What Lies Beneath

By Starkiller

Rating: PG13.
Beta: Rian219
Character: Blaise Zabini
Fandom: Harry Potter.
Notes: For the 2006 GWL, based on this urban legend which creeps me the frak out, especially the picture, brrr.

He was sick, probably feverish.

In the hospital wing, Blaise lay back on the pillows piled beneath his head, and groaned, squeezed his eyes closed and willed himself to be well. He felt terrible, his head pounding, his eyes watering, his hands shaking. He was hot and cold all at once, his skin feeling on fire one moment and then as if he had been living on an iceberg the next.

He didn't know what sort of virus or infection he'd caught, all he knew was that with six weeks until the mid year hols, coming down with this revolting flu thing was not what he wanted to be enduring.

Seventeen years old and in his last year at Hogwarts - or Hellwarts as he sometimes referred to it in private -- Blaise was very much looking forward to being free from the place and free from the restrictions of the Underage Use of Magic Law. He was looking forward to getting his Apparating license and, if all went according to plan, getting a job at the local pub and a small flat somewhere in Wizarding London. If that wasn't going to work out, well, that wasn't really any problem. He had other ideas; he was young, after all, and the world lay at his feet. So to speak. He liked to daydream away long hours in the Slytherin Common Room, thinking about various possible ways to enjoy post-school life, and because he had a rich and fertile imagination, he hadn't yet repeated any one of those daydreams.

Winter had put a definite cramp on his style and his plans, with him coming down with a cough which had become this illness that had landed him and a good many others in the hospital wing. It could be worse, he mused fuzzily, he could be shipped off to St. Mungo's for care when Hogwarts' infirmary wasn't able to make things better. So far, seven of Blaise's peers from all four Houses had had to be sent away, and another half dozen had been taken from school by concerned parents. When asked what it was that he was actually suffering from, Blaise was given what appeared to be the stock standard answer - a vague explanation about a particularly virulent influenza, that bed rest and potions would certainly clear up. Eventually. That 'eventually' had a ring of impending doom to it that Blaise didn't like to focus on, so instead he resumed his daydreams of things he might like to do when he'd left school. More often than not, his tired, worn out and healing body would send signals to his brain, and those daydreams would descend into dreams as Blaise fell into the deep and fitful sleep of the truly ill.

Seven days. Seven days and nights of coughing, headaches, hot and cold flushes, and Blaise was beginning to feel that he'd never be well again. The infirmary had new patients as well as those who had not yet recovered; the influenza seemed to pass quickly in some and not so quickly in others. Sometimes, Blaise thought he was hallucinating, seeing the ghosts of students past wandering sadly through the infirmary, although he would blink his watery eyes and what he had thought were ghosts would turn out to simply be a curtain blowing in the breeze or an owl flying past with the post. At the worst point in his illness, Blaise had fancied he'd seen something akin to a portal appear in the curtain beside his bed, thought he'd heard music and seen ghosts dancing around a bonfire, but the potion he had been given had dragged him inexorably down into sleep and he had never seen the images again.

He was getting better, however, slowly; he was able to keep down broth and fruit juice now, and the potions were beginning to take on a delightfully revolting taste that meant his senses were slowly returning to normal. Blaise was a healthy boy and an active one, and he was lucky, he knew, to be recovering here at Hogwarts, unlike some of the others who'd had to go to St. Mungo's. Blaise didn't like hospitals of any kind - magic or Muggle - and for a few days his dreams had been fraught with nightmares of sterile halls and generously-figured matrons wearing starched nursing gowns spoon feeding him potions of the vilest sort. But the worst was over now, and he was on the slow and steady road to recovery, even if he did become grumpy with how quickly he grew tired or how horrible the potions tasted.

As he slowly grew better and more alert, Blaise became more aware of his fellow residents in the infirmary, and more aware of the fact that half of them were indeed suffering greatly while the other half seemed to be slowly recovering. His eyes were no longer watery and he was no longer seeing things as he thought he had when he had been suffering the worst of his malaise; indeed, he seemed to see nothing out of the ordinary whatsoever. So it was that one night, ten days after his admission to the hospital wing, Blaise woke with a start and stared in blank astonishment at the ghost sitting on the edge of his bed.

The ghost stared right back.

Slowly, Blaise propped himself up on his elbows, absently shook his hair from his face, and very quietly murmured, "Are you real?"

The ghost blinked, settling on the edge of the bed, drawing her knees up under her chin and wrapping her arms around her legs. She wore a nightgown and her hair was long and straight, her eyes large and luminous in her pale, ghostly face. "I'm not sure," she replied, and her voice was young, although it seemed filled with the echo of hundreds of years. "What is the year?"

"It's 1997," Blaise said softly, adding, "AD."

"Oh." The ghost considered this for a moment. "Such a long time"

"Who are you?"

She looked at him and he shivered. Her gaze was penetrating and it made the hackles on the back of his neck stand up. Ghosts didn't frighten him, after all, here at Hogwarts there were so many of them wandering cheerfully about the halls that seeing them was as normal and ordinary as seeing your living, breathing friends. He tried again. "What happened to you?"

"I'm Melisande." A French name, Blaise knew that much. Medieval, too, from the stresses she put on the 'I' and the last 'E'. "I was in Ravenclaw House, Sorted there in the year 1001. My Godmother is the head of House."

Blaise did a few quick calculations. "Waitiswas your Godmother Rowena Ravenclaw?"

The ghost smiled. "Yes, she was." The smile faded. "She was the last person I remember before I died. I remember she wept."

"What happened?"

"I was sick." The ghost said it simply, but Blaise shivered. "I had the malaise inconnu. No one knew how to cure it. So many died. So many." Her voice trailed off. "I was only thirteen summers old," she continued after a moment, "and they did not know how to cure the illness. It was like this one, this one that fills this infirmary, this one that stalks through the ward like a living thing."

Blaise frowned. "How come we've never seen you before?"

She looked down at her feet. "So many are dying," she whispered.

He blinked, looked quickly towards the end of the infirmary where those who were very ill were resting, then looked back at her. "Only the dying can see you?"

"And those who are midway between."

Blaise gulped. "I'm getting better!"

She simply looked at him, then sighed and vanished.

Blaise didn't get any more sleep for the rest of the night.

The next night, he saw her again. Once again, he was awoken from a deep sleep, a sleep troubled with dreams of death and dying and how he did not want to die, not yet, not so young. He still had things to do, places to go. When he came awake, the moonlight was streaming through the windows, and he sat up, rubbing his eyes and reaching for a glass of water on the stand beside the bed. He froze in the act, staring.

Beneath the bed of a student that Blaise didn't know, a boy from Hufflepuff, lay the ghost he had spoken with the previous night. She wasn't looking at him, instead she was looking towards the door of the infirmary while the boy on the bed coughed fitfully. Blaise remained frozen as the boy's coughs became weaker and weaker and the ghost beneath the bed reached up a hand and stroked the bottom of the bed, luminous fingers sliding over the mattress and wooden slats of the bed frame. The boy on the bed let out a long, gurgling sigh, his chest heaved once and then he was still.

"No!" Blaise was moving, clumsily, slowly, and he was struggling to get up and go to the boy, but his body was still weak and refused to obey him. His shout had awoken Nurse Pomfrey from a light doze at the end of the infirmary, however, and she was faster on her feet, rushing first to his side, then to the other boy's bed when Blaise just pointed a shaking finger at it. Soon, the infirmary was in a commotion and the ghost beneath the bed was gone. The Hufflepuff boy, not able to fight off the illiness, was pronounced dead of the fever and weak lungs.

Blaise did not sleep again that night.

For the next three nights, it was the same thing. He would wake, see the ghost of Melisande beneath a bed, try desperately to move, to act, and fail. And the student who had been ill and lying within that bed would die, the illness having beaten their own will to live and fought off the potions that were supposed to make them well again. Blaise himself, however, knew that he would not be one of the dead or dying children - not any more. He did not complain about the potions he had to take now, nor about the exercises he was given to strengthen his lungs and his body. He did everything he was told to do for the first time in his life, determined to thwart this spectre of the girl who lay beneath the beds of the ill and took them down into death.

He did not tell anyone of what he had seen, but he grew stronger and healthier and soon he was sleeping without waking during the night. Three more students had died, and two more had been taken to St. Mungo's and Blaise was determined that he, by all that was holy, would live. Goddamnit, he thought, I will live. I won't have my life and death dictated to by a ghost beneath the bed.

After two weeks of this, he was finally pronounced fit to return to Slytherin. The dungeons were very quiet now, with so many students ill, and Blaise spent his evenings taking great pains to ensure his lungs were warm and his potions were always taken. He gave up smoking - although he knew himself well enough to know that once he was absolutely, one hundred and ten percent sure he was healthy, he'd pick it up again -- and he took every care to ensure that he would not suffer the same fate as others who had contracted the illness.

The end of the term arrived, and since Blaise had been discharged from the hospital wing, he had not seen the ghost of Melisande again. The night before he was due to leave the school with the rest of the healthy students and take the train to London, however, he was awoken by a pressure on the edge of his bed.

He sat up, instantly awake, and cast a Lumos, the soft light showing him that he had a visitor in the shape of Melisande. He stared at her, frowning, and she stared back. "Have you come for me after all, then?"

She blinked and then shook her head. "No. You fought me, you fought the sickness. You wanted to live. I think you saw me even though you weren't dying because of that desire to live, and that is why I am here now. Remember me, Blaise, and remember this lesson. Live every day as if it is your last, for you never truly know when your last day will be. Live and love and be well, Blaise, and you may never see me or my like again."

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak, and she rose, not touching the floor, and floated slowly away.

"Hang on," he called softly, and she paused, looking at him curiously. "How come I'm the only one who ever saw you and saw what you did?"

She stared at him for a long moment before replying, "'Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me.'"

"That's from a poem," he grumbled.

"Yes," she answered, "and that, Blaise, is why I lie beneath." There was a shimmer in the air, and then she was gone.

The next day, Blaise made sure that he was the first one to arrive at Hogsmeade station, and he did not look back at Hogwarts as he boarded the Hogwarts Express and the train headed for London.