Havoc of the Opera
Chapter 7 - Sentimental Exchanges
Harry and Hermione had decided that Ron, who didn't even like the thought of Ginny dating Dean, was best left in ignorance of her little secret with Malfoy.
'Maybe we've just heard it out of context?' Harry tried, with little conviction, alone with Hermione in the boys' dormitory. Ron had already gone downstairs for breakfast.
'Really, how many contexts can there be?' Hermione replied with a stifled yawn. She didn't seem to have have had much sleep.
Harry shrugged. 'Ginny wouldn't cheat on Dean. I won't believe it until I see it.'
'I can't believe it either, but I honestly can't see what else this could mean,' she sounded defeated.
'Ginny and a Slytherin. This is going to be just great,' Harry snorted.
'And your Slytherin, by the way? How is he?' he switfly added.
Hermione looked confused for a moment.
'Blaise,' he clarified. 'Don't even pretend nothing is going on.'
She sighed. 'I -- honestly don't know, I... I didn't want to comment on it because... well, Ron would have been unbearable...'
'Ron isn't here, now. Is there anything wrong?'
Hermione's gaze drifted as she struggled for words. 'It's... fine. It's fantastic. A fantastic friendship.' Harry's mouth formed an understanding 'Oh.'
'I know what everybody's thinking. I hear them in the corridors. We're not really a popular couple,' she finally elaborated.
'That's not very surprising. But that's not what we're talking about,' Harry reminded her.
She tapped her fingers on the headboard, biding her time. 'He's been really supportive, and he's really caring, and... and I adore him. Don't make that face -- I do. The thought of spending a few minutes with him, talking about the things that we both care about, is just...' she let out a happy sigh.
'Basically, he's perfect.'
'Pretty much. But I don't think I'm in love with him.'
Harry stared at her. 'Any particular reason?'
'It's just that... If I were in love, I'd know, wouldn't I? And there's no... well, there was that day in Hogsmeade--'
'Yeah,' Harry agreed emphatically.
'But back in school, it's just... I don't know how to put it. This isn't really my field of expertise,' she confessed, 'and I don't really believe the whole theory that we see stars and that time stops and there are sparks when we're in love, but... I'd know, wouldn't I? You recognise the feeling, don't you? You don't need to ponder whether or not you're in love, do you?'
'Don't look at me. I loved Cho when I was thirteen, remember?'
She smiled in spite of herself. 'If you say so.'
'I say we vote against complicated levels of affection. Let's all fall in love with each other,' Harry added flamboyantly.
'I support that,' she sighed again.
'Still,' he added tentatively, 'shouldn't you sort out all of that before getting together? You are together, right?'
'I guess... Together-ish. For now...' she admitted, turning a sharper gaze to him. 'How about you?'
'Me?' he repeated, hair standing on end even more than usual.
'Yes... I never got the chance to ask how you're coping, now that Cho's gone and all...'
'Fine,' he answered sincerely. 'I suppose it wasn't meant to be, as people say. It didn't really make such a difference when she left. It just... fizzled out. My great, deep, teenage love,' he added jokingly.
'And it really doesn't affect you any more?' Hermione sounded doubtful.
'There's a lot of things that don't affect me any more,' he commented grimly.
There was a short silence. 'Harry, about Sir--'
'I'm hungry,' he cut her off, sitting up. 'Let's have breakfast.' She grasped his hand.
'You know we're here if you want to talk,' she said quickly, before he had a chance to wrench his hand away.
'I don't want to talk. I want to eat,' he said curtly.
Hermione sat up to look him in the eye. 'A few weeks ago, it looked like you were beginning to go back to what you--'
'I'll never go back to what I was, Hermione,' Harry replied firmly.
'I know that,' she patiently explained, 'But you looked more... comfortable with what happened. You were laughing again. And you're not, any more.'
'I'm just tired, we all are.'
'Harry, don't you think we know you better than that?'
There was a longer silence. Hermione finally let his hand slip out of hers and took a step to the door.
'I'm not sure how I feel... about someone.' he blurted out, without thinking.
Hermione, who hadn't seen his face as he said that, turned to him in glee. 'Really?! But that's wonderful... isn't it?' she eyed his glum demeanour quizzically.
The corner of Harry's mouth twitched. 'Not really.'
She suddenly turned serious. 'Harry, what's going on?'
For a fleeting moment, Harry considered telling her everything. At the last second, he grinned. 'How do you feel about Malfoy? I've been wondering if it's worth competing with Ginny for this new, improved version of him.'
Hermioned blinked at him at the mention of Malfoy's name, and then pursed her lips to avoid laughing. 'At least your hair looks better than hers next to his,' she replied.
He grinned more earnestly. 'We'd be fabulous,' he insisted flamboyantly, putting on a french accent.
Ron's head poked through the door. 'Children, you've been alone for ages, and we have youngsters downstairs. They're having a field day, and I'm scarred.'
Harry and Hermione sprinted down to the Great Hall, chasing him.
For the rest of the day, they watched warily as Malfoy and Ginny took every available opportunity to spend time together. No-one missed their sudden proximity. Dean grew quieter and more sullen as the day wore on, Pansy became more vocal with every quiet conversation, Ron's lips took on a blueish hue from being pursed for so long. Harry was possibly the only one trying to analyse their dynamics coldly. As they once again talked apart from the group during a break, he thought that he couldn't imagine a colder, more detached torrid affair. In plain view, even.
'Perhaps there's hope,' he silently concluded.
However, when Hermione sat next to Malfoy for lunch, so as to finish a conversation about that night's rehearsal, Ginny put on an apprehensive expression that lasted throughout the meal.
'Malfoy and I might start working together in a few days.' Hermione later mentioned, as they sat in the common room, Harry readying for Occlumency, and Ron trying to figure out the matter with his broomstick, which tilted to the left with each dive.
'I thought you were doing that already,' Ron commented, peering over the manual for broomstick emergencies.
'I'm talking about schoolwork. The teachers think that working in trios is more productive than in duos, and Blaise and I thought that maybe Malfoy--'
'Why Malfoy?!' Ron asked, somewhat briskly.
Hermione flushed a bit. 'Blaise likes him, and...'
'And you like us,' Ron completed, reddening as well. 'Why does it have to be Malfoy?'
Hermione looked more uncomfortable by the second. Harry stopped trying to take out the spot in the front of his robes and turned to Ron, stating the obvious, 'He's got better marks than we do.'
She looked even more uncomfortable. 'That's not it at all. It's just... well, it doesn't matter. I just wanted you to know about this because if we spend more time together, maybe I'll have a chance to find out exactly what is going on between him and Ginny.'
Harry couldn't help thinking that if they rehearsed together as was their duty, she wouldn't need to find more expedients to spend time with him.
Ron's anger had evaporated at the mention of Ginny's name. 'You'd do that?'
She nodded with a smile. 'Blaise and I are working together in most classes, so we really will be spending a ridiculous amount of time together.'
'And that is apparently a good thing,' Harry smirked from beneath his freshly-scourgified jumper.
'In other news, Neville's developping an affection for Death Eaters and Snape's becoming popular,' Ron joked.
Harry froze at the mention of that name, frantically trying to clear his mind.
'That wasn't funny, Ron,' Hermione sounded stern. Taking Harry's furrowed brow to mean that he didn't want to go to Occlumency ('Can you blame him?' Ron smirked.), she suddenly suggested they went with him. With the uncomfortable sensation that his stomach and his lungs had swapped places, Harry quickly reassured her that there was absolutely no need for that.
'He won't even let you attend it,' he insisted.
'He doesn't need to,' Ron piped in, eager to get on Hermione's good graces. 'We'll just cheer you up a bit on your way down and wait till it's over, so that we can cheer you up a lot more on your way up. You'll need it.'
'I can't believe we didn't think of this before,' Hermione added brightly.
'We'll wait across the corridor if he wants us to,' Ron continued, ignoring Harry's protests, 'The farther the better, to be frank,' he added, turning on his heel to argue with Ginny, who had overheard this part and wanted to go with them.
'Let her come, Ron,' Hermione relented. 'Why shouldn't she, after all?' This prompted Dean to announce that he, too, was going with them. That day, Harry reached Snape's door with a rather large escort behind him.
Snape opened the office door with a raised eyebrow. 'I don't recall having scheduled an extra lesson for Gryffindors.'
Harry, whose tongue felt slightly too big for his mouth, didn't answer. There were footsteps from across the corridor. Blaise and Malfoy had just seen them. 'A Gryffindor party down here?' the latter commented. Neither seemed to be in a good mood.
'We're just keeping Harry company,' Hermione explained, as Blaise swiftly reached her. Harry wished she would shut up. Dean had taken Ginny's hand and discreetly positioned himself away from Malfoy. Ron stood between Malfoy and Hermione.
'We'll wait for you, then,' Malfoy unexpectedly announced.
Even Ginny looked perplexed.
'You don't know your way around the dungeons,' Malfoy elaborated with a keen rolling of his eyes. If anything happens to you, we'll be blamed. We're waiting.' In his defense, he didn't seem terribly excited with his own decision.
Harry searched for words to justify the insanity of the moment, but he could find none, and he ultimately decided to not to push Snape's patience further. He entered his office in silence, shutting the door quietly.
'That's quite the escort, Potter. Do your friends think I'm going to kill you in Remedial Potions?'
'It was Hermione's idea. She just thought I might--' Harry caught himself, suddenly feeling very cold. He had a feeling Snape didn't need Occlumency to find out what Hermione had thought.
'Such a hard, tortured existence you lead,' Snape finally said.
Harry felt hot in the face. 'I told them not to--'
'Of course you did. Wand out.'
More invested than ever in not letting Snape break into his mind, Harry instantly obeyed.
Harry reeled. Scattered images of his conversation with Hermione came and passed, and then Hermione was in the hospital wing, and then rehearsing with Snape, turning into Voldemort...
He came to, lying on the floor, Snape looming over him. He hadn't protected his mind.
'Was that Miss Granger turning into the Dark Lord I saw, Potter?'
'That, huh... that was just a dream I had, sir.'
Harry nodded. 'Just a silly dream.'
'Was there any particular reason why your best friend was turning into your worst enemy?'
There was, but Harry would rip out his own tongue before telling him about it. He was beginning to think that he was his own worst enemy. 'No, sir. It was just a dream. It didn't mean anything at all.'
'And yet you remember it clearly...' Snape said slowly. 'Miss Granger does feature very... prominently in your recent memories.'
What could he say to that? 'Yes, sir,' he finally replied.
'Let's try again.' Snape trained his gaze on Harry's. 'Legilimens!'
Through the flashing whirlwind of images behind his lids, Harry could sense That Memory looming nearer. The Ministry room was drawing in, the people inside it were more solid, the spells they cast more colourful. Harry wanted, with all his might, to push it back, to bury it under the others, or better yet, to wipe it from his head entirely, but he couldn't remember how to do it, his wand arm was limp by his side, and the memory was clearer still...
... and a commotion outside broke the spell. Snape had lowered his arm. Harry's fuzzy sight focused slowly, and he looked at the man himself. Snape was staring at the door.
Then Harry's brain started working again. The noise outside was abnormal. There were scared voices. Something had happened. Harry was about to burst out the door when he was seized by the arm and handed a handkerchief. He blinked. Snape pulled him closer with an exasperated sigh, unfurled the little sheet briskly and cleaned Harry's face of the cold sweat that had broken there without him noticing it. Then he was finally released, and they both ran outside.
Hermione lied on the floor, covered in a sheen of sweat much like Harry's. Apart from the odd spasm, she was motionless.
'What happened here?' Snape asked, eyeing his Slytherins suspiciously and sparing the Gryffindors a glare.
'Same thing as the other time,' a very pale Ron informed him, kneeling next to Hermione, whose head rested on Malfoy's lap. Blaise was trying to reannimate her, whilst Ginny and Dean uselessly tried to push them to give her some breathing space.
'Let's take her to the hospital wing!' Harry said roughly, joining Ron, Blaise and Malfoy in their instant attempt to pick her up. Snape pushed them aside and scooped Hermione up himself.
'Go back upstairs, the lot of you. It's almost dinner time, and there's a long night ahead.'
'But she's our friend!' Ron groaned.
'And my business,' Snape told him coldly. 'Potter, I'll schedule your next lesson later. Perhaps you could pay more attention to regular Potions, and spare us both this trouble.' Wrapping his arms protectively around his student, Snape sprinted up the corridor, leaving the shadow of his billowing robes and a very worried group in his wake.
That night, they rehearsed without Hermione. Snape arrived very late, apparently for the sole purpose of talking to McGonagall, which irritated Harry immensely. As Snape left McGonagall's side to join Malfoy in what Harry assumed was some quick, dismissive work, Harry began to snap at those nearer him. After a while, even Pansy had left him alone. Tonight, there were no complaints about the small amount of work he got done.
When they finally finished, not a minute too soon, in Harry's opinion, he joined Ron, Ginny and Blaise, fuming while they discussed the day. They were on their way to the door when Snape intercepted them.
'Madam Pomfrey would like you to know that you may visit Miss Granger immediately.'
'Last time no-one was allowed to visit her. Why the change?' Harry sulked, hating Hermione. Thankfully for him, his sullen face could pass for worry.
Snape's glare glided over them to meet Harry's. 'I can only imagine an exception was opened because Mr Potter cannot be forced to wait an entire night to see an ailing friend.' Before Harry tried to kill him with a glower, he addressed the others, 'Do you want to see her or not?'
Harry was the quietest of an already glum group as they made their way out at a faster face. His hand, with a mind of its own, had crept up his left arm all night to lay spidery touches on the spot Snape had seized to clean off his sweat. He repeatedly, self-consciously, shoved his hands in his pockets, repeating the movement upon finding himself unobserved. His fingerstips were traipsing up his elbow again when they reached the big, arched door beyond which Hermione lay. He briefly wondered when and why Malfoy had been allowed to join them, but soon forgot about him, because his hand really was acting of its own volition and he had only just hit him that Snape's touch hadn't disgusted him. The warmth in the pit of his stomach was worrying, and he had the feeling that it should make him feel guilty for some reason, but he couldn't really remember why.
The guilt came soon enough, in a painful jolt that hit him as soon as they were ushered into the wing, under severe scolding from Madam Pomfrey for being so loud at her patient's bedside.
Hermione looked tiny, a pale, sad ragdoll plopped on the thin bed, her eyelids half-shut, through which they could see a sliver of bloodshot, unnaturally bright eyes. She spotted them and tried to smile, but the painful motion was accompanied by a faint sigh, and she had to open her eyes more widely to make sure they noticed the acknowledgement. Harry wished she hadn't. He could see he eyes clearly, now, and those balls of reddish light looked so very out of place on her usually warm, welcoming face...
There was a bitter taste climbing up Harry's throat. He had been hating her for getting Snape's undivided attention when Harry hadn't managed it in the numerous times he had been in danger. Now he loved her so dearly that he couldn't imagine how anyone else could feel differently. He would empty his Gringott's vault, and all others, to hear her snap that he should be catching up on his homework. Surely the books in the library missed her already? Surely the paintings were waiting for her daily visit for a few minutes' worth of conversation about Hogwarts' history?
Harry directed his gaze at his own feet, hoping to control his emotions before Hermione had a proper look at him. Through the corner of his eye, he saw his concern mirrored on everyone's faces. Even Malfoy had pursed his lips and looked uncomfortable with the vision.
Is this baby Malfoy's first encounter with real pain? Daddy never took him on Dark revels?, Harry thought venomously, hating Malfoy for not looking more upset. And then he hated Snape for not being there, for not realising that Hermione needed his attention. Had he not realised that this was serious? Was that why he hadn't let Harry visit her right away the first time she had been taken there? Why wasn't the man putting his ability to stopper death to some use and brewing one of his precious potions to help her already?
'Harry...' Hermione's heaving chest brought his reflections to an end. Neither Ron nor Blaise looked jealous that she had addressed him first. 'Sorry...' she breathed, 'I wanted to cheer you up and look where I got you. Like you're not here often enough.' She took a deep breath.
Harry sat on the edge of the bed, brushing her sweaty fringe out of her forehead, and fighting to make his voice come out. 'Never mind. At least you're the one lying there, for a change.'
She laughed weakly and immediately brought her hand to her chest, as though to still it. Harry instantly placed his hand over hers. 'Does it hurt?'
'It's better, now,' she replied bravely, 'they might let me out tonight.'
'Don't even think about it,' Blaise cut her off, with a valiant attempt at a playful tone, 'You might bring the ghosts back to life with the scare.'
'You think?' Her chest heaved again. Harry tried to remove his hand, fearing it might hurt her, but she held on tightly to it. 'I like it. It's cold. Are you ill, too?'
Harry shook his head with a gulp. She smiled. His insides burned with remorse. He was still petting her hair when Snape arrived. He looked at them, twisted his mouth into a sneer, and then sat across from Harry.
'Did you do as I told you, Miss Granger?' he asked without preamble. She nodded weakly. He felt her temperature.
'And did it work?' She opened her mouth, but he continued, 'Just nod.' Her head shook diagonally.
'Have you talked to Madam Pomfrey about it?' He was now tilting her head with the tips of his fingers to examine her neck.
They watched this awkward exchange in confusion. Harry sniffed impatiently.
'I'm afraid I need to examine you again, Miss Granger,' Snape informed her slowly, 'To see if the results match.'
She looked slightly wary, but after a moment, she rested her head againt his hand in acquiescence. Harry caught himself wondering if Snape's hand felt as cold as his own. Snape then turned to the others. 'You'll have to leave,' he had chosen the tone one uses with the very dim. They snapped to attention.
'Leave? Why?' Ron asked. Snape raised an eyebrow, tilting his head towards Hermione.
'Isn't it obvious?' Hermione flushed. Harry felt an unpleasant pang.
Their vocal complaints useless, they had to bid Hermioone good night, promising to be there early next morning. They slipped out around Harry, who was rooted to the spot, watching as Snape's hand waited for the group to walk down the corridor to move from Hermione's neck to her chest, and right into Harry's. Harry jumped. Snape seemed to have only just noticed that he was there.
'Is there any problem with your ears, Potter?' His hand wasn't cold after all, Harry realised with some surprise. It was perfectly normal. And yet, somehow, it had sent a shiver down his spine. Snape's hand withdrew with the speed of lightning and a wave of rage came out of nowhere to engulf Harry. Snape didn't care. He wasn't worried, or cold, or sweaty. He was just standing there, doing as Dumbledore had told him to do and looking bored beside Hermione's sickbed, and he, Harry, was wondering about his body heat. The unexpected mental image made him go pale.
'I -- I'd like to stay a bit longer. Sir,' he stammered. 'I'l... I'll turn around.'
'Oh, will you?' Snape sounded irritated. It was his first display of emotion that evening.
Harry considered his options for a moment, his hand still on Hermione's. 'Please,' he finally added, in a tone that didn't imply a request at all.
'I'd like him to stay, Professor,' Hermione softly joined him.
'I was thinking of your comfort, but have it your way,' Snape relented, more irritated still. 'Turn,' he barked at Harry, focusing immediately on Hermione.
Harry stared at the wall for an hour, listening to Snape's footsteps behind him, to the clinking of phials, to the murmured questions that he wasn't sure Hermione was answering. She made a muffled, keening sound once that almost made him turn to them. The thought that all this was just the soundtrack to a serious affair was momentarily run over by a desire to join Hermione in the bed and have Snape examine him, too. He had to suppress a laugh at the thought of their faces if he did that.
There was a loud bang behind him. Harry turned to see that Snape had left without saying good night. Hermione, who had pulled the duvet up to her chin, said, 'He wants to examine the phials in his office. He said he'd come back later.'
'I hope not,' Harry mumbled, knowing he couldn't tell her that he was beginning to fear his own reactions around Snape.
'He's being very helpful, you know?' Hermione scolded, stern even through the faint voice.
Too helpful, in Harry's opinion. Snape's attitude again looked too overbearing for his taste. 'Dumbledore would kill him.' Hermione wanted to retort, but he cut her off, 'Let's not talk about him. Do you feel better, now? You've gained some colour.'
'Professor Snape gave me a potion to ease the pain,' she said apologetically. 'He said he might teach us how to brew it next year. If we learn the basic theory now, it won't be so hard, and I think it will be really useful...' she launched into a descriptions of her plans for their NEWT level, and Harry sat on his knees beside the bed, listening to her with his head in his arms. After a while, the potion began to wear off, and Hermione had to adjust her speech to her frailty again. In a few minutes, they were contemplating each other in silence, content just to be together, wishing Ron could be there with them.
Sometime later, Harry's body heaved involuntarily. Sighing, he tried to readjust his legs on the floor, but he could no longer touch it -- he was propped against something, his head bouncing softly on his chest as he breathed. He sleepily wondered if they were having an earthquake, but then he was pulled higher and wrapped more securely, and he was so tired that he never really woke up. He was vaguely aware of having been dropped onto a soft surface. He was cold. He quickly grasped at the retreating warmth that had lifted him and held onto it, going to sleep with the idle notion that this was much more comfortable than the floor.
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