Havoc of the Opera
Chapter 2 - Finding the Leads
Wednesday afternoon came, and Harry and Ron were late. Their essay on the ethical issues of the use of the Impedimenta Charm, due the next day, had completely slipped their minds, and thay had had to sprint upstairs after a quick lunch to finish it. When they returned to the Great Hall, it was morphing into a gigantic rehearsal room.
'Kindly step away from the benches and do not stand between the tables and the walls,' McGonagall bellowed, transfiguring the four benches into two sets of armchairs, and sliding the two enormous house tables against opposite walls. Flitwick then conjured something akin to a pale grey curtain, which hung from the ceiling and stretched out, reaching the floor and the walls, splitting the Hall in two smaller rooms. They now stood in one of them, observing as the top halves of the House tables covered the length of the walls and disappeared under the curtain. One of the sets of armchairs, too, had disappeared. Only the staff table remained in its rightful place.
'What's this for?' Ron asked, catching Lavender's eye.
'Oh,' giggled a beaming Lavender, 'No other place was big enough, so we split the Great Hall in two and kept the top half because we'll need the raised platform,' she pointed to the staff table, 'and the others said they needed the Entrance Hall's stairs and the oak doors, and...' Ron's mind spun at the speed with which she spoke. McGonagall's commanding voice sent the Ravenclaws and the Hufflepuffs to their room beyond the curtain, along with their heads of house and several other teachers. Only McGonagall, Snape, Hooch and Dumbledore stayed. But Dumbledore swiftly apologised for having limited time with each group and retreated to the other room. As the curtain fell into place, no further sound came from beyond.
'Why can't we hear them?' Harry enquired.
'Even you must recognise a Silencing Spell, Potter,' Malfoy emerged to the left of the staff table, holding a notebook.
There were faint shadows ahead, as though a thick fog had descended on the other group. 'We might be able to hear something if they shout very loudly. Security measure,' he added in a distasteful tone.
'What's that?' asked Ron, pointing to his notebook. Malfoy just tilted his head towards the stack of similar notebooks resting on the staff table and joined a group of Slytherins who were appraisingly pouring over a single notebook.
'Harry, Ron, over here!' Seamus, Neville and Dean waved. They had somehow disentangled a few chairs from the set and were trying to get to Ginny, who had already sat neatly against a wall, engrossed in her notebook. It was their script.
Harry and Ron picked one for each of them and joined the others.
'I thought they'd be bigger,' Seamus observed. Ron sighed.
'They're big enough,' Ron sighed, 'have you seen these neverending monologues?
'Monologues?' Ginny glanced at his open script. 'Ron, those are the musical numbers, and they're shorter than they seem.'
'Musical numbers?' Ron repeated, in a hollow voice. 'We have to sing?!'
'Well, it's a musical. Hermione posted a synopsis of it in our message board.'
'I didn't see that!' Ron's voice was now laced with panic.
'Then you should have. There were also character profiles, a list of musical numbers...'
'Where's Hermione, by the way?' Harry chimed in. Ginny pointed to the opposite table. Hermione, Blaise and Snape appeared to be discussing one of the passages of the play. Harry's spirits sank at the sight of their teacher.
'They can't have that much to talk about,' Ron grumbled, the songs fleeing his mind at once, as he glared fiercely at the trio.
He couldn't have guessed it, but he wasn't alone in his feelings. To their left, a white-blond head observed Blaise and Hermione with an expression carved out of utter repulsion.
Dumbledore emerged from the opaque barrier, clapping his hands. 'Haven't you started yet? The others already have the leads!' Hermione started, frenziedly handing out scripts. A nervous shuffle of footsteps later, they had all sat with scripts in their laps, waiting for instructions. The staff table slid to the sidewall, leaving them a 'stage' for the auditions.
'We... we have to go up there?' Ron stammered, looking positively terrified.
'Of course, Mr. Weasley. You'll have to audition somewhere!'
'I was thinking maybe... we could audition alone...?
'Alone?' countered a perplexed McGonagall.
'Yes, well, not totally alone, of course, just with the teachers, without...'
'... witnesses? Are you that bad?' Malfoy really didn't look as confident as he sounded.
'Ye-- no. Not really,' Ron said firmly, glowering at him. 'I just think we'd feel better without everybody staring at us. It's unnerving enough as it is...'
'I'm sure it is, particularly for those of you who have never stepped on a stage.' Dumbledore sounded almost pitying. 'But I'm afraid these auditions will result in a performance for the whole school, and as such...' Ron's face had grown progressively grey and now it matched the barrier behind him.
'I didn't know he had stage fright,' Hermione whispered in Harry's ear, as Dumbledore spurred them on rather loudly.
'There's no need to be nervous. None of us expect you to be consummate professionals. Half the point is that you have fun.'
'Fun?!' Ron gasped, 'Fun!?'
'Should we begin with the main lead?' Blaise enquired.
'I believe we should start with Christine Daaé, Mr Zabini.' McGonagall countered. Blaise thought for a moment and then nodded in agreement.
'And that would be...?' Draco asked.
'The female lead. She's the connection between the characters, and everybody has to be cast around her. I agree with the professor. We have to find Christine first,' Hermione informed him without thinking. Upon meeting his eyes, she caught herself and looked straight ahead, lips pursed. Malfoy smirked.
'Professor, will we all audition?' Harry uncomfortably addressed the Headmaster.
Malfoy sneered. 'For the female lead, Potter?'
Harry glowered at him and clarified, 'Will everybody audition, for one role or another?'
'I imagine the auditions may end when the right people are cast. We won't force you to audition,' McGonagll replied. Ron looked immensely relieved, “But those left out of the cast will be part of the crew.'
Dumbledore sat expectantly. 'Well, do we have any prospective Christines? Remember, we can magically enhance the shakier voices, but it would be preferable to give full use to your own talents. Miss Parkinson, will you do the honours?'
Pansy stepped onto the improvised stage, a small smile playing on her lips.
She had an extraordinary voice. The audition song, Think of Me, had been deemed sufficiently challenging yet not overly demanding, as well as a good sum-up of Christine's motivations. As sung by Pansy, however, it now sounded unimaginably difficult. When she breezed through the glass-shattering cadenza as though it were a mere warm-up, muttered complaints arose that she must have enhanced her voice earlier on.
'I don't care how high-pitched her voice is, it's never carried that way. It has to have been tampered with...!' Lavender commented. There were emphatic nods of agreement.
Meanwhile, onstage, Pansy had moved on to the spoken piece: a passage of Christine's conversation with Raoul, her love interest. Blaise was there, running Raoul's lines for her. Malfoy sat in the front row, listening to the perplexed comments. Only when they quieted down to observe the rest of her audition did he look over his shoulder and casually let out that Pansy had had singing lessons since she was little, and that, no, she had no need to tamper with it
'Why on earth did she have singing lessons?' Ginny asked, 'Can't see her wanting to sing for a living.'
'It's common practice, among the well-bred, to be proficient in the arts from a very young age,' he clarified, looking disdainfully at those less wealthy around him.
'Did you have singing lessons, too?' Ron snapped, stung.
'But of course,' came the unfazed answer, 'among others.'
'Dark Arts?' Ron suggested, leering.
Malfoy smirked. “No. But I could, had I wanted to. Some of us can afford them.'
Only the teachers' severe looks stopped Ron from wiping the smirk off Malfoy's face.
Given their short supply of girls, half of them instantly dismissed, casting Christine took much longer than they had anticipated. Some girls had been called back – Pansy returned to the stage three times – and now Ginny was there for the second time, attempting a few bars of the main love song, All I Ask of You. She had a hushed, pleasant voice that couldn't hold a candle to Pansy's. Rather obviously, too, it wasn't fit for Christine's demands. Topping it off, Ginny had prefaced her audition with a complaint about Christine's melodramatic nature, and her overwrought attitudes.
Hermione then took the limelight for the first time – she had been acting as a consultant about the script's finer points as the other girls auditioned. She, too, was miles behind Pansy, but her voice was warm, steady and alluring. It did waver a bit in the very highest and lowest notes.
Christine was cast around five-thirty. In an attempt to keep envy and malice out of the decisions, they had agreed that individual opinions would be voiced, but men would have final say in the casting of female characters and vice-versa. Consensus among the boys was that it was a shame that Pansy couldn't even pretend to muster Christine's timid, serene charm. Her brisk, snappy Christine, fine singer though she was, was an operatic version of Pansy herself. Ultimately, it had been agreed that Christine's core had been best captured by Hermione. Her voice's shortcomings were a concern for later stages.
Rather predictably, Pansy's tetchy approach made her the perfect Carlotta Giudiccelli, the opera's prima donna, and Christine's biggest foe. Both girls rejoiced with the decisions. Having cast two characters in one go, the group patted each other on the back.
Casting the Phantom and Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, was quicker, yet just as tricky. The rather generic part of Raoul still demanded a graceful, charming actor who wasn't tone-deaf and who could convince the audience that Christine would be better off with him than in the Phantom's obsessive embrace. Blaise was the obvious choice, but he eyed Hermione apologetically and confessed that he couldn't act to save his life. 'And I nurture the deepest disdain for a soul like Raoul's,' he added.
It was only after a great deal of insistence that he acceded to read out the spoken piece. He hadn't lied. He was awful. Eventually, he went back to his seat as a newly-appointed crew member, fairly content to remain out of the spotlight. Hermione, running Christine's lines in aid of the prospective Raouls, smiled at him encouragingly and readied for the next one. Ron.
Her loving exchanges with Blaise seemed to have snapped the stage fright out of Ron, who strode palely onstage and barely looked her in the eye the whole time he was there. Were he not so anxious, he would have been quite passable. Unfortunately, deep inside, he seemed to share Blaise's feelings towards Raoul's romantic nature.
Malfoy's (rather reluctant) audition was a quick one. He sped through the preamble to All I Ask of You and proceeded to sing its first bars with his eyes trained on Hermione. In the process, he seemed to have transfigured into a loving suitor with a gentle, modulated voice rather than a cynical drawl. His was also the last audition for Raoul. The part was instantly his.
Parvati was even irresponsible enough to sigh that they made 'such a cute couple', earning a double glare from the pair onstage and Ron and Pansy in the audience. Blaise's sole reaction was a slight tightening of the lips.
'Well, they do,' Parvati muttered defensively. Only Hermione and Pansy opposed his casting. Pansy whinged that Raoul and Carlotta barely interacted. Hermione, who had been mere feet from him, and thus had seen him keep his distance even as the script told him to move closer, who had remarked on his tense hands, and his twitching lips, simply commented that he had '... no bodily expression to speak of, and an indifferent tone.'
'Hermione, I can assure you that from an audience's point of view, he was perfectly believable,' Lavender sighed. 'The way he looked at you!'
He wasn't looking at me! He was looking at Ginny!, Hermione wanted to shriek. She took a deep breath and calmly pointed out, 'He was looking over my shoulder all the time. Will he be doing that during the performance? What a smash that will be. We should pick somebody else for Raoul. Or Christine,' she added rather sadly.
Malfoy passed by, pausing beside her. 'This is schoolwork and I'm not stupid, Granger. I'll pretend to adore you for as long as necessary, so if you will please stop whining. It's not like I'm thrilled to be whoring myself out to a mudblood every time the teachers snap their fingers.' The last sentence was such a low hiss that only Hermione heard it. Malfoy slid back into his place, colliding with Seamus on the way.
It was now six-thirty and the teachers, taking pity on them, had a snack brought in. Dinner was apparently unlikely. They ate enthusiastically, commenting on the recent casting decisions. The staff, too, conferenced, and, when the plates were empty, Ginny was called back onstage.
'Miss Weasley, would you sing this for us? Take your time.'
Ginny read the lines to herself a few times, and then began, 'Where in the word have you been hiding? Really, you are perfect!' She turned to Hermione, with a small note of wonder, 'I only wish I knew your secret! Who is this new tutor?'
Prof. Dumbledore beamed. 'I do believe we've found our Meg Giry. Provided Miss Weasley accepts the part, of course...' Ginny, who much preferred Meg to Christine, knew better than to refuse. She stepped offstage, straight into her brother's arms. Ron was so proud of her he had even stopped sulking.
This left them with the one real problem. The Phantom. Because he was supposedly much older than the romantic leads, it was agreed that whoever played him would be magically aged, and every boy was to audition. None was fit for the part. By ten in the evening, Goyle's deep voice had begun to sound like an acceptable reason to give him the part.
Even Harry had auditioned. He was quite good as the long-suffering, lovesick composer, but he lacked presence. He simply wasn't intimidating, or brooding, or scary. He wasn't their Phantom.
One hour later, they were frantically looking for a loophole in the script. In the course of the evening, they had re-baptised the other group 'The Bohemians', whilst calling themselves 'The Classicals', and someone was now suggesting, '‘We could always ask the Bohemians to lend us an actor... maybe you could ask your sister, Parvati...Parvati?!'
Parvati stared at the staff table, script abandoned on her lap, open in the Performance of Il Muto. She stood and, in a timid voice that the group only miraculously managed to hear, asked, 'Professor Snape, would you-- please-- read a section of this scene for us?'
The sound of all necks creaking as one echoed like the prophecy of doom in the heavy silence. Snape looked at Parvati as though she should be shipped to St. Mungo's at once. Harry had an urge to murder her. Had anyone looked at him at that moment, he would be immediately cast as the Phantom. Was it not enough that he and that man had to sit in the same room? Parvati was now under the glare Snape usually saved for Neville – on a bad day.
Oddly enough, somebody had liked the suggestion – a ball of bushy hair grabbed Parvati's script and run to the staff table. Assorted passages were shoved under the nose of a very shirty Professor Snape, who turned to the Headmaster with a silent plead for help. But Dumbledore smiled unsettlingly, trying to reason with the younger teacher. It was rather like convincing a child that medicine is tasty.
'Yes, Severus, do try. Wonderful, it will be wonderful – you're an excellent actor. You'll enjoy it. Do it,' It appeared Dumbledore thought Christmas had come four months early. His tone also bore a hint of non-negotiable finality that wasn't lost on Harry.
Snape gazed at him in mingled disgust and defeat. 'Wonderful, publicly seducing a student for the next few months? I'm certainly glad somebody will be enjoying it,' he spat venomously, 'and words such as “seduction” will have to enter your vocabulary if you really want this to happen, Miss Granger, so please not to be blushing,' he added, with a glare that could wither stone.
'But Severus, it's a play,' McGonagall attempted to reason.
'She is being graded, not I. This will go well beyond a teacher/student relationship, and it will be a humiliating experience for both of us,' he countered in one breath.
'Well, she is sixteen, not quite a child.' Hermione was crimson. 'And I'm sure you're both mature enough to see the positive side of the experience, if you're open to it. If your minds are open, I mean. You might even learn a thing or two.'
Mischief glinted in Dumbledore's eye. Everybody gaped at him, even the Bloody Baron, who had accompanied Nick upstairs to check on their houses' progresses. Harry had never seen such mass embarrassment in Slytherin house.
Snape was fuming. He mentally counted to ten, then ripped the script out of Hermione's hands and glided onstage with a homicidal aura around him. Several students were clearly questioning the wisdom of remaining in his reach. Long minutes went by as Snape scanned the script with his back to the students, who were more unsettled by the minute. When he finally turned to face them, his face was inscrutable.
If Malfoy's audition had shocked them, this one positively bewildered them. Snape really appeared to be morphing – it happened so slowly that it only became noticeable once the process was complete, that his expression, his whole physicality, had changed. He stood to his full height, with a hint of pride as he leaned towards Hermione, gesturing smoothly to show her things only he could see, his arms leading her body this or that way without really touching her.
Even his voice had changed. Gone was the cold note that it held even when directing a compliment at his precious Slytherins. It took Harry a moment to realise why it sounded so odd. Snape was singing. He had picked the Phantom's song, The Music of the Night, and was now dripping the words into Hermione's ear in a half-sung, half-spoken tone so low that only she could really understand the words. The rest of them knew she was hearing something mesmerising, but they didn't know what it was.
Hermione seemed to be spellbound. Of course, Christine really was, but Hermione no longer seemed to be in-character. When Snape had first leaned in, his hand nearly touching her neck, she had instinctively stiffened, but as that voice that could not be his, just inches from her, began to cast its spell, she forgot all about Christine.
When the song was over, he had to cough loudly to jerk the audience back to their senses. Many fidgeted in embarrassment. Hermione jumped, her head collided with Snape's shoulder, and she stammered an apology, blushing to the very white of her eye. He merely scowled and made his way back to the staff table, defying the headmaster – who was stifling chuckles behind his own script – to say a word. McGonagall, her cheeks unusually flushed, cleared her throat. 'Shall I take this silence to mean that Professor Snape has been approved as the Phantom?'
There were scattered nods, but most people were still staring at their Potions master, who had turned his back to them and was sulking beside Dumbledore. It was hard to let it sink in that he had acted like an appealing human being.
Harry blamed their enthrallment on the song, and a few of his mates supported him -- surely, that song would have made even Flitwick's squeaky voice sound wondrous.
'Well, five characters down,' Madam Hooch said brightly, 'and it's half past eleven already. I suggest we have a good night's sleep and finish the auditions tomorrow.'
Everyone began to gather their belongings, but McGonagall still had something to say. 'Just a second. This is important. While you were all choosing the players, we talked a bit about the understudies. They should be cast now, so that everyone may start studying their parts at the same time.'
'Underwhat?' Ron asked, bedazzled. Hermione instantly slipped into top-of-class mode and succinctly explained the concept.
'Now, do you care to know who your understudies will be, or not?' McGonagall asked briskly. They waited, stifling yawns. Right then, they could only care to understudy their own beds.
'Well, then, the understudy for Christine Daaé will be Parvati Patil; for Raoul, Ron Weasley; for Carlotta, Lavender Brown; for the Phantom, Harry Potter. Other understudies will be chosen as they become necessary. We'll leave those up to you. Good night to you all.' She whirled out of the room, swiftly followed by the other teachers. Snape was last, and Harry quickly realised, from the utter loathing in his teacher's expression, that this understudy business meant that they would be spending time together. What a joyful prospect.
Harry didn't even know why Snape needed an understudy, if he had been so good. If he didn't need a great mark in Transfigurations to even be considered for Auror training, Harry would have vowed to become the most insufferable student McGonagall had ever known.
Ron observed his deepening scowl sympathetically. 'Does it make you feel better to think of me rehearsing with Malfoy?'
Harry groaned. They walked out miserably, surrounded by displeased Slytherins – the decision to pick only Gryffindors as understudies had not been popular – and the Great Hall was soon empty. In the ensuing silence, they could still hear the Bohemians, rehearsing happily across the barrier, '...spectacular, no word in the vernacular can describe this great event...'
'That's for sure,' Harry thought grimly, as Ron tugged on his sleeve. 'What?'
Following Ron's gaze, he saw Hermione and Blaise taking the longer path towards the dungeons. Ron ran up to them and insisted on going with them. Hermione tried to dissuade him, but he just reminded her of the headmaster's orders and walked on. Harry bade everybody a quick good night and made for the stairs. Something told him a storm was about to begin in the dungeons.
Ron's decision, however, left them with no prefects for the Gryffindors, and after a long and noisy discussion, a heavily sulking Malfoy stood next to Harry, ready to escort the others upstairs. Pansy had already left, and thus didn't see this development. Another reason to steer clear of the dungeons. Ron, still within earshot of the argument, silently trusted Harry not to let Malfoy lay his paws on Ginny, and on he went, leading a furious Hermione and a dignified Blaise downstairs.
Malfoy walked as far away from Harry as he could, and, it seemed, as close to Ginny as possible. He seemed to be enjoying the fact that his every step made her glower more deeply. There was general relief when he stopped where Blaise had. Harry slipped into bed as soon as he could, all his bones aching with repressed fury. They were working with the Slytherins. He had to work with Snape. He had to work with Snape every day. He was done in.
Despite his exhaustion, Harry was unable to sleep. Malfoy's presence had made him recall a tiny moment of the afternoon. Just after his audition, even before glaring at Hermione, Malfoy had cast the smallest glance towards the staff table, receiving a curt nod from Snape. Harry was sure of this, because Pansy had done the same thing, more exuberantly, and it had been her odd attitude that had drawn his attention to the Slytherins' auditions. Blaise had done it, too -- and Goyle, and the rest of them. Before anything other, they all turned to Snape. To see what he thought. To seek his approval. Snape had responded to all of them -- even Crabbe, who had been pitiful.
There was something inherently wrong with the thought of people seeking Snape's approval. That was a filial gesture, and Snape was the most un-paternal figure Harry could imagine. Harry ransacked his brains for a reason, any reason, for the Slytherins to care about Snape's opinion. Did they hold him that highly?
Slowly, sleep caught up with Harry, just as he thought that he had never received any sort of paternal attention himself (well, he supposed his dad had cared, but he didn't remember him...), other than Sirius', with whom he had spent little time, anyway. He wondered how it would feel to have someone that he could instinctively, expectantly, scan for a reassuring reaction.
Harry drifted smoothly into sleep, amid mingled memories of Sirius and of his parents' pictures, and of the day's auditions. When Ron arrived, ears red from an arguement with Hermione, Harry already dreamt of himself lying on a cradle onstage, surrounded by scattered pictures, and a deep, reassuring voice that came out of nowhere, singing, 'Night time sharpens, heightens each sensation, Darkness stirs, and wakes imagination...'
Return to Archive | next | previous