The Sugar Quill
Author: Juliane (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Growing Grey  Chapter: Default
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Nearly Headless Nick floated into his favorite hideout, behind the fourth door on the left of the sixth-floor hallway of Gryff

Growing Grey


By Juliane


Disclaimer:  All characters except Madame Coco are the property of J. K. Rowling



Nearly Headless Nick floated into his Gryffindor Tower hideout, behind the fourth door on the left side of the sixth-floor hallway.  The room itself changed from day to day, but counting the same number of doorways and landings every time was soothing to the ghost’s orderly soul.  Settling down in a magnificently carved chair (which had been a quilted and tasseled close stool yesterday, to Nick’s displeasure), he stretched out his legs and relaxed, only to have his head flop over.  With an irritated grunt, he pulled it back.  As he did, he noticed the package lying on the tooled leather surface of the desk, awkwardly wrapped in parchment and tied with a red ribbon.


Nick groaned.  This was the tenth package in two weeks.  He opened it, and the odor of rotting perch drifted to his nostrils.  He knew who it was from.  Somehow, in spite the disparity of age and historical era, she’d developed a…a…crush on him.  He’d caught glimpses of her following him about, peering around corners as he drifted through the Gryffindor hallways.  He knew what she wanted; the Halloween Ball was in a few days, and, surely, she was getting up the courage to ask him for a dance.  Nick felt sorry for the girl, truly he did.  Kind-hearted as he was, he’d worried about her refusal to adapt to being a ghost, and her desperate attempts to hold onto the physical world she’d left years ago.  Now, it seemed, she wanted to adapt, but Nick fervently wished Myrtle had chosen someone else to adapt with.




Her sobs were echoing off the walls of the bathroom.  He despises me, I know he does, thought Myrtle, and let out a long, self-indulgent wail.  The Halloween Ball was that evening, and Myrtle knew that, again, she’d be sitting in a corner while all the other ghosts, dressed in lovely outfits, would dance the night away.  She was sure Nick would spend most of his time with that beautiful Elizabethan ghost from Ravenclaw.  “I’m stuck here, in glasses and a frumpy dress, doomed to spy on live boys, forever,” she sobbed.


“Nonsense, girl.  Stop that sobbing and let’s get to work.”  Myrtle let out a surprised squeak and, opening the door to her stall, peered out.


A small, thin woman stood there, tapping the manicured nails of one hand impatiently against the sink, while the other was playing with her strands of pearls.


“Wha- what?” said Myrtle.  “I – who are you?”  Myrtle began to sob again.  “I can’t work, I’m a ghost.  I think it’s dreadful for a grownup like you to remind me-“


I’m a ghost,” snapped the woman.  “And Merlin knows they’ve got me busy enough.  We’ve been watching you, girl, and it is time you got used to being dead.  None of us like it at first, but we learn to, eventually.   You’ve got a ball to attend tonight, correct?”


“Ye- yes, Miss, er Mrs.,  Madame-“


The woman dropped her pearls and began to rummage through a large bag, after first lifting out a growling white poodle.  “You may call me Madame Coco.  Now, let us see-“  She stepped back and scrutinized Myrtle, who hunched her shoulders and stared at the floor.


“Stop that,” Madame Coco snapped.  “Posture, my girl, stand tall, shoulders square.  Although if I faced spending eternity in that outfit, I’d be sulky, too.  And those glasses have to go.”


She reached out and plucked them off.  “Wait,” Myrtle protested.  “I can’t see-“


“And that outfit.  Fine for everyday wear, but you need evening clothes.”


Evening clothes reminded Myrtle once more of the ball, and the lovely Elizabethan woman, and Nearly Headless Nick, and how he didn’t seem to notice her at all….


A pair of hands was placed on Myrtle’s shoulders, and she looked up, sniffling, to see the sharp eyes of the woman soften as they looked down.  “My dear child, it happens to all of us, alive or dead.  Tonight, he will notice you, and you will have a lovely time.  I promise.”


Myrtle rubbed her nose with the back of her hand.  “But- but nobody even likes me-“


“How can they, when you spend your days sobbing in the toilet?  We’ll find something for you to wear, and you’ll go to the ball, and you will not sob.  You will talk to people, and let them find out who Myrtle really is.”  She rummaged through her bag and pulled out a swatch of soft fabric.  “Yes, this is perfect.  Refrock!”


A flash of light made Myrtle wince, then slowly open her eyes, smoothing the soft, gray silk over her arms in a gesture of wonder.  “See what a decent dress will do for posture,” Madame Coco said, touching Myrtle’s shoulder approvingly, and guided her to the full-length mirror.


“Oh,” breathed Myrtle, catching sight of herself.  “Is that-“  She raised a hand to touch her face.  It was her.  Me, thought Myrtle.  That’s me.  The tall, pretty girl, standing proudly in a beautiful dress, was her.  She twirled once, scarcely believing it, and the silver threads in the fabric glittered, even in the dim light of the bathroom, as the silk swung around her legs.  Nick, she thought.  Please notice.  Please. 


Madame Coco was standing behind her, a satisfied smile on her face.  “Ah yes, that is much better, the dress and the Muggle contact lenses.  But the hair needs work.”  She snapped her fingers.  “Frederic!”




Myrtle paused before the door to the dungeon’s ballroom.  Despite her improved appearance, the thought of walking into a roomful of other ghosts made her nervous.  She momentarily considered poking her head through the wood to see who was there, but Nick was a stickler for etiquette, and not using the door on a formal occasion was frowned upon.


To quiet her nerves, she took a turn around the hallway.  As she neared the darkened niche at the end, she felt herself pass through someone.


“Oh, excuse me,” she mumbled, backing away.  “I didn’t mean-“


“It’s all right,” said a familiar voice.  “I’m new at this, and didn’t want to go in just yet.  I must admit, I’m a little nervous.”  Myrtle squinted into the dark, trying to see who it was.


She gasped as Cedric Diggory stepped out of the shadows, impeccably attired in dress robes, looking even more handsome than he had when she’d watched him dress for the Yule Ball.


“I didn’t know you were here,” Myrtle said, catching herself just in time from wringing her hands.  “I’d heard you, er, you know-“


“Died?” Cedric said, something between a grin and a grimace on his face.  “Yeah.  I haunt the area underneath the Quidditch stands.  That way, at least I’ll get to watch games.”  He sat down on a bench and examined the velvet trim of his sleeve with great care.  “I miss Quidditch.” 


He doesn’t know who you are, Myrtle thought, remembering the times he’d chased her out of the prefect’s bathroom.  Disappointment caught at her throat and she wanted to start wailing, but forgot about herself when she saw the look in the Cedric’s eyes as he glanced up at her.


“Does it get any – I mean, do you get used to this, after a while?  Do you miss anything?” he asked.  Myrtle sat down next to him and propped her chin on her hands.


“I haven’t tried to get used to it, I’m afraid.  I miss Chocolate Frogs.  They don’t even spoil very well.”  Myrtle’s face got slightly grayer.  What a stupid thing to say.  He must think you’re an idiot.  You are an idiot, Myrtle, dress or no dress.   She waited for him to get up and go into the ballroom, to run away from her, but instead, he laughed and held out a hand.


“You know, I haven’t laughed since – since it happened.  I’m sorry if I scared you, lurking around back here.  That’s a lovely gown; you looked like a lost princess as you wandered towards me, and I forgot to move out of the way.”


Myrtle blushed again.  “Thank you,” she whispered.


“Shall we go in, Myrtle,” he asked, still holding out his hand for her to take.




Nick froze in the act of eating some spoiled haggis as Myrtle walked into the ballroom on Cedric’s arm.  It wasn’t the dress or the hair, but her happy expression that made his heart leap.  The murmur that ran through the room over the improved appearance of one, and the first appearance of the other, soon died away, and Elaine, the Hufflepuff ghost, came forward to shake Cedric’s hand.  Nick watched with ever-deepening satisfaction the glow in Myrtle’s eyes as she danced, and the young man’s smile as other ghosts enthusiastically welcomed him.  Finally Nick got up and walked over to the pair, and held out his hand to Myrtle.  “May I have this dance, young lady?”


She looked up at him, friend to friend.  “Of course, you may.”



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