By Marmalade Fever
Disclaimer: I do not own nor claim the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. No profit is being made.
Note: Written for the 2010 Reverse Challenge at Hawthorn and Vine. This story is based upon a work of art entitled Cloud Metamorphosis by sitrusky, available for viewing at Hawthorn and Vine. (www . dramione . org)
Note 2: Section Breaks got all whacky on this site. They were supposed to be ampersands.
TO: THE MINISTRY OF MAGIC, GREAT BRITAIN
FROM: IMOGEN KEEPSY, MAYOR OF SLEEPER ISLAND
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN, THE INHABITANTS OF SLEEPER ISLAND REQUIRE ASSISTANCE STOP. THE ISLAND HAS BEEN EXPERIENCING PHENOMENA STOP. OUR PEOPLE HAVE BEEN DISAPPEARING, AND INTO DREAMS WE WAKE STOP. SOON, EVEN THE FLIGHTLESS WILL SOAR STOP. PLEASE SEND ASSISTANCE STOP. PLEASE STOP.
To: The Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes
CC: The Department of International Magical Cooperation
From: Elric Elvenby, Minister of Magic, Order of Merlin: Third Class
Attached, please find a copy of a telegram received early this morning in my personal post. I'm unsure as yet if this is a true emergency or a hoax, but as Sleeper Island does fall into the Ministry's jurisdiction, I'd like to request that a representative of each of your departments be sent to investigate the situation. As you are likely aware, the island in question is a Grade M non-Apparition zone and is too far away to be reached by either Floo or Portkey. As such, non-magical travel means will be provided.
P.S. I've been experimenting with origami. Let me know if this crane doesn't perform as well as the standard airplane.
"In the Billiard Room, with the—you're going to be sick again, aren't you?" Malfoy made a face, leaning back in his chair to get a little farther away from her.
Hermione swallowed hard. "No."
"Yes you are. You're green, Granger. And while I purportedly love all things green," he gestured to his long-sleeved green shirt, "that doesn't extend to pallor. I don't want you vomiting in here, no matter how fast you cast the cleaning spell. It already smells like dead fish and rancid crab cakes in here."
"Toilet." He pointed to the door to the head and waved her towards it.
Hermione stood on wobbly feet. She'd finally thought she'd gotten her bearings, but apparently her sea legs still weren't sea-ish enough. As much as she hated throwing up, she was pretty sure she hated walking around the tilting deck just as much. She would have stopped to argue about not being sick a little longer if only she hadn't felt that surge of liquid rising in her throat.
"Next time, Granger," he called through the door, "just buy the bloody Dramamine, no matter how much you think it sounds like some obnoxiously contrived combination of our names. Or better yet, brew the bloody motion-sickness potion!"
She reemerged a moment later, her cheeks flushed and her mouth busy swishing her mouthwash, which she spat into the spittoon that the first mate had been so kind as to provide for them. "That's not why I didn't buy it. I told you that already. And you're the one who thought it sounded like that, not me," she argued. "The name isn't Hermamine, you know."
"Oh, I apologize, Her-my-O-nee. Please find it in your heart to forgive me, Her-my-O-nee."
Hermione narrowed her eyes. "Malfoy."
"Hey, you're the one who told me I could apologize anytime I felt like it."
Hermione groaned. The sooner this assignment was over, the better. "Right. So Colonel Mustard, Billiard Room, with…?"
"The Elder Wand."
"Oh, sorry. Forgot this is supposed to be a lead pipe. I really don't think it looks like a lead pipe, do you? And what on earth is a wrench, anyway?"
Malfoy grunted. "You're snoring."
"How can I possibly be snoring if I'm wide awake?" Hermione rolled over, taking a look at the clock. A little past three in the morning and not a single wink of sleep yet. For the last few hours, she'd been listening to the crew get increasingly drunk and rowdy, but the noise had finally dropped as the others went into their respective drunken stupors. Her bunk wasn't exactly comfortable either, and the rolling of the waves wasn't lulling her to sleep as she'd hoped.
He was quiet for a moment. "That wasn't you?"
"No," she grumbled.
"Did you hear it?"
"N—" She stopped; now she did hear it. There was a rumbling coming from above. "It's probably just the wind."
"You're sure? Don't whales make sounds sort of like that?"
"Whale sounds are more… majestic. This is"—it came again—"awful." Her hands gripped the sides of her bunk, and her voice tightened to a squeak. "I think it might be a storm. The boat's definitely rocking harder."
"I noticed. So, what are we supposed to do?"
"You're asking me?"
"You're the Muggle. I assume you know something about safety procedures, or some such rubbish. You're also the Gryffindor here, and therefore used to high pressure situations."
She tightened her grip on her bunk, which was definitely creaking against its restraints while the whole of the boat rode up and down on what felt like abnormally large waves. The rumbling was growing louder, and with it was an intense whistling. "It might die down," she said, noting her own tone of doubt. "But we should probably put on our lifejackets. Just in case," she added.
Malfoy was rummaging through his things, and a moment later had produced his wand and cast Lumos. He nodded his head in her wand's direction, but her grab for it sent it toppling to the floor. It started rolling back and forth across the planks, and fast. "Accio." His hand extended, shoving her wand in her face. "Lifejackets. Where are they?"
"They're…" Hermione stood, bending her knees in an attempt to keep her balance, and instead found herself falling forward and smashing into something warm, soft, and boney. Malfoy's shoulder. "In the cabinet," she finished, trying to push herself back off of him and landing in an undignified heap on the floor.
He didn't comment, thankfully, and instead casted a sticky charm on his feet and made his way, slowly, to the cabinet next to the door. A moment later he'd thrown a bright yellow lifejacket at her, and he grimaced in distaste at the color. "It had to be Hufflepuff." They both spent a moment doing up the straps, hooking everything into place.
There was a flash of lightning, and nary a second later, a roll of thunder so loud she could feel the boat vibrating amid the rocking. And that was when the panic set in, her arms practically thrumming with anxiety and her thoughts skipping about in a whir. There was a storm. There was a storm, and she was on a boat in the middle of nowhere with Draco Malfoy and a crew of sailors who had drank themselves into a coma, and she wouldn't be at all surprised if they capsized and the boat was struck by lightning.
She was going to die, wasn't she?
Malfoy seemed to be having similar thoughts. He trudged back across the room, grabbed her arm, and tugged her out the door and into the small hallway to the ladder that led to the upper deck. For a second her mind exploded and she tried to backtrack. "Our things! We can't just…."
"Use your brain, Granger!" he shouted. "Are you a witch or no? Accio trunks!"
She nodded quickly, shrank the trunks, and tucked one into either of the pockets of her pajama pants. Malfoy started to climb the ladder, and she grabbed onto his wrist to stop him. "If we are going down," she cringed as another burst of lightning came, followed almost immediately by a bang of thunder, "we should probably cast bubble-heads on ourselves and the crew before anything else."
Malfoy nodded. "Right. Go at it, then."
She leveled her wand at his head first, still feeling a little disoriented and more comfortable about performing magic on him at the moment than on herself. A nice, shining, rainbowy bubble formed around his head, making his face distorted. If she weren't so freaked out, she'd have found it almost comical. Renewing her grip on the ladder, she did the same for herself, her panic calming down a bit now that she wouldn't be drowning tonight.
"We're probably overreacting," he commented, starting to climb up the ladder, which was leaning left and right with the boat.
"Probably," she agreed. "But better safe than sorry."
"Better safe than dead, you mean."
She squeezed her eyes shut. A spray of water—no, make that a wave—washed over the side of the boat and swept down to the lowest spot it could reach, washing over their heads. She opened her eyes again, temporarily having forgotten that her head was already protected, and watched as the water trailed down the side of her bubble, blurring the world in front of her.
"Come on!" Malfoy grunted, shimmying up the ladder the rest of the way. He offered her slippery fingers to help pull her up, and they both plopped down on the deck like a couple of fish just loosened from the net.
"Where are they?" She was outright yelling now. The wind was yowling, no longer the odd snoring sound it had started as, and raindrops were pelting down at a slant, though those were nothing compared to the waves that bounced across the planking as the ship bobbed and creaked, left, right, up, down and ultimately under a giant slosh of salt water. "Do you see them?"
He shook his head violently, grabbing onto the starboard bow. An empty firewhisky bottle rolled across the deck and smashed only a few feet ahead of him, but it was carried off into the ocean before she could even worry about the glass shards.
"THEY MUST'VE GONE BELOW!" he bellowed. "EITHER THAT OR…" he trailed off, and she watched the direction of his eyes as they went out over the waters.
"YOU THINK…? NO! NO, THEY COULDN'T HAVE… NO!" She almost dismissed the warm wetness on her cheeks as spray and rainwater before another wave swept benignly over her bubble.
She couldn't think like this. There was no way they could have been thrown overboard, was there? No matter how drunk they'd been, they would've had to have woken up in this ruckus. Where were they? Where were they? Where…? "THERE!" She'd grabbed onto his wrist, pointing with her wand off to a faint glimmer of what could have been a lifeboat, already deployed and a half a kilometer off already.
"THEY LEFT US?" Malfoy raged, shaking her hand off his wrist. "THOSE BOOZEHOUNDS LEFT US?"
Both lightning and thunder came at the same time, the sky filling up with a burst of light greater than any lumos maxima Hermione'd ever witnessed, the entire boat skidding in a new direction, bobbing with the pop of electricity where the bolt had landed near the top of the mast.
Her breath caught, time seeming to go in slow motion as she watched the upper half of the mast snap like a toothpick and get sucked out into the storm. She'd grabbed onto Malfoy's actual hand this time without even thinking about it.
He didn't bother shaking her off. "LISTEN TO ME, GRANGER! LISTEN. HOLD TIGHT TO YOUR WAND AND HOLD TIGHT TO MY HAND. WHATEVER YOU DO, DON'T LET GO. WE'RE GOING TO JUMP OVERBOARD, WE'RE GOING TO SINK, AND WE'RE GOING TO SWIM!"
She wasn't entirely sure what she was agreeing to, in all honesty, but she felt her head nod up and down as he yanked them around to face the side. His hand tightened on hers. "BEND YOUR KNEES… NOW!" The side of the boat tipped downward, low enough that only her feet scraped over it as she was propelled forward, out into the black abyss.
They drifted. The sun had come up and they'd both realized that they didn't know where they were going, whether toward or away from their destination. Hermione's legs and arms were exhausted, her grip on her wand and Malfoy's hand becoming lax. It would be so easy to just fall asleep in this gigantic waterbed, frozen and wet as she was.
Half of her hair was encased in her bubblehead charm, while the other half swirled in the water behind her.
She glanced over at Malfoy. His eyes were shut, and—oh, lovely—he was snoring.
She lifted her wand hand palm up so that it was just out of the water. "Point me." The words came out strangely, bouncing off the bubble's casing. So that was north. She was pretty sure they needed to go south-west.
She shook Malfoy's arm, watching his eyelids tumble open. "What?" Whether he'd actually spoken or not, she couldn't tell, but that was what his lips had formed.
She gestured south-west, mimicked using her wand, and hugged herself. Charades had never really been her thing, but he at least seemed to understand, his arms closing around her waist and his stomach pressed into her back, the two layers of lifejacket between them.
Oh, but this was strange. Hand-holding first, and now hugging. This was far more physical contact with Draco Malfoy than she'd ever bargained for. She aimed her wand behind them, northeast, and started to propel them forward like a jet.
"Watch out, fish, here we come," she mumbled as the water sloshed behind her. They probably looked a sight: a yellow human submarine.
She felt Malfoy shift, and then his wand was out, forcing them forward even faster. Too fast. She almost didn't reposition her wand in time for them to miss the seagull-covered rock they'd been on a collision course with.
She spent the next twenty minutes trying to avoid rocks before she abruptly realized that Malfoy had fallen asleep. Either that or he had purposely just snuggled into her. No, he was definitely asleep.
She was cold, soaking wet, and all she really wanted to do was snuggle up in a comfortable, warm bed and sleep for a solid twelve hours. She settled for the next best thing: a relatively flat rock jutting out from the sea. She wasn't quite sure how she managed to hoist them both onto it, but once she had, she cast a warming spell and a cushioning charm, and abruptly dozed off.
She blinked up into Malfoy's face, looming over her. "Nice kip, Granger?" he asked. Both of their bubble-head charms had worn off, it seemed.
She groaned and her stomach growled in unity. "I feel like I slept on a rock after being shipwrecked and swimming through open water for a few hours. But yes, it was nice. Thank you."
"You didn't have to."
"What? Be shipwrecked? I don't think we had much of a choice."
"You didn't have to sleep on a rock. Look." She sat up, craning to look behind her, her joints objecting with the movement.
"Land," she said dully.
"About thirty meters off, I'd say."
It fit Sleeper Island's description. It was about the size of Hogwarts grounds, lush and tropical, with a dozen or so houses in view. There was a dock set off to the side; no boats, though. She wasn't sure whether to be elated that she was so close or horrified that she hadn't even seen it when she'd collapsed onto her rock.
Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth as she tried to work up enough saliva to wet her parched lips. "Shall we?"
Malfoy nodded his head, slipping off the rock and into the water, just barely up to his shoulders. "The water's warmed up, and it's relatively shallow here. We should be able to walk."
Hermione followed suit, balancing on her tippy-toes on the sandy bottom. The lifejacket made her bob a little as she started to move forward, frog-kicking a few times to propel herself.
Malfoy yawned. "Some trip. I chose the Department of International Magical Cooperation in order to travel and laze about, maybe meet some interesting foreign witches. So far the travel method was beastly, the cuisine questionable, and the only witch I've even seen is you. No offense, Granger, but you're neither foreign nor interesting. And I haven't even mentioned the almost dying part yet."
"I'm not," Hermione shook her foot free from a jumble of seaweed, "uninteresting."
Malfoy considered that for a moment. "No, I suppose you aren't, if you call being batty as an underground cavern interesting. And you most certainly do have your quirks."
She huffed. "Thanks."
"You're exceedingly welcome."
Hermione paused, staring down into the water, hopping left and right. She'd sworn she'd felt something rub up against her leg. She'd half expected to see a sea turtle or a small shark, but it looked like it had just been another length of seaweed. She was beginning to not like seaweed very much. It was annoying, green, and slimy, which reminded her of a certain someone. Not that Malfoy was very green at the moment. He had slept bare-chested on the ship, his shirt stowed away in the miniaturized trunk in her pocket. His pajama pants were an unsurprising shade of dark gray, made even darker by the water—not that she could see them.
"Accidents and Catastrophes?"
Hermione swung her head up. Her mind had drifted off for a second. "What?"
"I said, why'd you join the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes? It doesn't really sound researchy enough to me, for you. It's not exactly hero-stuff either."
"It is too, hero-stuff." She made a face, both at the term and at her own juvenile response. "The word catastrophe alone should tip you off on that. Two weeks ago, I had to single-handedly reverse a time-seep in Bristol."
"And let me guess, it took loads of research to figure out how?" he asked, a smirk forming.
"But what about those accidents? The ones where you have to go turn someone's pitbull back from being a singing, barking coconut?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "I think you underestimate my position in the department. I'm two raises away from being the Head."
Malfoy smiled. "Is that all? I'm one."
She almost toppled face first into the water. "One?"
"Oh, yes. I've made quite the impression. As soon as Roxana Croon retires, I'll be taking her spot. She's not really all that great at it, either. She was a hasty substitute for Crouch."
"Great, you being in charge of something involving cooperation. Lovely."
"I can cooperate with the best of them, Granger. Or have you not noticed that we're still alive?" He looked off to the shore. "I'm going to swim for it. See you when you catch up!"
"But"—he was already off—"I'm so tired," she mumbled. And hungry, and did she ever need to pee. She trudged ahead. Swimming probably would be faster, but the thought of kicking her legs sent her mind into revolt.
A wave crashed over her head.
Okay, so swimming. That might not be so bad, now that she was thoroughly drenched anyway. She plopped forward, dog-paddling a bit before getting her rhythm. Her wand kept getting in the way. How Malfoy had gotten past that problem, she wasn't sure.
A few minutes later and the water was too shallow, so she stood up again, stumbling the last few feet to the beach. She collapsed, panting.
"Made it, did you? I'd bring you a piña colada in celebration, but I haven't quite found the pub around here yet. That and my money is still miniaturized inside your pockets. Fork my trunk over, will you?"
Hermione rolled her eyes in exasperation, still trying to catch her breath. She moved her hands to her pajama pockets, finding herself patting the left one in sheer desperation. It was gone. Her trunk was gone. She almost threw Malfoy's at him, getting up and searching her person in a panic. Nowhere. Gone, gone, gone. She groaned, this close to crying.
Meanwhile, Malfoy had calmly restored his trunk to its normal size, dried the contents with a spell, took off his lifejacket, and slipped his green shirt over his head, looking happy as a clam—a dry, half-dressed clam.
"Don't worry yourself, Granger. There's bound to be a clothing shop around here, somewhere. No need to yank your hair out just yet."
She stopped pulling at her hair. Much as she loathed admitting it, he was right. She followed his example, casting a drying spell on herself, trying to ignore the thought of what her hair must look like—probably poofed out like a poodle. At least she had her wand. If that were at the bottom of the ocean, she wasn't sure what she'd do.
She threw her lifejacket down next to his, uncertain what to do with it, and too preoccupied to bother worrying about just leaving it there. First things first: a loo and food. "Have you gotten a chance to explore at all yet?" she asked.
"No, only made it to shore about five minutes before you. I haven't seen anyone either. Then again, there supposedly aren't many, if any, people left, is there? Could cause complications when we try to get back."
"Get… back," she echoed. Maybe it was all the saltwater or the dehydration or the lack of proper sleep and food, but she thought there was something very wrong with what he had just said. She really didn't want to think about it just yet.
"Shall we?" He swept his hand toward the group of houses a bit further inland, and she nodded, following after him in a daze, his trunk floating ahead of them. He rapped smartly on the door of the first house they reached, waited a minute, and then tried the knob. "No one at home. Shall we do the polite and cultured thing where we keep trying until we find some gentle ex-Gryffindor soul to take us in, or shall we surrender to desperation and barge in like the castaways we suddenly are?"
"You're actually asking me?"
"Right. In we go, then. Salt-encrusted, pajamaed ladies first." He stepped aside, and she ducked in the doorway. Food, water, toilet, sleep. Then she'd deal with Malfoy and his confusing yet snide remarks.
The house was little more than a glorified bungalow. From what she could tell, it only had three rooms. This first one was the kitchen. There was a door to the left that looked like it led to a bedroom, and to the right was the W.C. She headed that way first, shoving Malfoy off to the side in order to beat him to it. Two minutes and an empty bladder later, and she reemerged, finding him poking through the refrigerator.
He grimaced. "Quite a lot of this is starting to spoil. Would you prefer a jar of mustard or preserves?"
Hermione shook her head, which coincidentally made it start spinning. "Let me look."
"Be my guest."
He disappeared into the loo as she started rummaging. Milk was definitely past its prime; slimy spinach; suspicious-smelling chicken…. "Aha!" She wasn't sure what it was doing in the vegetable drawer, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with the butternut squash she had just found. It would need cooking, but it was more than enough for both of them for the time being. She had just managed to hack it in half, scoop out the seeds, and get it into the oven when Malfoy's hand latched onto her wrist.
"In here," he whispered, leading her into the bedroom. For a moment, her thoughts spun in a completely new—and slightly jarring—direction, but that was before she saw the occupant of the bed. "I thought I'd check the place out a little more thoroughly, and I found him."
The man was lying completely still. Almost, that was. There was a very, very slow rise and fall to his chest, and his eyes were shuffling rapidly back and forth beneath their lids. "He's dreaming," Hermione murmured in surprise.
"That he is. Lucky we didn't wake him. How'd you like to find two people in their sleepwear going through your food?"
"But—the food. It's all gone bad. Why wouldn't he have gotten more if he'd been at home?"
"Don't know. Maybe he's lazy. He is asleep in the middle of the day."
"But everyone's supposed to have disappeared."
"And obviously he hasn't. So let's let the lazy man sleep, eat his food, drink his water, and get out of here before he wakes up."
Hermione nodded hesitantly. Something just wasn't right here, and it went beyond her paranoia about being an intruder. It took quite some time for the squash to bake, and by then she and Malfoy had both consumed nearly a gallon of water each, as well as a jar of pickles and a can of green beans. It was probably the strangest meal she'd ever had, despite her seventh year camping… experience. She was almost nauseous eating the squash.
"He's still asleep," Malfoy pronounced once they'd declared themselves full. "We'll have to come back to question him later."
"Right." Hermione stood. She was feeling much more alert now, not that she would say no to a nap. "First thing tomorrow, we can conduct interviews and find out just how many individuals have disappeared and get a better feel for what type of situation we're dealing with. We can proceed from there. For now, I'd like to find somewhere to stay for tonight, contact the Ministry about our situation, and—"
"Find something decent to wear?" He smirked when her eyes roved down to his jeans—which apparently he wore frequently, much to her surprise—and designer shoes. He must have dressed while he'd been in the bathroom, and she hadn't even noticed. He'd even made that comment about their sleepwear, plural.
"Yes. And find something decent to wear." She flounced about-face.
"HELLO?" This was getting ridiculous. "CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?"
"I can." Malfoy had his hands over his ears. "Just Alohomora it, already." They'd found the only store on the entire island: Sleeper General, and the door was locked, the shades were closed, and the magical equivalent of a neon sign was flashing OPEN.
She spared him from the look she wanted to give him: the one that meant, "Can we please try to do this without breaking and entering repeatedly?" But he was right. The store would have been open right now if something weren't wrong. They'd seen no one so far other than that the first slumbering wizard. "Alohomora." The door opened with a click, and the two of them entered, Hermione going immediately to open the blinds.
It seemed… still, oddly so. Except—
Malfoy held his index finger up to his lips, then lightly stepped toward the front counter, his wand drawn. He stayed tense up until he'd swung around the side to peep behind it, and then his wand went slack. "We've got a problem. Come here, Granger. I don't think they're too likely to get violent."
She hurried to stand beside him, peering around his arm. A man and a woman were both lying on the floor in a heap, lightly snoring, with their eyes roving about beneath their lids. The woman was holding a time card, with only half of her "out" hour written down. There was a fly on the man's chin, nibbling at what looked like dried up donut crumbs.
All in all, it wasn't a good sign, but at least they knew now that the man they'd found before was more than just mere coincidence. "You don't think everyone on the island is asleep, do you?" Hermione asked, not really expecting him to answer anything other than yes.
"Not just asleep. They're dreaming." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Think the island's name is a clue or just ironic?"
She didn't answer, lightly shrugging. There were far too many questions to be answered. At least now she didn't feel so bad about doing a five-finger discount—who would blame them? They were the ones here to rescue them, after all.
She turned, taking a look at the wares. There was a small clothing section in the far corner, so she headed that way. No matter how fast asleep everyone else was, there was no reason for her to go about in her flannel pants and over-sized shirt Ron had purchased for her during his last holiday. It was one of those shirts that, when received as a present, you didn't actually dare wear in public, so it was demoted to the pajama drawer instead.
She sifted through the racks, finally settling on a purple, sleeveless sundress. It wasn't what she'd call practical, but something about it appealed to her. Plus, she didn't have a bra, so that worked out well enough. She skipped off into the loo to change, returning a minute later to find Malfoy examining a batch of camping gear.
"Get your hair under control and you might actually look ready for the day—now that it's almost evening."
She ignored him. Her hair did look bad, but she wasn't going to do anything about it just to impress him. "What do you need the sleeping bag for?"
His eyebrow rose. "I'm not partial to rolling a stranger out of a bed just so I can sleep, though you're welcome to cuddle up to one of them. I imagine they have lovely breath by now."
She made a face. "I guess that might be one way to gauge how long they've been out."
"By how retch-worthy their breath is? By all means, help yourself to that task." He made a face. "Personally, I'd rather check to see if anyone on this island has a habit of crossing days off their calendar."
"Or maybe one of them has a page-a-day calendar. Better yet, a journal." Hermione stood a moment, trying to think, and ultimately ended up yawning. "Tomorrow."
"Agreed." Malfoy took a loop down an aisle, and a second later, something came sailing through the air, almost hitting her in the head: a toothbrush. "So you don't smell retch-worthy!"
"Thanks, ever so much."
After they'd gathered up more supplies than were strictly necessary, they set up camp smack dab in the middle of the village square, one tent for each of them. Hermione noted that he'd purposely gotten her a smaller one. She almost found it odd that the tents weren't enchanted. Despite the fact that the island had magical inhabitants, she hadn't seen much evidence of it.
She didn't mind much. It had been years since she'd been on a Muggle-style camping trip, and she'd always felt that the wizarding tents were cheating, not that she'd complained after living in one for months on end.
It had only just gotten dark out, and other than a few frogs croaking, everything was still. It was almost bizarre after so many years now of city life.
Malfoy was fluffing his pillow, which actually meant that he was pounding his fist into it repeatedly. He finally seemed satisfied after a few solid minutes, dropping it primly at the head of his sleeping bag. She wouldn't have taken him for someone who'd readily agree to sleep outside, that close to the ground. Then again, she didn't know him anymore. Maybe he liked to get back to nature from time to time.
She adjusted her own pillow. They'd had to take them from a random house's linen closet. Hers had a child's pillowcase, a pink cartoon niffler nosing about on the front. She was glad she hadn't seen the little girl it belonged to. The sight of a child affected by whatever magic this was would be too much for her right now.
She sat up. "Malfoy?"
"The one and only." He was taking off his shoes, setting each just outside his tent's flap.
She swallowed. This wasn't going to go over well. "We shouldn't sleep."
He raised an eyebrow that had her blushing for a reason she'd rather not say. "Oh?"
She coughed, trying to hide her discomfort. "Obviously, sleep on this island is one of the key factors involved in the catastrophe. Who knows what might happen if we fall asleep here? There's a strong possibility we might not wake up again."
He leaned back on his elbow, pondering. "Valid point, but I, personally, have never been able to go more than thirty-six hours without sleeping, and when I do go that long, I get incredibly cranky. You've never seen me cranky. I don't think you really want to."
She snorted indignantly. "You get worse?" He smiled in answer. Her hand went up to rub at her temple. "Then again, those people in the store obviously didn't choose to fall asleep, meaning that we might not be safe even if we try to stay awake."
He made a grand flourish with his hand. "So your suggestion is…?"
"Well." Merlin, why did she have to think of this when she was already bone-tired? "We could take some dreamless sleep potion. That would stop the REM stage from occurring, as normal. That would probably be better than nothing."
"Okay, and we procure it from…?"
She bit her lip. "A potions store-cupboard?"
He shook his head. "No need, I have some."
"Watching you struggle for a solution is one of my few truly unsullied sources of entertainment. I keep a supply of it when I travel. My dreams tend to get a little wonky when I'm not accustomed to a particular locale. That and you never truly know when the local custom calls for a bowl of chili peppers before bed."
That made sense, except for the chilies thing. She had stress-related dreams when she travelled sometimes. Two nights before, she'd dreamt about losing her luggage. Funny how that had actually turned out true, not that it had been swallowed by the Giant Squid…as far as she knew.
Malfoy fished two flasks out of his trunk—the lucky devil to have a trunk—and handed her one. "Bottoms up." He clinked his flask against hers before swallowing its contents in one gulp, grimacing. She held her nose, downing hers as well. "Well, Granger, I'd wish you sweet dreams, but that would likely be taken as an act of mutiny."
"Good night to you, too." She zipped her tent closed, snuggled into her sleeping bag, and very much hoped she'd wake up the next morning.
Hermione woke up feeling extremely mellow and loose as a goose on the loose. She smiled, stood, and hit her head on the top of her tent. Whoopsies.
She ducked through the flap, finding Malfoy already up, with his wand out.
"Hey. Breakie?" He held up, no kidding, a frying pan containing two eggs, sunny-side up, and a strip of bacon, forming a smiley-face.
"Yummm," she moaned. "Where'd you find those?"
He shrugged. "Skipped over to the store, and there they were on a shelf, all cold and unspoiled. Bacon is probably one of my most favorite foods in the world. Here," he said, handing her a paper plate, "eat up while it's hot."
"Don't mind if I do. How'd you cook them?"
"A darling spell called incendio. Does wonders."
Hermione tucked in, taking the cup of water when he offered it. Pretty soon she was greasy-lipped and sound of stomach, and she returned to her tent to change for the day.
"Where should we start?" Malfoy asked, as soon as they were both ready. "I was thinking we should circle the island; get a lay of the land."
"Sounds good. Such a beautiful morning," she remarked, stretching her arms out above her head. She couldn't believe how nice it felt just to be out-of-doors with the sun shining and a gentle breeze blowing salt air into her face.
Malfoy, apparently, agreed. He was humming, which for some reason didn't strike her as all that peculiar. "This way!" It must have been the sunshine. Maybe his dour mood of old could be attributed to a lack of vitamin D caused by a lack of sunshine. Pale, pale man.
They tramped across the square, Hermione with a skip in her step, until they'd reached the downward slope that led to the beach. Their lifejackets still lay there like a couple of beached orcas. "Pier first?"
"Might as well," he replied, turning to head in the proper direction.
It was slow-going across the sand, not that they minded. It felt like forever since she'd visited a nice, sandy beach, and she was enjoying the feel of it squishing between her toes. It wasn't like the pebbles at Brighton. She paused once to pick up a swirly conical snail shell and set it back down again when a hermit crab poked a claw out, shaking it like a fist. She privately named it Draco Malfoy, wished it a pleasant stroll, and hurried to catch up with its namesake.
A bit of sand trailed with them onto the pier. So this is where they would have put in if their boat hadn't been blown to bits, or whatever had ended up befalling it. She almost laughed, thinking that it might still be completely intact, other than the mast, of course.
"Nice view," Malfoy commented, stretching crossed arms behind his head.
Hermione took a seat next to him, her toes a few inches shy of the water. It was a nice view, indeed. She leaned her head back. Ocean, ocean, ocean, sky, sky—cloud? She reached over and poked him in the knee, pointing up to the most peculiarly shaped cloud she had ever seen, though perhaps she had spent too much of her life with her nose in a book instead of her head in the clouds for that to be remarkable.
"Doesn't that look like a penguin? I think it looks like a penguin. I've never seen a penguin cloud, have you?"
Malfoy tilted his head. "You're right. That one's definitely a penguin." He pointed off to the penguin's left. "And there's an alien head!"
Hermione frowned slightly before bursting out laughing. "No, no, no. That's not an alien! That's a key! A skeleton key, I'd say."
"Pfft. It's definitely an alien. And look, see? It's making a smoochy face."
She squinted. "If you say so." She leaned back, swinging her feet back and forth below the dock. "Oh! That cloud looks like a cello! And there's an abacus! And…."
"A lollipop?" Malfoy laughed, starting out in a deep baritone and then going surprisingly high-pitched.
She giggled. "You sound like a little girl."
"Do not." He flashed his tongue briefly before pointing to yet another cloud. And another. And another. "There isn't a single puffy, formless glop of whip cream in the bunch. They're all objects and animals and… I swear that one's a galleon. I can even see the portrait of Merlin on there, winking."
"I see it too. Bizarre." She pulled herself up into a standing position. "Malfoy?"
"Tag." She reached out and tapped his arm before running full throttle across the pier, onto the beach, past the life jackets, all the while hearing him gaining on her. She was in stitches by the time he barreled into her, rolling her to the ground. They lay there collapsed, panting, and smiling. This really was just such a wonderful morning. It was incredible!
Malfoy's hand reached out and patted her arm. "Oh, Granger, Granger, Granger, Her-my-OH-nee. You know what I was just thinking?"
His patting slowed down, working into a pet across her forearm. "I was thinking how much I'd like it if you came along on my honeymoon."
"Oh, that does sound nice!" Her eyebrows scrunched. "Wouldn't that be a little intrusive, though?" And since when was he engaged? She'd have to get him a toaster or… what was the equivalent of a toaster at a wizarding wedding, anyhow?
"Oh, posh. No. See, you'd be the bride, so it wouldn't be awkward at all."
"Oh." Hermione nodded. Yes, that was perfectly sensible. She looked down at her other side, having felt something nudge against her there. She reached out, once again picking up her hermit crab friend, Draco Malfoy. He walked across her palm for a moment, flexed his claw, and pinched between her thumb and forefinger about as hard as he could.
Hermione sat bolt upright, shaking the crab away from her first, then backing up frantically away from Malfoy, who was lying there grinning at her. What in the world? Her head felt strange, almost as if she'd only just woken up from a deep sleep. Waking up… eating a smiling breakfast, chatting amiably, skipping, cloud-watching, playing tag… and was it her imagination, or had Malfoy just proposed marriage of some sort?
"Something wrong, Granger-OH-nee?"
"Uh…." Okay, she wasn't going to answer to that.
"What? Malfoy, snap out of it!" Oh, please, please snap out of it. She wasn't above begging right now. A happy-go-lucky Malfoy was beyond her comprehension. She rubbed her sore hand. Stupid crab was halfway down the beach already.
Malfoy smiled lazily. "Where to next, hmm?" That was a little better.
"Let's," she swallowed, "let's check the houses. We need more clues. Maybe we can find Mayor Keepsy."
"Okie-dokey." Malfoy stood. "After you, your Grangeriness."
She smiled warily at him. You were supposed to smile at insane people, right? They walked up past the beach, back to where the circle of houses stood. They bypassed the bungalow they'd raided for food the day before and went up the front steps of the house next door to it.
"Knock-knock?" Malfoy waited half a second before opening the door, poking his head in, shaking it, and withdrawing. "Boring."
Hermione huffed, shoving past him into the room. The completely empty room. There wasn't a single piece of furniture. She continued in, briefly checking the other rooms as well. Apparently, it was unoccupied. She made a mental note of that in case she wanted somewhere to sleep that was far, far away from Malfoy.
They moved onto the next house, where a family of four was gathered at the table with a board game, all sleeping soundly on top of their game pieces. The littlest one had her thumb in her mouth. The family also had a little dog, which was fast asleep at their feet.
They found a calendar on the wall, flipped to the correct month, but no one had marked anything on it. Hermione took a brief look at the previous months as well, but she didn't find anything helpful other than a few marked birthdays.
One house was followed by another house and another, and still she couldn't find anything that seemed relevant to the problem. Malfoy was keeping up with her, amused by every little occurrence. When he volunteered to fetch them lunch, Hermione was only too happy to be rid of him—more so than usual, surprisingly.
There was one house that was a bit bigger than the others, painted a bright teal with pale pink shutters, and had a roof made out of sea shells and thatch. So far she and Malfoy had been going to each house in order, but, with him gone for the moment and her palms itching with curiosity, she thought she might break the pattern, no matter how silly her hunch.
The house had a wild sort of lawn. It wasn't just that the grass was overgrown; it was the sheer abundance of dandelion puffs and clover. There wasn't a walkway of any sort, and a cloud of down stirred up as she walked, drifting off on the ocean breeze.
The front door was about an inch ajar, and when she entered, she found more dandelion down scattered throughout the room. She wrinkled her nose at the mess and resisted the urge to clean it up with a flick of her wand. This was still someone else's home, and as farfetched as it was, even those seeds could be the clue necessary for solving the case. It was best to leave things as she found them, with the obvious exception being those things necessary for her own—and Loony-Tunes Malfoy's—survival.
The room was more or less a foyer leading to a hallway and staircase. There were bookshelves here, a few comfortable-looking window seats, and not much else, so she continued on to the hallway, poking her head into rooms as she went. She found the kitchen; nothing too out of the ordinary there. She might have thought that the food was a little less past its prime, but that could easily have been her imagination. Once she started to expect milk to smell sour, it was hard not to find it all suspect. The loo was nice, if a little messy. The sink counter was covered with incense and little smelly candles alongside the toothpaste drips.
After a search of the drawing room, she took a detour up the stairs, and encountered… a locked door? She tried the knob twice, curiosity starting to heighten, peaking when Alohomora failed to get the job done.
Well, this was definitely more like it. It was about time she found something that resembled a clue.
She weighed her wand in her hand, thinking a moment before casting another unlocking charm, followed by yet another.
"Aim at the hinges. That usually does the trick."
Hermione jumped, clutching frantically at her heart. "Don't sneak up on people like that!"
"Who was sneaking? Not me, anyway. Brought lunch." He held up a canvas bag, grinning like a fool.
Hermione pinched him. "That's for nearly giving me a heart attack!"
Malfoy scowled, rubbing the spot on his arm for a moment before freezing altogether, his eyes squeezing shut for a moment before opening again and staring around. "Ordinarily," he said after a good thirty-second pause, "I'd be a bit peeved after being so irrationally brutalized, but I think I might just owe you a thanks in this case. Pinching, of all things." He clicked his tongue.
"What do you—oh." Hermione frowned, connecting the dots. She hated it when others figured things out before she did. Pinching. It was so ridiculously cliché, and yet it was what had "woken them up" from their "dream." She should really go find that crab and shake its claw.
Malfoy shuddered. "Do me a favor and forget everything I've said and done this morning up until now."
"Gladly. I'm not sure I want to know where that bit about me being your bride came from." She pulled a face.
Malfoy frowned. "I—hmm." His frown intensified. "Don't know. Get that door open, already," he said sharply.
"Someone woke up on the wrong side of the island," Hermione mumbled. She glanced toward him, but he was avoiding her eyes. Interesting. She followed his earlier advice, aiming her spells at the hinges instead. She paused before opening the door from the wrong side, sincerely hoping that this room was worth all its trouble.
And good Merlin, was it ever. There were sheets of parchment littered everywhere. A window was open, tossing them about. What caught both of their attention first, however, was the woman bent double over a desk, fast asleep.
"Mayor Imogen Keepsy," Hermione read, examining a placard on the wall.
Malfoy, behind her, snatched up a few pieces of parchment. "Cloud formations, weather patterns. Granger, I think there's a drawing of every single one of those clouds we looked at earlier." He held one up. "Sideways smooching alien!"
"Key," Hermione intoned.
"Whatever. Close that window. I want to lay these all out in true Granger fashion and look for patterns."
Hermione sniffed. "Granger fashion. You can at least say please. I'm not your assistant. I'm not even in your department."
Malfoy didn't look up, instead aiming his wand at the window and closing it himself. Hermione shrugged it off, taking a closer inspection of the room. If the rest of the house were any indication, then this should have been a bedroom, so where was the bed? She stepped gingerly around Malfoy, squatting down next to the carpet. In the corner were four heavy, round impressions, spaced apart in a large rectangle. So a bed had been here, but now it was gone?
The walls were covered in thumb tacks and more parchment, as well as several decorative paintings of seascapes. The clouds in those, at least, were normal enough.
Her attention drifted back to the desk and Keepsy. She was a tall woman, gray-haired, and was wearing what Hermione could only describe as light and summery hippie robes. Her left hand was holding a quill, and there was an unstoppered inkwell on the desk before her. On a hunch, Hermione gently moved the woman's head and arms off the desk, revealing another sheet of parchment. The ink had been smudged, some of it transferred onto the woman's face.
It was what was on the parchment that gave her pause. Drawing and doodle upon drawing and doodle of penguins. Little penguins, big penguins, silly penguins, rotund penguins. There must have been fifty of them. "Malfoy?" He sniffed in reply. "Is there a drawing of that penguin cloud?"
"No, actually. Why?"
Hermione held up the page. "I think the flightless soared. That cloud is Mayor Keepsy."
"Try pinching her."
"Me? You're the Slytherin here; you pinch her."
"You're the only one between the two of us who's done any pinching so far."
"Why are we arguing about this, exactly?"
"You started it, Granger." Malfoy reached out and pinched Keepsy's arm, waited a second, and repeated the action.
"Maybe some dreamless sleep potion?" Hermione suggested.
"Or an alarm clock or a bucket of cold water? Honestly, Granger, have you ever tried force-feeding an unconscious person a potion? It's not easy. Besides, I hardly have enough for the whole island."
Hermione snapped her fingers. "Water! Maybe the water cycle has something to do with it, seeing how they're clouds."
Malfoy snorted. "I'd pay to watch you do a rain dance, I think."
Hermione punched him in the arm, maybe a little harder than she really should have. He didn't seem to mind, though, holding back a grin. "Such a little spitfire, Granger."
He slanted his eyes at her. "Make me."
Hermione opened her mouth and closed it again, stunned. "Malfoy… you're flirting with me. You didn't fall asleep again, did you?"
He shook his head, rolling his eyes. "Never mind. I'm awake, trust me. If you want to try the potion, it's back in my tent in my trunk. It was your idea, so you can be the one to fetch it."
Hermione gave him a strange look, glancing at the back of his head as she reached the top of the stairs. It wouldn't be the first time she'd wondered what was wrong with him, and she doubted it would be the last, either.
Once she'd left the house, it wasn't very far to their campsite. She could see plenty of the cloud formations from here, including Keepsy's penguin. If it weren't for the shape, she'd never have given it a second glance. It was a good thing she had, if her theory were correct.
She unzipped the flap to Malfoy's tent, kneeling on the foot of his sleeping bag as she opened his trunk. It felt awkward going through his things, even with his permission. She rifled through his clothes, more clothes… under things… around his comb, nail clippers, soaps, razor, camera, money…. She stopped to examine a small notebook, which turned out to be a planner. He seemed to have a habit of drawing in the margins, and in the more recent pages, she'd made an appearance, her hair enormous and threatening to envelop the actual schedule.
The vials were stowed safely away in a padded box near the bottom of the trunk. She took one and made her exit, crossing back to the teal house. Her eyes flashed to the upstairs bedroom window, catching sight of white-blond hair moving out of view.
She retraced her steps back up to Keepsy's room.
"You're lucky I forgot to cast a hex on my trunk to ward off intruders, or you'd be a liquefied jellyfish right now."
"Charming. Help me get her sitting upright, will you?" While Malfoy held Keepsy's head up, not looking too terribly thrilled by his task, Hermione uncorked the vial, opened the other woman's mouth, and carefully tipped some of the potion in, then ran her hand over Keepsy's throat to help her swallow.
"Did it go down?" he asked.
"Yes," Hermione answered slowly. This was where her plan came to a bit of a standstill. It had been her idea, but what exactly was the outcome supposed to be? "I guess we should wait and see if there's any change. Then maybe we can try to wake her."
"And if all else fails, you can go do your rain dance."
Malfoy grabbed their lunch sack, opening it up and pulling out two cans of sardines and a box of crackers. "Best I could find that wasn't spoilt. The bacon and eggs this morning must have been a fluke." He magicked the cans open. "Cheers."
"This is getting old, Granger." It had started to grow late, and Keepsy had shown no sign of change.
"I never said I was positive it would work." She wiggled in the chair she had conjured, which hadn't proven to be as comfortable as she'd have liked.
"You can go do your rain dance now."
She groaned. He just wouldn't let that idea drop, now would he? "There are a few meteorological spells, and I know there's at least one for producing precipitation."
"But I'm afraid I'm not familiar with it." She wiggled again.
"Well, then. Go forth and research." He made a motion to signal she was supposed to get into action.
"Research where? I skimmed the title of every book on the island as we came across them, and I don't remember a single one that had anything to do with weather."
"Do you realize we're honestly discussing the weather? I find that quite pathetic, so I suggest we get some sleep and try again in the morning."
Hermione frowned. "Do you think that's wise?"
"What isn't wise is sitting here staring at a sleeping woman and discussing the weather. Besides, we know about the pinching strategy now, so we should be fine."
"Don't see why not."
"Alright, but if something goes wrong…" she warned.
"Then you'll punch me in the arm. I get it. But if you really are scared, Granger, you could always snuggle up with me in my tent. Some say it adds a sense of security."
"Somehow I doubt that. I'll pass."
"Your loss." He smirked.
"I'm sure." She toed the carpet. "I think I might bring my sleeping bag in here, actually. Then I can keep an eye on Keepsy."
Malfoy tutted. "You can't get away from me that easily. If you're staying here, then so am I. I want someone around to pinch me if I go all loony again, not to mention that I don't intend to miss a perfectly good opportunity to pinch you, should the occasion arise."
"Your altruism truly knows no bounds." She blew a bit of hair out of her face. "Come on, then. Let's get our things. The sooner we're asleep, the sooner you're quiet."
"If only the same could be said for you. You snore." Unfortunately, that was true. Lavender and Parvati had first made her well aware of it long ago, and many others had confirmed it over the years. That Malfoy now knew was small potatoes compared to the other things he'd likely found out about her during the course of their assignment.
& or & or &
There were colors everywhere, floating and swirling in bright arcs.
"Have you ever been to the top of the moon? They say it's lovely this time of minute."
"No, never." She waved her arms, moving forward as if through liquid. Was she back in the ocean, again? Was she drowning in a sea of light?
"You are more beautiful than a Transylvanian flobberworm, but less so than a three-toed Veela."
She wiggled her toes. "They always were my great downfall. People think it's my hair or my teeth, or even my intelligence. But all my failures lie in my toes. Malfoy, where are you? I can't see you through this haze."
"I'm behind you, peeking out from the gap behind your knee. Do you see me now?"
"No. I can't." She tightened her arms around herself, hugging. "I'm afraid. Should I be?"
"I'm with you, Granger. Whether that's a comfort or a discomfort is up to you. May I tell you a secret?"
"Yes. Yes, please!"
"I am an anteater. I am the anteater. You are covered in bugs, and I am eating them all up. Can you feel my tongue?"
"Yes! That tickles!" Her knee twitched.
"Necessary, though. You don't want to be covered in bugs. They feast on your flesh and force your brain out and up." His voice faded and returned. "You taste like cold sweat."
"Why are you helping me? Are you helping me?"
"I am only helping you if you believe I am, O most interesting of creatures. I have lied to you, you know."
"You have? But why?"
His tongue swiped over the back of her knee. "I'm a coward. I hide from the truth, and sometimes it hides from me as well."
There was silence, his touch gone. Something small crawled over her flesh, and she felt itchy. More crawled, and more. It was a swarm, and she was covered, nowhere safe from the infestation. "I—"
"GRANGER! Granger, wake up!" Hermione startled awake, finding Malfoy bent over her and looking panicked. "Do you have any idea how many times I just pinched you?"
She shook her head, still in a daze. "What time is it?"
"About three, I think. Lumos."
She blinked, her eyes slowly adjusting. He looked normal enough, if a little shaken. She scrambled from her sleeping bag, rolling up the leg of her pajama pants. "Shine the light on the back of my knee."
He frowned. "What? Why?"
"Trust me. Do you see anything?"
Malfoy bent behind her, her leg and his head both at an awkward angle. "I don't see… wait. Straighten your leg a little." She stretched her leg out farther, and suddenly his hand was on her calf, twisting it to get a better view. He moved to hold the wand between his teeth in order to free his other hand, which disappeared from her view behind her knee. She felt a brief pull of skin, almost like having a scab torn free.
"What is it?"
"Looks like a tick." He frowned in disgust, holding it loosely between his thumb and forefinger. "Your skin is bleeding where I pulled it off. You better put something on it to stop the flow."
She scrambled for her own wand, clumsily conjuring up a bandage. She was in limbo, somewhere between being half-asleep and hyperawareness. "Did you dream?" she asked.
"No, but I'm guessing you did. You were giggling for a couple minutes. Something funny going on in your brain?"
"You were li—tickling me," she amended, "in my dream."
Malfoy's expression contorted in amusement. "I was in your dream and I was tickling you? I'm honored. But seriously, what was that with the tick just now?" He waved it around, keeping it far, far away from the rest of him, his other fingers curled out delicately. "Why am I even still holding this?"
She held her hand out. "Give it here. I want a better look."
"Really?" He made a face, putting it in her hand and quickly wiping his fingers against the carpet.
"Did you know," she asked, turning the partly-squished bug over in her hand, "that the Black Plague was spread by fleas? And malaria, it's carried by mosquitoes."
"Blood suckers are bad. I get it. Now squish the tiny vampire, already."
"What I'm saying is: what if whatever this is is being spread via tick-bite?"
Malfoy's eyebrow quirked up. "And you're basing this theory on, what? The fact that it's three in the morning and you just had a dream?"
"Precisely. Well, not the three in the morning part. But in my dream, you were this anteater, and you were hiding behind my knee and saying something about bugs and how they'll force the brain out and up, which sounds a bit like making your conscious self rise into the sky, right? Like evaporating and forming a cloud."
"I have no idea what you're talking about anymore, honestly." He rubbed his eyes, looking sleepy. "But seeing how you're probably not going to let me get more sleep and I'm definitely not letting you get more sleep, I propose coffee. She," he waved toward Keepsy, "has coffee in her kitchen, yeah?"
"I think so."
"Thank Merlin for that. At least she's being somewhat cooperative." Hermione followed him downstairs to the kitchen, honestly curious to find out whether he truly knew how to make coffee or not. When he walked straight past the coffee pot and started filling a sauce pan with water, she decided to intervene. Ten minutes later found them at the kitchen table, nursing their drinks.
"I'm almost jealous."
"Hmm?" Nice, comfortable chair, dim lighting with just that one fixture over the sink turned on, wee hours of the morning, hot liquid, and a head abuzz with lots of inscrutable details all made for the perfect conditions for going into a daze.
"You got to have the exciting dream adventure, and I didn't. Now why do you suppose that is?"
She stifled a yawn. "You've been wearing shoes and long pants. Maybe you weren't bitten."
His eyebrow went up. "You really must be out of it. If your theory is right, then I'm guessing your bugs would be responsible for yesterday's behavior as well. And if I haven't been bitten, then what? I just went insane?"
Hermione closed her eyes and moved her hands to the base of her neck, massaging. The stimulation had always seemed to help wake her up when she needed it. "There are a minimum of three stages of this anomaly," she said, keeping her eyes firmly shut. "The first is a dream-like waking state, cured by a pinch. The second is at least one intense and possibly prophetic dream. Keepsy likely had one or more that suggested to her the importance of penguins. The last is a sudden, physical sleep with the creation of an accompanying cloud formation that may, or may not, contain the sleeper's conscious state." She opened her eyes. "I think there might be more than one factor at work here. I'm almost positive that that tick wasn't there when I got up yesterday morning, and I'm guessing you don't have a tick on you right now, either."
He looked intrigued but skeptical. "So what triggers the first stage, then, Miss Smarty?"
"It would have to be something we both did when we first got here, before we first went to sleep, and it also has to be something that the rest of the islanders would also have done. So, what did we do?"
"We 'swam' in the ocean," Malfoy listed, holding his hand up and lowering a finger.
"We slept on that rock without any consequences, so that's unlikely to be it."
She shook her head. "I've been barefoot; you haven't."
"And here I thought I'd been kidding with that one. We ate that rubbish, but I'm discounting that one, myself. That was the contents of one man's refrigerator, hopefully not everyone's."
She nodded. "I agree. We also drank all that wa—" She snapped her fingers. "Of course, water! I told you I thought it had something to do with the water cycle!"
"So you did." She watched as he glanced down at his cup of coffee suspiciously. "So what do you propose?" he asked, scooting the cup farther away from him.
"We can still drink using Aguamenti," she said, relieved by her own statement.
"Good. But we still have the problem of waking everyone up, getting rid of your insects of dreamy doom, finding whatever has gotten into the island's water, and finding a way out of this extremely questionable paradise. And Granger, I sincerely hope you're right about all of this because I do not fancy the idea of turning into a cloud. That's far too fluffy an existence for me."
Hermione stood. "First things first: a little test of my theory." She started up the stairs, Malfoy following after her until they reached the bedroom. "Mobilicorpus." Keepsy slowly rose into the air, and Hermione adjusted her until she had a good view of the woman's legs.
"You want to look behind her knee, don't you?"
"It's as good a starting point as any. Take my wand while I check?"
Malfoy snorted as he moved to take over her spell. "I never thought I'd see the day when you voluntarily handed your wand over to me."
Hermione started to slide Keepsy's robe hem up her legs. "Am I wrong to trust you?" She didn't wait for him to answer, ducking her head down to inspect Keepsy's knee. Sure enough, a puffy—and very much disgusting—tick was latched there. She hated ticks. Crookshanks had had plenty of them in his time, no matter how regularly she gave him his flea drops. She pulled it away, stomping on it as soon as it hit the carpet. "Bleh. Gross, gross, gross."
"I'll agree with that assess—whoa." Malfoy cut himself off, lowering Keepsy to the ground rather suddenly.
"What is it?"
"Look outside the window, Granger!"
Hermione turned and almost jumped. There, looming in the darkness, was the very large and wispy figure of a penguin. Hermione backed up, snatching her wand out of Malfoy's grip. "I think you should open the window."
"You want to let a cloud inside the house?"
"Yes! Now, come on!"
The penguin's beak and right eye were pressed against the glass, flattening into it. Malfoy's wand rose, and the window slid upward along with it. They both backed up against the far wall as the mist started seeping through the window screen and into the room.
The air felt cool and humid, and Hermione watched as condensation formed along her arms and legs. Against her better judgment, she reached out and took Malfoy's hand, which was wet, too. Just as suddenly as the cloud had emerged, it was suddenly gone: a large puddle forming around Keepsy's body.
"Bizarre," she whispered.
"Definitely. Look!" He pointed with his free hand to Keepsy's head, where her eyes had stopped roving about beneath their lids. Hermione held her breath and let it go again when Keepsy rolled to her side and coughed. The woman sat up, wiping water from her eyes and nose and looking around.
"I just had the strangest dream," she murmured. "But who are you?" She paused. "And where did all of this water come from?"
Three days later:
Hermione sat on the edge of the port, her feet dangling below her. If the tide were to come in, she would have been able to skim the water with her toes. Malfoy was a few feet away, sitting on the lid of his trunk.
"I never want to see another tick again," he declared, taking a sip from the piña colada he'd been given as part of their farewell thank you from the Sleeper Island hospitality committee.
"That shouldn't be too hard to arrange." She'd been looking up in the sky, watching the very normal-looking clouds go by. "And at the very least, you won't see another one the size of a bullfrog."
Malfoy shuddered. "That was positively horrid. How do you think it managed to get into the water supply, anyhow?"
"How do you think any of this happened?" Hermione shrugged. "Magical accidents and catastrophes are just that: magical, catastrophic, and quite often accidental. I don't know that we'll ever find out what caused all this. It was intriguing while it lasted, though."
They had been quiet for several minutes, just waiting for their boat to arrive, when Malfoy cleared his throat. "Look, about what I said the other day, on the beach. You know I wasn't in my right mind, don't you?"
She turned her head a little, peering at him from the corner of her eye. "Of course."
He sighed. "Good."
"Except—no, forget about it." She shook her head a bit, making her hair bounce.
"I can't help thinking of something you said in my dream," she explained, almost hesitantly. She wasn't entirely sure why she had brought it up, or why she was feeling a sudden rush of nerves because of it.
"And what's that?" he asked, his eyes narrowing.
"You said something about lying to me because you're afraid of the truth." She shrugged. "But you also said a lot of other things that didn't make any sense."
"Granger, are you implying what I think you're implying?"
"I'm not implying anything!" Well, maybe she was, but she wasn't about to admit it.
"No, you think I'm lying about what I just said to you about the other day on the beach."
She shook her head, blushing. "Really, I believe you about not really wanting to take me on a honeymoon… as your bride." She grimaced.
He snorted. "Wonderful. Just bloody-well wonderful. There's a but to what you're saying, Granger. You just haven't gotten to it yet."
"Alright! But… I think what you said might have… stemmed from something. If the fact that you," she bit her lip and forced herself to forge ahead, "flirted with me a couple times while you were in your right mind is any indication."
He rapped his knuckles across his thigh. "So?"
"So, it just seems like maybe you're not quite so opposed to me as you might like to think." She shrugged. "Really, it's nothing we need to get worked up about."
He sat, just looking at her for a moment, making her feel distinctly uncomfortable. "Come here."
"Because you just convinced me of something."
"I did?" He nodded, beckoning her forward with his index finger.
Hermione scooted herself back from the edge of the pier and stood. He patted the side of his trunk, and she reluctantly sat. "I think," he said, his voice low and conspiratorial, "that maybe, just maybe, I do find you tolerable." He paused, as if expecting her to gasp. "So, Granger, if I do ever start flirting with you again, I'd find it most reassuring to my obviously cowardly self if, instead of thinking I've gone crazy because of a magical tick-contaminated water, funny cloud dream disease, you were to flirt back. Or, better yet, kiss me."
Hermione took in a breath, feeling suddenly a little light-headed and, perhaps, even a little dreamy—because very little else would explain her response. "Malfoy?" she asked, just as their boat came into view over the horizon. "I think I might be inclined to reassure you if you do, but I have to tell you, it's not very nice to leave a lady waiting."
"Whoever said I was nice?" He grinned at her look. "Kidding."
A.N.: I wrote this over the summer, but I had to wait a bit before I was allowed to cross-post. I hope everyone enjoyed it. The Reverse Challenge had an accompanying round of awards, and Dreamers was runner-up in the over-all Best Interpretation category. If you're wondering what the Reverse Challenge is, it involves an author writing a story based on a piece of art by a dramione artist. :) I'd really recommend taking a look at the artwork by sitrusky, but if you're lazy, here's a quick description: Draco and Hermione sit on a dock/pier, cloud-watching. Above are two clouds, one shaped like a skeleton key (which kind of looks like an alien) and the other is a penguin.