddenly, she looked up and turned towards his direction. She frowned, then blinked. She shook her head, as if trying to clear her vision. She looked, then blinked again.

Salazar frowned. What was happening? Could she see him?

"Hermione?" Salazar said, forgetting for a moment that she couldn't hear him.

Hermione gasped and scooted back. She glanced towards his direction, the fear evident in her eyes. "Who's there? Who are you?"

Hearing her voice, Crookshanks looked up. The cat meowed, apparently thinking that Hermione was talking to him. But Hermione wasn't even looking at her cat.

Salazar's eyes widened. He stood up. He watched as Hermione's eyes continued to follow his general direction, but never really focused on him.

"Hermione, can you hear me?" Salazar asked. His voice shook with anticipation. Could she really hear him?

She nodded hesitantly. "Who... who's there? Harry? Is that you?"

"I'm not Harry," Salazar said.

Hermione's eyes widened in horror. Instantly, she whipped out her wand and waved it around in his general direction. Again, her eyes weren't focusing on him, but she did seem to be able to tell where he was standing.

The poor cat of hers looked utterly confused. It stood up and sniffed around. Apparently, it couldn't hear or see Salazar, unlike its mistress.

"Then who the hell are you?! If you're a Death Eater..." Hermione's grip on her wand tightened.

"I'm not a Death Eater, either. Hermione, I'm not going to hurt you. Even if I wanted to― which I don't, I assure you ―I can't," Salazar said.

"Wh... what do you mean, you can't?" Hermione asked.

Salazar frowned. Why was she not looking at him properly? "Can you see me?"

Hermione frowned. She narrowed her gaze, as if she was trying to focus on him. Then, she shrugged. "I see... something... like a shadow or an outline, but nothing more."

Salazar sighed. That explains why she wasn't focusing on him, even while she was looking in his direction.

"You haven't answered my questions. Who are you? And what did you mean, you can't hurt me?" Hermione asked. Her cat meowed, but she ignored it.

Salazar reached out a hand. Hermione backed away. Good. At least she can see well enough to know where his hands were.

"Try to touch me," he said.

She hesitated.

Salazar sighed. He supposed, he couldn't blame her for being paranoid. She certainly had reason to, what with the Death Eaters threatening her life everyday. "Fine, then throw a pillow at me, or something."

Hermione frowned. But, she supposed, a pillow would be far less risky than going over and touching him herself. She reached for her pillow and threw it at him.

It went sailing through him.

Hermione's eyes widened. Then, mustering all the courage she could get, she reached out and tried to touch him. Her hand went through him, as though there was nothing there but thin air. Then, to Salazar's surprise, Hermione's shoulders relaxed visibly, as if she'd suddenly realized that she was safe.

"So, you're a ghost." Hermione said matter-of-factly.

"Not exactly," Salazar replied.

"What do you mean, not exactly?" She lowered her wand. By now, her cat had finally given up on trying to understand its mistress. If cats could give their mistresses strange looks, Crookshanks certainly would have. In sniffed indignantly. Then, it curled up again at the corner of the bed and went back to sleep.

Salazar couldn't help but feel elated when she lowered her wand. Good. She was beginning to trust him. "I was never dead."

"What?" Hermione blinked. "You're not a poltergeist, are you? I mean… you don't seem mischievous like Peeves is. Are you... were you human?"

"Yes," Salazar said. He sighed. "A long time ago, I got into a duel with a wizard who... ah... wronged me. He hit me with the Curse of the Living Death."

"The Curse of the Living Death...?" Hermione frowned. She tried to think of where she might have heard of such a curse.

"You'll not find that in any of the libraries here," Salazar said with a hint of a smile in his voice.

"Why? What kind of curse is it?" Hermione asked.

Salazar chuckled. "Ever the inquisitive know-it-all, aren't you?"

Hermione froze. "How did you know about me?"

"I've been here for years, Hermione. Centuries. Your penchant for knowledge isn't exactly a secret amongst the students here," Salazar said.

Hermione started to blush. Then, something about his words caught her attention. "Wait, did you say centuries? Just... how long ago was that duel of yours, anyway? And what did the curse do? Is it anything like the Draught of the Living Death?" Hermione asked.

"I'll answer the part about the curse first, then maybe you'll listen to the rest of my story," Salazar said.

"Fair enough," Hermione nodded.

"The Curse of the Living Death is part of the dark arts. Let me assure you, it is nothing like the Draught of the Living Death. No, this is far worse. Simply put, it is a step away from the killing curse. That is why you won't find it in the library here at Hogwarts. What it does is that it transforms the victim into a state that is not unlike that of a ghost, except for one, minor difference," Salazar said.

"And...?" Hermione asked impatiently.

"Unlike your Sir Nicholas here, no one can see, feel, or hear me. In essence, though I am still in the world, I am dead to it. Not even the ghosts could see me. I have gone for centuries without anyone ever noticing my presence. You, my dear, are the first to ever notice me, much less hear my voice," Salazar said.

Hermione frowned. "Why me?"

Salazar gave a long sigh. "That, is exactly what I'm trying to find out myself."

Hermione was silent. She sat back on her bed, staring at his outline. "Could you do magic?"

Salazar gave half a laugh. "I can't even hold a wand. How am I supposed to do magic?"

"I've seen Peeves steal people's wands before," Hermione said.

"Yes, but you're forgetting something. I'm not a ghost. You can see ghosts, and hear them. I, however, go about unnoticed even by ghosts. Peeves can knock those armors around. I can't even touch them, much less knock them around," Salazar said.

"You still haven't told me your name." Hermione said.

Salazar looked away. He hesitated telling her his name. He wasn't sure how she'd react to this. He wasn't blind. He knew his reputation in this century. His wayward descendant had been partly the cause of that tarnished reputation.

He looked at her. Would she squirm away if she knew who he was?

The image of a certain werewolf suddenly came to mind. No, she hadn't been prejudiced about the werewolf.

Then again, that werewolf had ended up defending her.

Salazar never had that chance to prove himself. Given his reputation in this century, he wouldn't blame her if she'd run away the minute she finds out who he was. He decided to be cautious. "You may call me... Sal."

"Sal?" Hermione rose her eyebrows. "That's not your real name, isn't it?"

"It's... the name that one of my old friends would call me sometimes," Salazar said. Godric would sometimes call him that, if he thought he could get away with it. Of course, it had annoyed Salazar to no end that his friend chose to butcher his name so. But at the moment, he'd rather Hermione know him simply as Sal, rather than Salazar. He wasn't ignorant of the fear that surrounded his name these days. He knew all too well the evil reputation he had somehow gained— thanks to that so-called wizard who claimed to be his descendant. If Hermione knew just who she was talking to at the moment, she'd only look on him with fear and suspicion. And that wasn't what he wanted. He hadn't made this much breakthrough in centuries. He couldn't afford to have her run away from him. Not now when he was finally starting to interact with people again. Somehow, this muggleborn woman was the key to his freedom. And Salazar was determined not to let her get away, even if it meant sacrificing his true identity.

"I see," Hermione nodded, though he could tell from the way she looked at him that she wasn't entirely convinced. After awhile, she asked him another question, "So... how long have you been here?"

Salazar shrugged. "I'm not exactly sure. It's hard to keep track of time when you're sequestered in an environment that hardly changes over the centuries. I've learned to stop counting the years long ago. Had I not done so, I would have gone insane."

"Do you even have the slightest idea how long you might have been here?" Hermione asked.

"Well... I was already here when Nicholas Flamel first came to Hogwarts as an eleven year old," Salazar said.

Hermione's jaws dropped open. "But Nicholas Flamel is over six hundred years old! You must be―"

"Utterly bored." Salazar cut her off before she could get any ideas as to how long he'd been here. There was a hint of a smile in his voice. "As much as I love being in this castle, things do tend to get a little dull after a few centuries. And don't you dare call me old."

Hermione couldn't help but laugh. Eventually, though, her curiosity kicked in again. She asked, "Why are you here? With me, I mean."

Salazar shrugged. "You're the only one who can sense my presence."

"So you decided to hang around with me?" Hermione asked in disbelief.

"Yes." Salazar replied.

"I don't believe you," Hermione looked at his shadowy outline suspiciously.

"Believe what you will," Salazar said with a shrug. Then, he moved to the chair and sat down. He noticed that Hermione's eyes followed his movement as he walked. "Put yourself in my shoes, Hermione. I've been here for centuries without anyone being able to see, hear, or touch me. I can't touch anything, either. My hand passes through whatever I try to touch. I cannot read, write, or even hold a wand. Quite a boring existence, let me tell you. And then you came along. You started to notice my presence, even before you heard my voice."

Hermione frowned. He could tell that she was thinking. All of the sudden, her eyes widened and she gasped. "The other day! In the library! That was you?!"

"Yes," Salazar said. "I didn't think you'd notice. And when you did, I was intrigued. Like I said, no one's been able to do that before. So I decided to follow you and see what happens. And as you can see, or rather, hear, something did happen, or we wouldn't be having this conversation right now."

Hermione's gaze narrowed suspiciously. "Why were you in the library? I thought you said you couldn't touch anything? Doesn't that mean you can't flip through books as well?"

Salazar smiled. Nothing much gets past her, doesn't it? "I can't. But you can."

Hermione frowned in confusion. Then, she gasped when she realized the implication. She stared at him indignantly. "You were reading over my shoulders?!"

He had to admit, he felt slightly embarrassed at being caught. "I was bored. It's not as though I could go out and play quidditch."

Hermione opened her mouth to protest, then changed her mind and closed it again. "Still... I could have been writing a diary!"

"But you weren't," Salazar said simply.

"But I could have!" Hermione insisted.

"After what happened in your second year? I doubt you'll be very fond of diaries after that," Salazar said.

Hermione looked at him suspiciously. "What did you know about that?"

"Every single creature in the school knows, Hermione. It wasn't exactly a secret. Besides, I saw the blood written on the wall. And I was there when your friend Potter gave the diary― along with the dirty sock, by the way ―to a rather irate Mr. Malfoy," Salazar said.

Hermione couldn't help but smile. "You know, I would have loved to have been there, if only to see Malfoy's face when he got the dirty sock."

Salazar laughed as well. "Well, let's just say he wasn't pleased."

"No, I bet he wasn't," Hermione smiled. Then, she looked at him. "Why were you reading over my shoulders, anyway?"

Salazar shrugged. "I was bored. I wanted to read, you just happened to be reading. It was a convenient situation, that's all."

"Oh. That was it?" Hermione frowned.

"What, were you expecting some ulterior motive?" Salazar frowned.

"Honestly? Yes." Hermione said.

Salazar shrugged. "Believe what you will. Let me tell you something, when you've had centuries with nothing to do but to watch people, you'll take whatever entertainment you can find, even if it meant reading over people's shoulders."

Hermione thought about it, then shrugged. "I suppose. How do I know you're telling the truth?"

"Do you honestly believe that me reading over your Charms textbook would give Voldemort an advantage in this war?" Salazar asked.

"Er... no, I suppose not." Then, Hermione gasped. "You said his name!"

"Yes. So, what of it?" Salazar replied non-chalantly.

"No one says his name around here! Well, except for Harry, and Professor Dumbledore, when..." Hermione's face fell. She trailed off, thinking of Dumbledore's death.

Salazar sighed. "Professor Dumbledore was a good Headmaster."

"Yeah," Hermione smiled wistfully.

"A bit insane, sometimes. But generally good," Salazar added.

Hermione couldn't help but chuckle. "I do miss him. Hogwarts isn't the same without him."

Salazar did not answer. He looked out the window and let out a long, deep breath. "This war has put quite a toll on everyone here. There's a lot less laughter here than it used to be."

Hermione looked at his silhouette. Though she couldn't see his face, she could hear the sadness in his voice. "What was it like, back in your time?"

Salazar smiled wistfully, though he knew she couldn't see it. "It was... simpler. Children were simply children back then. They weren't burdened by thoughts of war. Most were awed by the castle. Most had probably never seen anything quite so big in their entire lives. On a warm day, you could look outside, where the Quidditch pitch is now, except we didn't have that back then. And I would see children laughing, playing tag, although admittedly, there were the occasional squabbles and hexes being thrown about. Lucky for them, hexes back then weren't as developed as they were now. Duels between children were much less... violent. Unlike the ones I've seen— particularly between your old teacher, Snape, and James Potter. Now their duels were violent."

Hermione gasped. "You knew James Potter?!"

"I've watched him and his friends, yes. Their duels with Snape weren't exactly discreet at the time. I can't tell you how many times I've heard Madam Pomfrey complain about the number of times Potter and Snape found themselves in the Hospital Wing. And Black too, sometimes. Although, admittedly, Potter and Black were usually worse off than Snape," Salazar said.

"What else do you know about them?" Hermione asked rather eagerly.

Salazar tried to remember. He remembered Potter's, Black's, and Snape's duels because of the amount of blood that usually went spattering about everytime those three got into a fight. But he seemed to recall... ah, yes. "There were two more who usually followed them around. Lupin and Pettigrew. I don't remember much about Pettigrew. He must have been one of those quiet ones. I didn't even really notice him until your third year. That's when I remembered that there had been four of them. Lupin, however, I will always remember. I've seen him transform several times. Quite an experience, that was. Those were the times when I was glad that no one could see or touch me, or he would have come after me for sure."

"He didn't exactly have a choice, you know," Hermione bristled.

"I am not condemning your former teacher, Hermione," Salazar said.

Hermione sighed. "Right. Sorry. It's just that... so many people had been so prejudiced about his condition. It isn't fair how they treat him! I wish they could see how nice he really is. He really is nice, you know."

Salazar sighed. "Unfortunately, my dear, most people don't see beyond their fears. You were lucky you had a chance to get to know your former professor outside classroom. Most people never got that chance."

"Hmph." Hermione huffed. "I still think they ought to be more fair to him."

Salazar raised his eyebrow. "Why do I have the feeling that you're saying that because you wanted him back as your teacher?"

Hermione looked away. "Alright, I admit he was a better teacher than some of the ones we've been getting these past few years."

Salazar laughed. "Well, I can't deny that! I must say, these past six years have certainly been more eventful than all the centuries I've been here."

"Centuries..." Hermione frowned. She looked at his silhouette. "It really has been that long for you, hasn't it?"

Salazar sighed heavily. "You have no idea."

Hermione's gaze softened. "I'm sorry."

Surprised, Salazar looked at her. "Whatever for?"

Hermione shrugged. "Just... the idea of being here for centuries... it's a long time, especially when you don't have anyone else to talk to."

Salazar was silent. He looked away. He wasn't looking for her pity. Still, her sympathy was... welcome. Salazar smiled. She had always been the compassionate sort. It was... endearing, sometimes. Although he could think of a few times when her sympathy was definitely misplaced... particularly those involving house-elf freedom.

When he looked back at her, she had her charms book in front of her again. She started reading. And then, she paused and looked at him. She looked hesitant for a moment. Then, she took a deep breath and asked, "Would you... like to read with me?"

Salazar blinked. She was actually inviting him to read with her?

"Would it bother you?" Salazar asked.

Hermione shook her head and smiled. She sat on the edge of the bed and laid the book on her lap.

Smiling, Salazar got up from the chair and sat next to her. She opened the book to where she left off and scooted the book towards him so he could read along.

oOo

A/N: I'm ALIVE! I'm sorry for my long absence. I'd mulled over this chapter for ages. I was originally going to throw this one away and come up with a new one. But I changed my mind. Hopefully, this chapter would make up for my lack of updates.

Some of you commented about Hermione's lack of reaction to Salazar. I hoped I had addressed them in the beginning of this chapter. Yes, she did notice him. But, like most of us who suddenly got the 'chills' while we're alone, she simply brushed it off (after making sure that there's no one around under an invisibility cloak, that is). Canon-ly speaking, other than ghosts and poltergeists, there are no known creatures or spells in the wizarding world that could give you the feeling of someone invisible passing through you. Someone under an invisibility cloak would still have felt solid.

About why Hermione was able to sense him, my only hint is this: one reviewer managed to guess the reason correctly. If that's you, then congratulations!