They had been at school for over a month when the first incident happened. Some students had snuck into the forbidden forest on a drunken dare. They came out gibbering about violent ghosts. The rambling and 'hallucinations' were put down to the drinking and of course the scratches were from trees and bushes as they ran through the unfamiliar terrain.
The second incident was harder to dismiss. Almost the whole herd of Thestrals had been slaughtered. Hagrid was heartbroken. He did his best to care for the remaining few members but dropped his teaching schedule to devote more time to grounds keeping and caring for the animals. He created paddocks for the Thestrals on the grounds instead of in the forest. None of them wanted to go back in. He himself was becoming uncomfortable going in there moved the hippogriffs to the paddock too.
Strange mist began to seep from the forest. It had a sweet strangely enticing scent that began to permeate the walls of Hogwarts.
"It's getting worse isn't?" Hermione says turning from the window. She looks to her friends for confirmation or comfort. She gets neither.
"Dunno," is the carefully thought out answer Ron gives her. Harry gets up to join her at the window.
"Just one year to be normal teenagers you said Hermione. That sounded nice."
Ron approaches the window too watching Hagrid try to fan the fog back into the forest.
"Kind of is normal for us," the other two give him sceptical looks "oh come of it. You two have been as bored as I've been with no adventures."
"Well maybe," Hermione grins. "I have been a little low on research topics."
"May I suggest creepy fog as your next one?" Harry suggests.
"I did take a breif look through the card catalogue yesterday," she says "Maybe I should go back to the library for a couple of hours. I might get some inspiration." She says grabbing her bag off the floor grinning.
"Want a game of chess," Ron asks Harry as Hermione disappears out of the portrait hole.
"Yeah go on then," Harry replies. He waves his wand casting a non-verbal accio to bring the chess set to them by the window.
Throughout the game Harry regularly glances up at the fog.
"He was never much one for fog mate," Ron tells him.
"No but still..."
"Has your scar hurt at all?" Ron asks him.
"Come off it. It's not him. No one's dead. No one's missing. We got all the horcurxes he can't come back."
"We both died in there Ron. What if that did something? What if it's all my fault?"
"It's just creepy fog mate," Ron tried to reassure him. "Hermione will spend a few hours in the library and come back with some theories and we'll work from there. It's what we've always done." Ron grins at him.
"Yeah you're right," Harry laughs. "I just.. I just really wanted it to be over."
"It is mate. This is.. well I don't know what it is but it's not a crazy murderer running around trying to wipe out half the wizarding population is it?"
Harry leans back in his chair. He's losing really badly.
"There's no way I can win this match is there?"
"Probably not," Ron laughs "wanna see it through to the end anyway."
"I always do," Harry says looking back at the fog again.
Hermione enters the library and a sense of calm comes over her. This is her home. She glad the collection suffered little damage in the war. When they came back to start the clean up this was the place she worked towards first. She had been fearing a library of Alexandria type disaster. There was so much fire that night. But it survived. Reparo was really a marvellous charm. She was so good at it now she barely had to think the words for it to work. She was debating between weather charms and elemental magic sections. Deciding weather charms was probably the easiest place to start she makes her way over. Few students were gathered in the library. Most take advantage of the great hall in the evenings now. Professor McGonagoll allows the doors to be open until ten minutes before curfew to give the houses a place to mix. Most students preferred to check out books and study there. The school was a calmer and happier place. Students no longer fought between themselves. They'd seemed to mend the bonds between Gryffindor and Slytherin. No one wanted to fight anymore. All students had been terrorised by the Carrow's. They were even on good terms with Malfoy. Well good might be stretching it. They'd come to an understanding. They often studied together now. The teachers were always pairing them together. She thought it was because they were fairly equal academically. He thought they were testing him to see if he could work with a muggle-born. She privately admitted he had a point. She didn't like telling him to his face when he was right.
She rounded a corner into the aisle.
"You're late Granger," a voice says.
"I didn't know we were meeting today," Hermione replies confused.
"We weren't but honestly with the fog and everything else going on I expected you yesterday," Malfoy smirks at her.
"Oh haha," she replies dryly. "What other stuff? I thought it was just the fog." She asks him.
"You haven't heard about the threstrals then? Slaughtered almost the whole heard." He tells her.
"No! That's awful. How did you hear?"
"I was dragged in for questioning wasn't I? Missed most of history of magic answering questions about my whereabouts. They haven't checked with you then? Confirmed my alibi. They were found Sunday morning at about five am. We left here just gone three thirty working on that Arthimancy project. I wouldn't have had time. Someone had heard cries about one am. So I'm covered." He sighs.
"Aren't you glad I insisted on completing it in one go?"
He just glares at her. He doesn't like admitting when she's right either.
"So what have you been looking at?" She asks pointing to the books in front of him.
"I've started looking up magical fog. What sort of things can create it? I want to go down and sniff it. See if I can detect any herb or potion smells but after over an hour of questioning going on my own is out of the question. I also want to check out a few historical fogs." He hands her his notes. "Also did you know the restricted section has had some new editions added?"
"No I wasn't that familiar with the collection," she replies looking interested.
"The headteacher of Hogwarts keeps a diary. They used to only be available to the current head. However rumour has it some editions have been brought down to be stored in there," he jerks his head at the restricted section. "Only you know I'm still not allowed access." He groans frustrated.
"I'll go look," she says with a sympathetic smile. She moves to the newly installed gate and walks through the metal as though it wasn't there. Malfoy watches her walk off through the stacks hand pressed against the cold metal. He goes back to his study section to reorganised his books. Keeping some, sending some back and setting a small pile of them by Hermione's usual seat. He'd referenced them frequently in his notes. He knows she'll want to read those sections. She returns with an armful of books looking exhilarated.
"They're there! Hundreds of them," she exclaims. "I brought the earliest ones. I just hope the hand writing is good."
"When do teachers ever have good hand writing?" He laughs.
She sets them to one side as she goes over his notes and looks up his references. They do this often enough that it doesn't take her long to catch up on his days worth of study.
"Why do you even care?" She asks him.
"Maybe I want to do something heroic," he rolls his eyes. "Seriously though. I don't think the threstrals are the last bad thing to happen. I'll probably get the blame again and again. The sooner it stops the better for me," he shrugs.
"Hmm okay," she says sure there's more to it.
They work side by side for a few more hours. Letting each other know when they find something interesting. At eight Malfoy stands up and stretches.
"Wanna go check it out? Now we know more about types of magical fog."
"Yeah okay," she says putting down her book and gathering her things. "Are you sure you're okay going close to the forest in the dark?" She smirks at him.
"I'm not eleven anymore Granger. There are scarier things in the whole than dark trees. I think I'll be okay," he replies darkly. She nods and leads the way out of the library and down to the grounds. They don't talk on the way. Far less comfortable around each other outside of the library.
They make it to the edge of the grounds. Hermione approaches the fog with her hand outstretched, wand ready in the other. Malfoy watches her wand ready in case she needs help. She steps into the fog. It swirls around her. Cool drops forming one her skin.
"It's definitely not a regular fog," she tells him looking around her.
"How does it feel," he asks.
"Cold. Freezing actually," she shudders. "But okay. It doesn't hurt. Step in you need to see how it moves," she tells him.
He steps forward into the fog so he's standing beside her.
"It swirls," he says standing still to watch. "Moves like spirals. You can't touch it but it forms drops on the skin. We should collect the drops. See if it's just water or something more," he says.
She takes two vials out of her pockets and hands him one. She lets the drops run off her hand into the vial. He does the same.
"It smells sweet, almost like candyfloss," Hermione says.
"Yeah but it's got the slight hint of decayed bodies," he tells her. "Rotting flesh smells sweet as well but this is more inviting. It doesn't make you recoil."
"You've smelled rotting flesh?" She asks him.
"The Dark Lord lived in my house for over two years," he explains. This is his standard response to a lot of her questions. It usually stops her asking more.
"Let's go back," she says. "I think that's the best we can do for now."
"You keep hold of these," he says handing her his vial. "Hard to explain why I have a vial of fog that anyone would actually believe."
She nods and takes the vial. She resists the urge to rant again about how unfair it is that he's always suspect number one.
"What are you going to tell Potter?" He asks.
"Everything. I'm going to need help researching all of this. It's too much for one person," she sighs.
"Okay. You better keep the diaries as I'm not supposed to be able to get them anyway. I'll keep working on this," he says nodding back to the fog.
"Should we try some spells on it?"
"No not yet. Not until we know more."
They walk back to the castle and go their separate ways in the entrance hall. They don't say goodbye. They never do.
Back in the Gryffindor common room she tells Harry and Ron everything she found out including Malfoy's involvement.
"I hate that he's your new study buddy," Ron pouts.
"You Quidditch train with him once a week," she points out.
"Yeah but I don't exactly have to talk to him," Ron replies.
"Ron if she didn't have someone she'd be bugging us to help," Harry says. "And he's not that bad now."
"He's still a git,"
"Yeah but now he's a helpful git," Hermione says. "We need to go visit Hagrid during morning break tomorrow. He must be so upset."
"We should go now," Harry says standing up.
"No point," Hermione says. "His cabin was dark. I think he was out working."
"Okay tomorrow then," he says sitting back down staring out the window at the fog. Something bad was coming. He could feel it in his gut.