Havoc of the Opera
Chapter 4 - Hogsmeade
At the crack of dawn, news came that their first Hogsmeade weekend would take place two weeks from then. The third years' loud rejoicing was contagious. Shortly afterwards, excitement was rampant in the Gryffindor common room. The Quidditch team spread their good mood around as they left for practice. Ginny, who had trailed behind to talk to boyfriend Dean, waved faintly to Hermione and ran after her mates.
'Why couldn't it be in October instead?' Hermione groaned, as soon as they were out of earshot. 'Isn't our schedule tight enough as it is?'
Seamus poked her side playfully. 'Yeah, Hermione, one holiday with three months of hard work ahead of us. How will we ever make up for it?'
'But it's a whole day -- completely wasted! No rehearsals, no practice and no schoolwork... I just know the rehearsals will be rescheduled to make up time for the rest, I just know it...!'
And of course, when the very windswept players arrived for lunch, they were told that there would be no rehearsals in the week prior to the celebrated weekend.
'But the rehearsals!'
'Can wait, Hermione,' Ron said seriously. 'We're only performing by Christmas ti--'
'You think that's a lot of time...?'
'...and Quidditch season is beginning. Give us a break,' he finished sourly. 'You're only mad because of Zabini, anyway,' he added between his teeth.
She went red with indignation. Harry thought it was just the moment to intrude. 'Don't mind his bad mood. We had to put up with the Slytherins all morning.'
Parvati looked surprised. 'They were there? Don't they get tired of jeering? We always beat them, anyway...'
'Yes, I thought they'd behave now, with the joint houses. If we lose points, so do they...' Hermione commented, slightly let down.
'That's the thing,' Harry clarified, with an airiness that he was far from feeling. 'Guess who our new Quidditch allies are.'
Ron snorted. Hermione looked incredulous. 'No...!'
'To save us the time, the trouble, and a useless match, Madam Hooch says, we're not playing against the house affiliated with us. I think we're expected to support them, too'.
'Why were they there, then?' Hermione wondered aloud.
'Well, their practice was earlier than ours, and Madam Hooch wanted us to hear the news together.' Harry let out a snort rather similar to Ron's. 'And then I suppose some of them decided to stay and, er, be supportive. Good fun, really. I wish you'd been there.'
'Oh, Harry wasn't the only one.' Ron complained.
Harry snapped his fingers. 'Right. Blaise was there, and he says he needs to talk to you, Hermione.'
'Didn't say why, though.' Ron added, looking as though he wanted to read the answer on her face.
'And speaking of the devil...' Blaise was making his way through the throng of Gryffindors, nodding in acknowledgement to a few of them.
'I'm sorry to interrupt,' he sighed upon reaching them, not sounding at all sorry, 'but I need a word with you, Hermione. I really won't take much of your time.'
The seriousness of his face seemed to alarm Hermione, who sat up immediately. Ron mimicked Blaise's formal manners behind their back as they talked just a few feet away. As soon as they resumed their seats, he rounded on Hermione. 'Well?!'
Hermione picked up a bowl of grapes. 'We want to work as a duo in other subjects, and we have to make proper plans for that, Ron, that's all. Can't believe all the objections the teachers are raising.'
'And he couldn't tell you that in front of us why?'
Hermione paused mid-grape to look at him. 'Because it's individual work and we're not supposed to comment on it in front of others?'
'Basically, you don't trust us?' Ron cut her off, red in the ears.
'Yeah, Hermione, we would never copy off you!' Harry mocked.
'What side are you on?'
Harry looked left and right. 'Parvati's.' Hermione just smiled, biting down on another grape.
Ron picked up his script grumpily. 'This is easier than potion formulas and transfiguration models, at least. Are you done with yours, Harry?'
Harry nodded absently, picking up the timetable that a solitary owl had just dropped on his lap. His Occlumency lessons would be resumed during the rehearsal-free week. 'Sure,' he sighed in resignation. 'A whole week without him would be just too much to ask.'
'What was that?'
'Nothing,' Harry dropped his fork depressively.
The week went smoothly, as they were now used to the longer daily routine and the shorter nights. Every now and then, Hermione would let them know that Malfoy was still foul whenever out of the teachers' earshot, but he was at least beginning to do some proper work, even deigning to discuss their scenes together. Everything had to be done his way, of course, otherwise, there would be a long, detailed rant about how they were undeserving, unprofessional and undevoted to the play.
Pansy and Neville had ultimately decided to ignore each other completely. 'She's actually quite good,' he would tell them at breakfast, 'When she's not obsessing over Malfoy. She's a psycho, I tell you. No wonder he keeps his distance. Just three more months, just three more.'
Harry had mixed feelings. He still thought a performance was an incredibly daft idea, under the cirumstances, but being Firmin to Seamus' André was loads of fun - obviously, they got very little work done. Working with Snape was the most unpleasant part of the whole process, but they had somehow managed to have more civil exchanges, and he had lot surprisingly few points.
'You only lost us fifty-five points this week, Harry. Good work!' Dean shouted one evening, over dinner. There were glowers from the Slytherins. Their colective notion of a large amount obviously differed from the Gryffindors'.
'Harry usually loses us fifty points in one day, if Professor Snape is in a good mood.' Dean clarified dismissively, proceeding to reminisce over Harry's most outrageous point losses.
After another gruelling weekend, their rehearsal-free week arrived. Having been spared the sight of Hermione and Blaise walking together to the dormitories, and consequently, of Malfoy walking to their tower every other day, Ron positively glowed. Harry was glad to see him quiet down, because he, himself, had more pressing things in his mind. Two after-class occlumency lessons loomed ahead, one on Wednesday and another on Friday. Snape had also mentioned a third on Saturday morning, which would lose him half the trip to Hogsmeade.
'Why bother going at all?' he moaned in the common room.
'Come on, mate, nothing ever happens in the morning, anyway,' Ron said tentatively. 'If you run, we can have lunch together and enjoy the afternoon!' he added brightly. Hermione nodded reluctantly. 'He won't even want you there on Saturday,' Ron continued, 'This is Snape. He won't want to spend all of his time with you.'
Harry did a double take. 'That sounded incredibly bad.'
Ron stood still for a moment, then shuddered. 'Eugh. I didn't mean it like that. Shut up.'
Hermione glared sharply at him. "What? He's a Slytherin, so he's undeserving of happiness?"
Ron looked surprised. 'Hermione, we're talking about Snape. Have you met him?'
'And you're a divine gift?'
'Are you comparing me to him?!'
'It wouldn't be fair. He'd win by a mile!' Hermione snapped.
'Just because he's a Slytherin?!'
'Because he's not you!' Ron's ears were purple now. Hermione was fuming.
Harry, who had very little interest in Snape's private life, had tuned out already. In fact, the strong chance that most of their teachers had families and a life outside the school rarely crossed his mind. But Snape... in his mind's eye, Snape was always alone. Harry simply couldn't picture him with anybody. The few scenes of his childhood and adolescence that Harry had broken into just cemented the thought. With an uncomfortable jolt, Harry recalled his dad's and Sirius' responsibility in that state of affairs.
'It's not like he was a goody-goody, either,' Harry told himself, burying his misplaced sympathy under a respectable amount of resentment and resuming his silent theories. Snape married. Snape surrounded by a family. Snape, a father. What a terrifying thought.
Ron was right. Snape's leisure time had to consist of sulking, brooding and more sulking. The image of himself doing just that in Privet Drive assaulted him so violently that the pain was almost physical.
'I'm not him. I don't drive people to their death,' he told himself. A little voice in his mind keened about Cedric. 'Sirius would still be alive if it weren't for him,' he silently repeated.
'Is Snape actually worth an argument?' he addressed the others in a light tone. They turned their reddened faces to him, then to each other, and fell silent.
That night, when they parted, Ron was still grumbling that rooms should be prepared in Azkaban to receive the yet-unborn generations of Slytherins.
'Then Azkaban will have a fine choir!' Hermione quipped over her shoulder, retreating before Ron had time to answer. Harry could hear her singing through the open door to the girls' dormitories going, 'Darkness stirs, and wakes imagination...'
That song plagued his sleep. It came through the darkness in that ethereal whisper, but there was a definitely corporeal figure approaching him, tonight, and he was no longer a baby. The cradle was a bed, the floor beneath it was an underground lake and Sirius was playing Quidditch high above him.
Harry would have felt badly about having dreamt of Snape, if the reality didn't make him feel so much worse. In spite of his improvements, his occlumency lessons were hard as ever. And on Wednesday, Snape had brought forth that memory - that night in the ministry. His concentration had been dusted and Harry had collapsed, bumping on the edge of the desk. Clearly relishing his reaction, Snape chased that memory out again and again, and Harry collapsed over and over, closing his mind a little bit more every time, refusing to give in to Snape's desire to see him at his most vulnerable. He didn't dream of Snape after their lesson.
On Friday, having organised his thoughts so that they all sat firmly on top of that one memory, Harry found himself flushing redder than Ron's hair when Snape nosedived into the memory of his latest dreams. Bigger embarassment could not exist than feeling Snape pour over a dream he didn't even remember, Harry had thought. And Snape had proved him wrong, taking advantage of Harry's shock to have a detailed look at his own prominent participation in Harry's most recent dream.
Harry braced himself for a memorable lambasting, but Snape just told him stiffly to clear his mind before sleep ('Which has clearly been too much of a bother for you.') and warning that he would be expecting him early next morning.
Harry took a deep breath. 'Professor, it's a Hogsmeade weekend... couldn't we--'
'No, Potter, we can't. Had you done this properly last year, you would be free for Hogsmeade now, but as it is, you will have to make the sacrifice, as will I.' And that was it.
Later, in bed, Harry dreamt of a gagged Potions master. The details were fuzzy, but there seemed to be chains lurking in the recesses of whichever place that was. He woke up in a very good mood, which lasted for about two seconds, until he looked down and had to dash for the bath, hoping for very, very cold water.
Having reassured Harry that nothing important would happen before he arrived, and that nothing would even be important without him there to witness it, Hermione, Neville, Seamus and Ron - who eyed Ginny and Dean warily - made their chatty way to Hogsmeade. Only Hermione was quiet. They were nearing Zonko's when she spoke for the first time, mentioning a previous engagement and promising to meet them at The Three Broomsticks for lunch.
'But...' Seamus complained.
'Don't be mad. I don't even really like Zonko's, I'd only spoil your fun. See you later!' She spun on her heel and ran to a peculiarly decorated shop that they had never entered.
'What's got into her?' Ron complained. Ginny rolled her eyes.
'It hasn't yet, but it hopefully will. She's got a date, obviously.'
Seamus had a coughing fit. Dean stared at Ginny.
'And you, how many hints do you need? Take my hand!' she urged him. Seamus snorted and poked Dean playfully.
Ron wasn't even listening. 'What date? With whom?'
Ginny cocked her eyebrow at him. 'With whom do you think it is?'
Comprehension dawned. Ron turned purple. 'I'm going to kill him! I'm go--'
'...shut up and let Hermione do what's best for her.'
'He's not it!'
'And you know that how?'
'He-- he-- he's a friend of Malfoy's, and he's going to hurt her! He's doing it already, he's changing her! She's changed!'
'It was about time. And why don't you ask her out and be done with it, instead of having a fit because someone got there first?'
Ron didn't speak to Ginny all morning. He scoured every street in the little village for signs of Hermione, but she seemed to have vanished in thin air. After raiding Zonko's, the group made their way to The Three Broomsticks, dragging Ron along and commenting that the twins might like to see some of the newly arrived items. The pub was quite full. Harry half expected to see students dangling from the old chandelier.
'Vacant table over there!' Seamus shouted, motioning towards the window. At the table beside it, shadowed by the contrast between window and dark wall, were Blaise and Hermione, waving at them and pointing at the empty table. Ron, sulking heavily, followed the group,sitting as farther away from the pair as he could. Neville sat next to Blaise, distancing himself somewhat to give the pair a measure of privacy. Ginny sat next to Ron.
'There's no need to be so rude, he was just trying to be polite.'
'He doesn't look too hurt,' Ron spat. Indeed, Blaise and Hermione had resumed their conversation, heads very close, and Blaise had just leaned in to tell her a secret.
'Ridiculous,' Ron grunted. 'He could be using a sonorus charm, and no-one would hear him with this din. And her hair won't stay behind her ear no matter how many times he puts it there, so that's gratuituous, too.'
'So, they've just had a massive order from a German group. They're really impressed with the...' Everyone but Ron was listening to Ginny's news on the twins' latest exploits.
'Does he think it's cool to look like you haven't seen a comb in years?' Ron grumbled. Harry, who had just arrived, scowled at him, only then realising that Ron's eyes were still trained on Hermione, who had run a hand over Blaise's hair and was laughing uncharacteristically loudly at something he had just said. 'And this is the first date. Wonder what'll come next.'
The fates seemed to favour Ron's curiosity. Blaise and Hermione sat up and gestured abundantly to signal that they were leaving. Hermione made a detour to the toilet, and Blaise waited with them, placing a few galleons on the table to pay for the group's lunch. They protested, but he raised his hand dismissively.
'It's too noisy here to have a proper argument over the cheque. Today, I'm paying. Please - in good camaraderie.'
Ginny tried another feeble protest.
'Next time it's on you, then,' he suggested. 'Hoping there is one,' he added, more warmly.
'I don't need you to pay for my lunch,' Ron said, dignifiedly.
'Of course you don't,' Blaise seemed startled. 'But I'm not going to pay for everyone else's lunch and not yours, am I? That would make it sound like I have a personal issue against you.'
Ron couldn't tell him exactly where to shove their issues, because Blaise was already turning his back on the table. 'Now, let's see if I can drag Hermione out of that loo and get away from this chaos.'
A minute later, they were all chatting away again, and Ron had finally begun to relax. Hermione chose that precise moment to come out of the ladies' room. Blaise immediately offered her his arm, which she seemed to find so charming that she took a deep breath, heaved herself on her tiptoes and kissed him full on the mouth. Blaise, looking genuinely surprised, didn't push her away, and thus, they retreated somewhat awkwardly, unnoticed by everyone but Ron and a pale young man sitting across the room, who had lowered his glass with a nauseated expression as the scene unfolded.
Ron stared glumly at the two tangled shadows outside the door. Harry, who missed the scene because he had gone up to Madam Rosmerta for a butterbeer that he wanted to pay for himself, sat beside him. 'Where's Hermione?'
'Out,' Ron grunted.
'With Blaise,' Ginny added, sparing her brother a pitying look.
'Blai-- oh, the boyfriend.'
'You knew?' Ron asked, in a hurt voice.
Harry looked at him blankly. 'No, I... they didn't exactly tell me, but... well, it's pretty obvious now, isn't it?'
Ron glared silently at the wall. After a few minutes of relentless fuming, he turned to Harry. 'So, how did it go with Snape?'
They were both quiet from then on.
While the merry crew left for to Hogsmeade, Harry had dragged himself depressively to the dungeons. Snape, of course, was waiting.
Harry earnestly tried to wipe wipe his very brain cells from his mind, but exactly then, he caught sight of a metallic glint on the wall that reminded him of a shackle. Last night's dream slipped into his mind and his hold on his wand wavered. And of course, Snape chose that precise moment to attack.
Harry thought that the look Snape gave him could make the Whomping Willow spontaneously combust. He wondered what had happened to the good old visions of Lord Voldemort's whereabouts.
'Do I want to see the rest of that sequence, Potter?' It seemed unwise to defy the edge in Snape's voice.
'There's nothing else.'
'Hmm,' Snape sounded doubtful. 'Have you had any visions of the Dark Lord, recently?'
Harry blinked at the change in subject. 'No, sir.'
'Your mind seems remarkably empty this week, Potter, even for you. Have you been doing nothing at all?'
'Been busy with school and stuff.'
'School's never prevented you from engaging in... stuff.'
Harry chewed on the reply he was itching to give.
'Why would it now?' Snape went on acidly.
'Like I said, I've been too busy to do anything out of the schedule, sir,' Harry hoped that his glower could express the unprintable words in his mind.
'Are you trying to be too busy?'
'I don't know what you mean.'
Snape sat on the edge of the desk, looking him in the eye. 'I mean that you seem to be going out of your way to avoid quiet thought. Reflection.'
Harry did not like the path this was taking. 'What would I be avoiding?'
Snape looked at him sharply. 'Why don't you tell me?'
'I have nothing to say.'
'Nothing about last term's events?'
Harry froze. 'No.'
'Have you talked about them with anyone?'
'No.' Harry bit out.
'With all due respect... sir... I don't owe you any explanations.
'As you teacher, I am fully entitled to demanding explanations should I feel your personal life is affecting your schoolwork. And you owe me answers.'
'My performance is fine. Am I dismissed?
Snape ignored his question. 'You really should talk about it. With a teacher, if there's no-one else.'
Utterly unsettled by Snape's seriousness, Harry blurted out, 'If I had anything to say, I wouldn't want you to listen.'
Snape sneered. 'Obviously. Thankfully.'
There was a tense silence. Harry looked at Snape questioningly. 'Why do you want me to think about it?'
'Some things shouldn't be bottled inside.'
That sent the words leaping out of Harry's mouth. 'And why would you care?! Why do you want me to relive that? Are you just going to jab until it bleeds? I won't bleed for your entertainment,' Harry gritted out. 'I don't need a parody of concern from the man who danced on his grave. Are you sorry that you didn't do it yourself? Well, here's good news for you. He only left the house because you drove him to it. So perhaps I shouldn't be here, pretending to be civil to the man who killed him!'
It was amazing that Gryffindor wasn't in negative points yet. Snape's gaze never wavered throughout Harry's outburst, and when he spoke, it was in a hollow voice, 'Dismissed, Potter.' Still catching his breath, Harry blinked at him. 'Next Wednesday, same hour. Be here or I'll drag you down. And thirty points from Gryffindor, for insolence and denial. You may go.'
Harry stomped out of Snape's office in such blind fury that he didn't notice Snape that had taken no points for 'calumny', although Harry had essencially called him a murderer. He didn't feel the weight of the concerned gaze following him through the corridor. The only thing in Harry's mind, as Hogsmeade got closer and closer, was that Snape was the most loathsome creature alive.
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