Hermione woke with cotton in her mouth and her limbs weighted down to the point of immobility. When she tried to stir, the cotton migrated to her head, and she flopped unceremoniously back to a resting position.

Only to find that the reason she'd had a difficult time moving was not due solely to exhaustion, or even the copious amounts of alcohol-laden punch she'd found herself imbibing the previous evening. No, when she finally managed to prise open her sleep-crusted eyes, she stared in awed horror at the tangle of limbs covering her.

Hair. Blindingly blond-white. Both long and short. Mingled with hair as dark as a raven. Tangled with her own mass of corkscrew curls. A heavy arm draped across her torso was even more disturbing, and led to the discovery that at least three legs had been thrown over hers, pinning her to the mattress.

And if she didn't know better, she would say that the hand resting on her lower abdomen looked suspiciously like that of the Potion Master, Severus Snape.

Eyes wide with horror, she flung the offending arm off her and scrambled to a seated position, ignoring the stabbing pain behind her eyes at the sudden movement. Hangover or not, spending another second in bed with her former professor and two men she was quite sure could claim the name Malfoy simply wasn't going to happen.

"Not so fast, Miss Granger," a familiar voice instructed. The realization that the voice didn't belong to any of the men with whom she was currently sharing a bed led her to release the shriek she had so far successfully repressed. And she was completely justified, she told herself later. Who wouldn't scream when confronted with the ghost of the late Albus Dumbledore?

Eyes wide and unblinking, she stared at the spectral gray form hovering just inside the curtains of the four-poster bed. It was unmistakably Dumbledore, and yet he appeared to have sustained changes that could not be laid entirely on the fact that he was deceased. His robes were the plainest she'd ever seen him wear. Instead of his habitual pursed lips caused by sucking on lemon drops, his face was curiously devoid of expression, even of the twinkle she had come to loathe. Most shocking of all, however, were the cruel and heavy chains clamped to his wrists and ankles and wrapped around his waist.

Roused either by Hermione's startled shriek or the clinking of Dumbledore's chains, Lucius Malfoy shifted and tucked himself firmly against Hermione's legs. "Go back to sleep," he muttered, his voice thick with sleep. "S'not morning yet." To punctuate his statement, he rubbed his lower body against her, and her eyes grew wide yet again, but for an entirely different reason.

"Mr Malfoy!" she exclaimed, scrambling to put some distance between them. "Wake up!"

After making another unsuccessful attempt to latch on to her leg, Lucius sighed and opened one eye. "Miss Granger?" he queried, frowning. "How…"

"Not important right now," she snapped. "Look!"

Lucius followed the direction of her shaking finger and spotted the spectre. "Oh, Suffering Salazar," he grumbled, responding much more calmly than Hermione thought he had any right to. "I've died and gone to—"

"Unless you plan to complete that statement with 'a rare tropical island filled with incredibly beautiful but mute and intelligent women', I beg of you to stop." Severus Snape shifted, and Hermione flushed in embarrassment as he reached out, managing to once again secure the arm she'd dislodged from her torso.

"Severus!" she hissed, hoping that the use of his given name would irritate him enough to goad him to action.

"Very well," he huffed. "I suppose you want me to drag myself out of bed to bring you a Hangover Po—" He stopped abruptly, staring at the still form of Dumbledore. "Great bloody buggering fu—"

"Yes, yes," Dumbledore interrupted. "I quite agree, if the truth be known." For the first time, Hermione caught a glimpse of the cheerful indifference for which he had been famous. In fact, she thought, the git's eyes were most likely twinkling. Not that she could tell, what with the ghostly outline obscuring his features.

"However," he continued, shifting slightly and causing the chains to rattle, "I fear we have little time to waste on the pleasantries of shocked incredulity. If you would be so good as to wake the younger Malfoy…?"

Hermione glanced at the foot of the bed, where Draco Malfoy slept soundly. His light blond hair was plastered to his face, and if she didn't know better, she would have sworn that she could see a thin trail of drool trickling down his cheek.

"Oh, for Merlin's sake," Lucius muttered. "He's been this way ever since he was a child. Refuses to wake until he's good and ready." He reached out as if to give his son's shoulder a shake, but Dumbledore was faster. A blast of purple light from his wand, and Draco shot bolt upright, coughing and spluttering.

"The magical equivalent of a bucket of cold water," Dumbledore explained, his face awash with benevolence.

"You could have just conjured the aroma of frying bacon," Lucius spat, making room for Draco to sit beside him.

"I'll remember that for next time," Dumbledore promised.

"There will be no next time," Lucius said stiffly. "Draco and I will be pleased to leave now." He frowned. "If we are still at Hogwarts, I assume that we will not be able to Apparate?"

Hermione shook her head. With all the tweaking of the wards, they'd strongly considered leaving off the Anti-Apparition aspects, but the Board of Governors had decreed it would be too great a security risk, and the wards had been reinstated.

"The Floo will not work for you," Dumbledore informed him, and watched with interest as Lucius huffed in annoyance.

"Then we will walk to the gates and Apparate from there," he decided.

Dumbledore smiled, and Hermione shivered.

"I'm afraid not," he said, his voice as congenial as ever.

The atmosphere in the room went from irritated and bewildered to tense in seconds.

"I think you'll find that it's quite impossible for you to leave this room," Dumbledore continued cheerfully. "At least, impossible to leave without me."

Draco, who was still struggling to fully wake, merely blinked in confusion. Lucius, however, flinched, and Hermione couldn't help thinking that it wasn't sporting to tell a man with Lucius Malfoy's past that he was trapped. He did, after all, have a rather unpleasant background of incarceration.

In an instant, Severus shifted his wand from where it had hung limply at his side to point it at the ghost. "You are not merely a ghost," Severus said, his eyes narrow. "You've performed magic. And you're threatening to keep us here against our will—something a ghost would not be capable of achieving. What are you?" he demanded.

Dumbledore raised both hands in a gesture of good will. "I think you'll find that I'm much as I used to be," he said, his tone both patient and kind.

Hermione wasn't fooled. "You didn't used to be dead," she pointed out, fingering her own wand.

"Well. Yes. There is that." Ignoring the wand trained on him, Dumbledore crossed the room to a chair and seated himself, his chains clanking loudly. "I suppose I am a ghost," he continued thoughtfully. "But not just a ghost. I have a purpose, you see."

"Besides meddling in the affairs of others?" Severus sniped. "If not, you really haven't changed at all."

Dumbledore smiled again, and Hermione had to fight the desire to wipe the expression from his face. Would it kill the man to be forthright, just this one time?

"Or perhaps it's more of a mission, rather than a purpose," he speculated. "I'm not entirely certain. In any case, I have been chosen to guide the four of you through a series of life events." He smiled again. "Your own life events. Now, doesn't that sound like a capital idea?"

"It does not," Severus seethed, and his wand drew dangerously close to poking Dumbledore in the neck.

The ghost shrugged, chains once again rattling. "Well, it makes no difference. Whether you choose it or not, you will each be guided through the events of the past, the present, and the future."

The presence of a chained ghost and the mention of images from the past, present, and future clicked, and Hermione blinked. "Wait a minute. This sounds suspiciously like—"

"Now, now, Miss Granger. You mustn't ruin the surprise for the others," he admonished, eyes twinkling with amusement.

"What?" Lucius turned to her, his eyes blazing. "You are aware of whatever nefarious plot the damnable codger is involving us in?"

"No!" she exclaimed. "Well, not really," she amended, biting her bottom lip.

Lucius growled impatiently. "Well, speak up," he demanded. "Enlighten the rest of us, won't you?"

"I'm afraid there's no time," Dumbledore said, standing and clapping his hands together. "While Miss Granger may have sussed out the nature of the events that will be transpiring this night, she was in no way informed of these events prior to the rest of you. Pray cease the hostility and grasp my robe."

"I think not," Lucius sneered, crossing his arms over his chest. "I do not find the feel of ghosts pleasant at the best of times, and I think it fair to assume that you are certainly as repulsive of the rest of the ghosts inhabiting this castle."

Draco, who had remained silent to this point, joined his father and mimicked his posture. His stance lacked Lucius' haughtiness, but was a solid showing of controlled support that Hermione was rather grateful was not directed against her.

"I don't think we have a choice," she said reluctantly. "If this…" she waved her hand, "charade is what I think it is, we'll be forced to confront aspects from our past, present, and future." She frowned. "When should we expect the first spirit?" she inquired, turning to Dumbledore.

"Oh. Well. Yes." He pulled at his robe, causing the chains to clank and rattle once more. "I'm afraid you will have to be content with my presence for the duration of the night."

"But that's not right," Hermione objected. "There should be separate spirits for—"

Dumbledore held up a hand to silence her. "I believe there was mention of budget cuts. Now, if you don't mind…?"

He extended his arms to the group, almost as if he intended to embrace them. As one, they recoiled.

"My robe," he said softly. "You must place your hands on my robe to be transported to the first destination."

"All of us?" Hermione questioned. "Shouldn't this be done on an individual basis? I mean…" She bit her lip and looked at the three men. She had no desire the relive the most private moments of her life with them, and the thought of witnessing theirs was singularly disturbing. Although it might be interesting, she admitted to herself.

"Miss Granger. I will repeat myself, and remind you of the budget cuts. This is to be a group effort."

"Group effort," she repeated blankly, her mind suddenly, inexplicably, picturing herself at a table in the library with the three Slytherins, forced together to work on a Charms project. Glancing at the three men, she could only shrug. At least they were intelligent, she reminded herself, shuddering when she pictured going through this nightmare with Lavender Brown.

Right, then.

"Well, let's get this over with, shall we?" She grasped Dumbledore's robe, being careful not to touch the ghost's body. He had already proven that he was not a typical spectre, such as the Bloody Baron, but she had no idea how corporeal his body really was, and she didn't care to find out.

"You're agreeing to this madness?" Severus asked, raising one eyebrow. "I thought you had more sense, Miss Granger."

Releasing her breath with a huff, she glared at her former Potions professor. "If it were done…" she said lightly, letting the rest of the phrase linger. She didn't expect any of the wizards to recognize Shakespeare, and she wasn't disappointed. Though there was just the hint of a smirk playing around Draco's lips… Of course, that was his natural expression, and it wouldn't do to read anything else into it.

"You'll be quite safe," Dumbledore continued. "And the sooner we begin, the sooner this… What did you call it, Miss Granger? Charade? In any case, the sooner we begin, the sooner we will finish." He waved the arm Hermione was not grasping, and the other three wizards eyed each other uneasily.

Cloak billowing behind him, Severus jiggled the handle of the door while Lucius strode to the fireplace and bellowed the name of his intended destination. Severus received a sharp jolt for his troubles while Lucius found himself covered in soot that the fireplace unceremoniously belched onto him.

"And I'm the one constantly accused of reckless behaviour," Hermione muttered quietly.

Draco snorted, and the two shared brief but amused smiles. As the two older and supposedly more mature adults rounded on Dumbledore and began arguing loudly, Draco and Hermione retreated a few feet.

"So what do you think is really going on?" Draco asked, leaning close and keeping his voice low. "What's Dumbledore up to?"

Hermione shrugged and tossed her hair over her shoulder. It occurred to her that she hadn't so much as glanced in a mirror since she'd awoken, and that her hair was most likely a right mess. But it wasn't as if well-controlled hair was going to make a difference to the outcome of the evening.

"I think we're in some sort of Dickens-esque situation," Hermione started to explain, but was interrupted by the end of the argument she'd been attempting to tune out. Dumbledore was gliding and clanking towards them, and Severus and Lucius followed, frowning and looking as if they could smell something unpleasant.

"I believe we're ready now," Dumbledore said, smiling cheerfully once again and extending his arms.

"T'were best done quickly," she thought she heard someone mutter, but it was lost in the shuffle as they arranged themselves, each reaching towards Dumbledore but none quite touching his robes.

"Are you sure it's safe?" Draco asked, his voice only millimetres from her ear.

Hermione sighed and placed her hand on the robe. "Probably. In any case, I don't think we'll have any rest until we've fumbled our way through this charade."

"You've quite the skill with pep talks," Lucius commended her snidely, but followed her lead and extended his thumb and forefinger to pinch a tiny portion of the cloak. He grimaced, as if unsatisfied with the quality of the fabric. Draco followed suit, being careful to stay to the side and slightly behind Dumbledore so that he was looking at Hermione's face, rather than Dumbledore. Severus was the last to capitulate, giving Dumbledore a narrow-eyed look.

"If you mean to harm any one of us," he said in a voice just loud enough to be clearly heard by everyone in the room, "I swear that I will kill you a second time."

For the briefest of moments, Hermione thought she saw a flash of emotion on Dumbledore's face, but before she could identify it, Severus had grasped Dumbledore's arm in a strong grip, and the room began to swirl out of focus.

"Oh, Merlin," Draco groaned, doubling over and clutching his stomach. "This better not be like portkey travel."

Having no desire to arrive at their destination covered in sick, Hermione attempted to move unobtrusively further away from him, but they were already in mid-transport and any type of movement was impossible. Squeezing her eyes shut, she hoped that death hadn't affected Dumbledore's ability to Side-Along Apparate, because if the truth were told, she wasn't particularly fond of this form of transportation either.

To her immense relief, they landed softly. Even with her eyes closed, she could feel the brilliant sun and smell flowering plants.

"For heaven's sake," Lucius grumbled. "I could have Apparated myself if I'd known we were coming here."

"I'm afraid not," Dumbledore cheerfully contradicted him. "Seeing as how we're not actually 'here'."

She would have been more alarmed by this statement had she not suddenly felt a sharp peck on her thigh. She let out a startled gasp, and opened her eyes to find a magnificent peacock staring at her imperiously, as if inquiring why she had invaded its space. She snapped her head up and found that she was staring at an opulent Manor.

A familiar opulent Manor.

"Oh, bugger," she cursed, ignoring the peacock butting her hand. "We're at Malfoy Manor."



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Author's Notes

Characters from the Harry Potter series are the property of J.K. Rowling. They are used without permission and not for profit.

Thanks, as always, to The Above and Beyond Team of Miss M and Miss B.

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