Havoc of the Opera

Chapter 11 - Masquerade

By Roman

       

Harry only stopped running once he reached the Fat Lady, whom he almost ripped from her portrait in his haste to get to shelter. He had barely set foot on the common room when Parvati and Lavender ambushed him.

'Later, Parvati,' he panted, at her insistence that he tried on Firmin's suit.

'Harry, everyone's already done it!'

'Later, Lavender.'

'But, Harry, it can't--'

'Later!'

He sprinted down the stairs to the dormitory. Ron who had crouched by the fire, fanning a slightly indisposed Hermione, shrugged at Lavender.

'Need any help, Harry?' Hermione called towards the stairs, exchanging a concerned glance with Ron. In response, the dormitory room slammed shut.

Harry sat on the bed, trying to catch his breath and wrap his mind around what he had done. No, he was quite sure that he didn't need Hermione's help. What had he done, again?

Snape. He had kissed Snape. And he had been kissed back -- by Snape. That detail had to be highlighted. He hadn't been alone in it. They had kissed. And now... perhaps he should start packing. Because he was going to be expelled. Maybe packing was unnecessary. Because Snape was going to kill him. At least. He was never going to live this down. Ever.

Harry lied back with a groan and stared at the ceiling through his tense fingers. He could feel the panic tumbling around in his chest. Once the room stopped spinning, he tried to make sense of what had happened. He had collapsed, and Snape had helped him -- an absurd event, in itself. And then Harry had kissed him. That was a neat description. Harry gulped. There was no way to gloss over that bit. He had kissed Snape. And... Snape had kissed him back. Yes, that bit, too, was remarkable. His lips still tingled, his arms still ached. He had been pushed away. He had virtually been tossed from the room. And here he was.

A cooler mind than his might be more frustrated with his imminent expulsion and the consequent end of his life as a wizard than with the interruption of the kiss. Because he was going to be expelled. Snape might be in the headmaster's office already, telling Dumbledore all about Harry's latest prank, as he was bound to call it, and Dumbledore would toss him out of Hogwarts as switfly as Snape had shoved him out of his room.

Harry's eyes rested on the window, half-expecting to see a unknown owl waiting for an owl treat in exchange for a stern letter with the Ministry's seal, telling him that he was henceforth expelled from the school due to his 'unacceptable behaviour towards a member of the staff.' Fortunately, the only traces of an owl were three or four snowy-white feathers reminding him that Hedwig must still be delivering the next practice's timetable to his team mates.

His breath had steadied somewhat -- perhaps now he could think more clearly. Dumbledore might not expell him. He had always stood by Harry... and Harry had gone so far, on so many occasions... ignoring the part of his brain that reminded him of the times in which he had hovered just this side of expulsion, for nobler reasons than a hormonal mutiny, Harry wondered if there was any way he could make Dumbledore understand that this incident could have happened with anybody else.

But it hadn't happened with anybody else, Harry groaned, covering his face with a pillow. It had happened to him, with Snape. Perhaps Snape wouldn't tell...? He had, after all, kissed Harry back. This particular thought succeeded in bringing a smile to his lips. Telling Dumbledore about the kiss would be the fastest way of getting himself sacked. Even if Snape was a member of the Order, Harry was sure, he knew, that Dumbledore wouldn't condone this sort of behaviour. Hadn't Hagrid, Dumbledore's precious Hagrid, been dismissed twice, even as a member of the Order?

And what would he say?, Harry thought. That he'd like to hear Dumbledore's thoughts on the kiss that he and I shared during the lesson that Dumbledore inflicted on us both? The mere suggestion would have been funny if Harry weren't so scared. They had rehearsal in less than an hour. What was he going to do? How was Snape going to act? He would humiliate him publicly? Unlikely -- he would be implicating himself. Perhaps Harry would get off with just a few jibes when no-one else was around.

Harry ignored the stirring that coursed through his body at the thought of Snape being close enough to whisper in his ear. The last time he had been so close, Harry had kissed him. And, scarily enough, he couldn't be sure that he wouldn't try it again, given half a chance. Grin. A sharp return to the matter at hand was in order.

Oh, yes. The punishment Snape had in store for him. Unfortunately, he had already dealt Harry the worst punishment he could imagine upon tossing him out of the room. Changing his clothes was a definite priority. Harry sighed, tossing the pillow aside and scanning the room for his clothing.

He was halfway inside a clean set, had almost finished cleaning his torso of the sticky potion that had seeped through his robes, when Ron entered and saw him rubbing his back. Harry raised his eyes from his soiled jumper, relieved that it wasn't ripped.

'What's that on your back?' Ron asked briskly, referring to the red mark that the shard of glass had left on his skin.

'Nothing,' Harry said dismissively, hoping Ron wasn't in an investigative mood. 'I stepped back at the wrong time.'

'Stepped back,' Ron deadpanned.

'Yeah. Why the interest?' Harry snapped defensively. 'I get worse than this from practice.'

'You're not alone with Snape during practice.'

Harry blinked. Ron was more serious than Harry had ever heard him.

'Is there anything I should know about, Harry?'

'No!' Harry replied. Ron frowned at the swiftness of the answer.

'It's nothing. I really just lost my balance and bumped against one of those hideous pickled things Snape has down there. Could have been worse,' Harry clarified reassuringly. Still, Ron didn't look convinced.

'Ron... really. Don't worry. He didn't do anything to me.' Somewhere in the back of his mind, Harry's wicked inner voice fell into gales of laughter. Snape probably wished he could say the same thing about Harry. 'He didn't attack me, or anything,' Harry specified. He really couldn't make it clearer than this.

'Right.' Ron cleared his throat. 'Hermione and I just thought you might... want to talk or something. So... you want us to wait in the common room, or...'

'I'm not really hungry. I'll see you for the rehearsal. Did Parkinson give back Neville's script, by the way?'

Ron ignored the blatant change of subject.

'Harry, you haven't been eating at all...'

'I've just come out of Occlumency,' Harry said, somewhat apologetically. "'You understand, don't you?'

Ron nodded again, still gazing at Harry. 'See you downstairs, then?'

Harry nodded vigorously. Ron stared for another moment, and then left. Harry watched his retreating back, sure that, in a minute, Hermione too would know about the mark on his back.

'Damn,' he grumbled, picking up a shirt and a jumper and spotting something on his arm that he had missed. His upper arms, now slightly pale due to his continuous use of long sleeves since term start, bore several red welts that were clearly fingerprints.

Ron had seen them. Ron had stared at them.

       

Things were the usual mess downstairs, with people dragging chairs, shouting and chatting, Neville looking for one lost item or another. Harry watched Ron warily, wondering if the kiss showed in his face. Seamus, at least, didn't seem to notice it. Their Potions master was talking to Blaise and McGonagall, a sight that filled Harry with an involuntary dread. Rather unwillingly, he joined Neville and a pensive Pansy, just as Snape took Hermione to their usual spot, away from the crowd.

Two hours later, Harry had fumed a lot and worked very little. The familiarity between Snape and Hermione seemed more innapropriate than ever to him, as did Snape's palm on her forehead, ostensively there to feel her temperature. Surely her temperature would be lower if he didn't touch her so often? And why didn't Blaise prevent his girlfriend from draping herself over the school's less sociable teacher?

'Potter, even Longbottom's doing a better job than you,' Pansy snapped. 'For a few days, now. Shouldn't that be alarming for you, or somesuch?'

Harry frowned, as that was the nicest thing he had ever heard from Pansy regarding a non-Slytherin, but he otherwise ignored her.

'Potter, do you mind? We're still working, here,' Malfoy snapped rudely. The fašade was beginning to crack, Harry imagined. How two people who were so clearly perfect for one another could go through the trouble of breaking up was simply beyond him. He checked his script absently, stealing glances at Snape and Hermione, which prompted a laugh from Pansy.

'Your lovely's not running off, Potter.'

Harry nearly had a heartstop. 'What was that?'

Pansy shrugged. 'She's not running off with our Head of house, at least. So I suggest you get back to work,' she added an insult to Harry's grandparents and crossed her arms petulantly.

Hermione's head had got dangerously close to Snape in the excitement of a conversation, and Harry didn't notice the concerned looks both he and Hermione were getting from Ron, just as he couldn't know that he was now the matter of conversation between Malfoy and Ginny.

Midnight arrived, and the torturous session was finally over. Ron was poised protectively beside Harry, who looked vacant while everyone else gathered their affairs. He was strangely disappointed to see that Snape hadn't so much as looked his way all night. Yet he had talked to Hermione for three hours, which was just infuriating. None of them had been berated for their own lack of commitment to the rehearsal.

Harry waited until most of his yearmates had left, and made his way towards Snape, ready to wrench Hermione fom his side if need be. He didn't know how he would justify that, but he would think something up on the way. Ron wanted to follow him, but a curt 'Wait here,' made him freeze reluctantly, watching from afar.

Hermione's back was turned to Harry. He tickled her sides to make his presence known and she yelped.

'Your highness is expected,' he said playfully, resting his head on her shoulder and terminantly refusing to look above Snape's knees.

Hermione hissed. 'I'm so sorry, I didn't see the time. I'm almost done.' She proceeded to pick up things at random.

'The conversation was too interesting for you to care about minor things like sleeping hours?' Harry asked, his eyes finally raising to Snape's chest. Their teached handed Hermione a piece of parchment and Harry noted with displeasure that his hand had lingered far longer than necessary. The fact that Snape was instructing her on something regarding that parchment was irrelevant.

'Shall we, then? Harry added hastily, his arms around her waist, shaking her playfully and bravely resisting the urge to haul her up and away.

She nodded her assent, turning to Snape. 'Thank you, professor.'

Snape only nodded in response and Harry frowned. Hermione was elaborating on her thank you's.

'You're welcome,' Snape said curtly, cutting her off. 'You'd do well to watch your own health instead of worrying about nonsense like that.'

'Well...' Hermione's eyes and her smile moved from Snape to Harry. 'I'm ready.'

'Just a second,' Harry told her, standing between Hermione and Snape. 'I was wondering if I'm still having that lesson tomorrow, sir.'

Snape's eyes narrowed slightly.

'Because of Quidditch practice, professor. Like you said, I've been running a bit late the last few days, and I was wondering if you'd want to reschedule the Wednesday lessons or...' Or cancel them all, he finished in his mind, his throat clenching around the words.

Snape sighed. 'I thought by now you'd know that Quidditch practice takes no precedence over my lessons, Potter.' Both Harry and Hermione sighed in relief, albeit for different reasons, and Snape continued, 'But there'll be no lesson tomorrow. I have no time to pamper you this week.'

With a polite 'Miss Granger,' he stepped around Harry and left. His robes brushed Harry's right arm, and it took Harry a singular effort to refrain from gripping them. He quietly followed an outraged Hermione towards Ron.

'He has no time?!' she mimicked his tone angrily. 'He can't do that!'

'Yes, he can,' Harry countered needlessly.

'Can't do what?' Ron asked, as they reached him.

'Professor Snape says he doesn't have time for Harry's Occlumency lesson, this week,' Hermione explained.

'Really? Great, he's better off without these lessons,' Ron replied, looking at a tight-lipped Harry.

'Stop that,' Hemione snapped reproachfully. 'You know Harry needs them. He's not having them for the fun of it.'

'Honestly, I think Snape might be having a little too much fun,' Ron said darkly.

Hermione's eyes widened. 'What?'

'You're not starting again, are you?' Harry snapped, hoping that his glare conveyed it to Ron that Harry would kill him if he spoke too much.

'I just mean that Snape might be using these lessons as a way to see Harry get hurt -- or relive moments when he was hurt. I don't trust him.' Ron grumbled. They walked up the stairs in an uncomfortable silence.

On The Slytherin Flight of Stairs, they found Blaise, who had been waiting for Hermione. Ron's scowl deepened upon spotting him.

'Hey, Blaise,' Harry saluted. 'All alone?'

'Draco came with me, but I don't know where he got himself. I told him to leave me alone.'

'I've been doing that for years,' Harry grinned. 'He never does.'

Blaise gave him a small smile. 'You were really out of it today, Harry, you know this can't go on...'

'Sorry,' Harry said sincerely. 'I was upset about... stuff. But I'll make up for it tomorrow.'

'Anything serious?' Blaise asked pensively.

'No,' Ron interrupted. Hermione elbowed him.

'So... you coming, Ron?' Harry pushed him tentatively towards the stairs.

'Yes, please do,' Hermione cooly requested. Blaise nodded politely at them and turned his attention to her.

Ron's temper was still flaring when they entered the dormitory. '"Yes, please do"...are we her servants, now? When is she this formal? I told you! He's rubbing off on her!'

'Ron, the others want to sleep...' Harry noted.

Ron lowered his tone and ranted his way into his pyjamas. Then, as Harry changed into his own, Ron caught a glimpse of the red fingerprints on his arms and paused.

Harry caught the sudden silence and swiftly put on the top of his pyjamas. 'It's really not what you think.'

'You don't know what I'm thinking.' Ron answered quietly.

'Yes, I do. And you're wrong. Snape's not... abusing his position. Not more than usual, at least. Believe me.'

Ron pursed his lips, his eyes still on Harry's arms, but he nodded and got in bed. Harry did the same.

'Harry.'

Harry closed his eyes. 'Hmm?'

'If... if anything does happen...' Harry made an indignant sound and Ron raised his voice a bit. 'Not necessarily with Snape. If anything... if there's any problem at all... you know you can talk to me about it, don't you?'

Harry smiled into the sheets. He had used that very same speech with Ginny a while ago.

'I know. And if I need to, I will. But now... there really isn't anything to talk about.'

'Hmm...'

'I know you're worried. I saw you today-- you wanted to protect me..." Harry hoisted himself up with a grin, to give Ron a clear view of his fluttering eyelashes. Ron tossed his pillow at him. 'Aww, he doesn't like to show his softer side...'

'Ok, forget it. When you need help, don't come to me for it,' Ron grunted from under his own bedclothes.

'How fickle!'

Ron answered with a loud yawn.

'Ron...'

'Hmm.'

'Thanks.'

'Welcome,' Ron replied sleepily. 'Anytime. And gimme back my pillow.'

Harry threw it back at him and drifted away in his own thoughts.

Long after Ron had fallen asleep, Harry's fingers were still reaching up to touch his tingling lips. They even tasted differently, when he ran his tongue over them. His arms were still warm from Snape's grip. A foreign scent lingered all over him. Lowering the collar of his pyjama to look at his arm, he could see them, fainter now, in the moonlight -- Snape's fingerprints. Harry stared at the dancing shadows on the ceiling for a long time, before drifting off into a dream of the nicer points of the kiss. His last thought before falling asleep, his hand still covering his upper arm, was that he had been marked.

       

True to his word, Snape gave him no Occlumency lessons that week, which quickly became the most boring period of Harry's life. His growing discomfort didn't help matters. He had now become invisible during Potions. Just a few weeks ago, Harry would have paid dearly for this sort of indifference. But now... even a glare would have been preferable.

Hermione, on the other hand, seemed to have achieved 'Malfoy status' in Snape's class. Harry told himself repeatedly that Snape only showered her with attention because of her bogglingly worsening health. She no longer paid daily visits to the hospital wing, but Madam Pomfrey's lips grew thinner with every sighting of her.

And yet, it was rather hard for Harry to hold onto this theory, in great part because Hermione tended to look her best when Snape was in the vicinity. She had also taken to vanishing from sight every now and then, retuning later on with a deep flush on her cheeks.

On one occasion, Harry had sprinted out of Potions to catch up with Dean on the way up to the Great Hall. Shortly later, Hermione had staggered to their bench, plopping herself down beside them, pale as the dead. When questioned, she merely panted that she had stayed behind to clear a few doubts with Snape and that the way up had exhausted her. And then she had held Ginny's arm for support and refused to elaborate.

After this incident, Ron's already vigorous dislike of Snape deeped even further, in spite of Hermione's reproaches and Harry's apathy regarding his concern.

Harry rather felt that he was the victim of a conspiracy. Even Neville had managed to escape Snape's wrath. There had been the one occasion when Snape had had a twist of cruelty and paired him with Malfoy. But Malfoy was a shadow of his former self, and he left Neville alone after the customary stinging salute. A cauldron behind which stood a Malfoy never received anything other than compliments, therefore, it had been a singularly pleasant class for Neville.

Harry did have the odd moment of sane thought, during which he had long arguments with himself, lamenting his poor choices in matters of the heart and berating his hormones for making him lose track of his once clear feelings about the most hated man in the school. Yet, every time he decided to fight his hormones and go back to normality, the man in question somehow entered the room and Harry's determination invariably crumbled to his feet.

The fact that Snape achieved this just by breathing in the same room as Harry was too unsettling for words.

Harry hated the longing that he knew must show in his face whenever he gazed at Snape, prancing about the place as though nothing had happened, having mature discussions with Malfoy and Hermione, sparing Blaise the time for long, long conversations, and even finding the time to give Ron some long, long answers to whichever questions he raised during the rehearsals.

Above all, he hated the distance that Ron strived to impose between Harry and Snape, and the fact that Snape did absolutely nothing to counter it.

Before the week was over, Harry was ready to shout above the clutter of the cauldrons that it was very impolite of Snape to ignore somebody he had almost shagged in his own office.

Because Snape was unlikely to enjoy that, he gave up on the idea, but just thinking it up had already given him a bitter notion of the extent of his current feelings. Snape's indifference, the thought that even after his insane behaviour just a few days ago, he was simply too unimportant to warrant a change in behaviour, should have been enough to prevent Harry from casting him melancholy glances every time he passed by, ignoring Harry daintily.

And still, showering everyone else with attention.

It was revolting.

Snape had warned them that he might be late on Saturday afternoon, so Harry and Hermione took the chance to work together for a bit. If she made another mention of the lovely morning she had spent working with Snape, Harry would have to throttle her. The plan must have shown on his face, because after a few minutes, she whispered, 'Harry, is there anything wrong?'

'Masquerade! Paper faces on parade...' came the resounding voices of their classmates. Blaise had finally allowed them to work with music, and the walls were now shaking with their thunderous Masquerade Ball.

'It's nothing,' He sighed. 'Really.'

'Are you mad at me? she asked timidly.

'Not again, Hermione. Why would I?' he groaned.

'Hide your face, so the world will never find you!'

'You've been snapping at me all afternoon...'

Harry swore under his breath. "Look, I'm just in a bad mood. It's got nothing to do with you.' How someone with such a sad face could still look so infuriated was beyond him. 'This hasn't really been a good week for me. But I'm not mad at you. Really. Sorry if I snapped at you.'

'True is false...'

Hermione looked at him doubtfully and he rolled his eyes. 'I liked you better when you weren't so insecure.'

'I suppose my week hasn't been great either,' she murmured, raising her eyes to his. 'Have you been dreaming again?

A stinging heat rose to Harry's face. 'Dreaming?'

'Yes... you know... about Lord Voldemort...?'

Harry shook his head vehemently. No, he most definitely hadn't been dreaming about Voldemort.

'Well, what is it, then?'

'I, huh... I've been, huh... Let's just say I've been, er, developing an interest in a person. And we, huh... we kissed.' he blurted out, red with embarrassment.

Hermione sunny grin fell when his face remained glum. 'And...?'

Harry furrowed his brow, as if the next words demanded a strong effort of concentration. 'And at least now I know exactly how I feel. And it's not mutual.'

The dismissive smile he had forced onto his mouth only deepened Hermione's seriousness. 'You didn't... you didn't force a situation with this... whoever it is, did you?'

'It's hard to explain,' Harry replied, shaking his head negatively. 'But no, I didn't. Hermione...!'

'I'm sorry, I just had to ask... you look so glum...!'

'It just... happened. It was over before we knew it. And I don't really want to talk about this right now. How about you? You and Blaise?'

She shrugged. 'We're giving it a last chance. He's so committed... and I'm so confused... I can't even think about losing him, and yet...'

'There's someone else,' Harry recalled.

Hermione's expression shifted from pensive to anxious in the blink of an eye. 'He's beginning to show an interest -- I think. And I really, really, don't want to drive him away.'

'Lucky you, then,' Harry managed to croak out, rather feeling like he had been dipped in icy water.

'Lucky me...!' she snorted. 'Could I possibly have made a wronger choice?! And Blaise, I can't do this to him...' Harry fleetingly wondered if the Gryffindor girls thought that their house's notion of chivalry didn't apply to them. 'I just feel that I... enabled him. I should have stopped thinking of him ages ago, and I didn't, and now...'

'He's reciprocating,' Harry completed for her.

'Yes... I think he is, at any rate. I wish he didn't. This would be so much easier if he just kept ignoring me...'

Harry nodded stiffly.

'This can't happen. It simply can't!' The mere possibility seemed to shock Hermione beyond belief. Harry pushed her chin up with his forefinger.

'Why not, Hermione?' he asked, very, very quietly.

'Can't!' she repeated. Harry felt more miserable than ever.

'Shouldn't you be saving the romantic encounters for dawn, or something?' Malfoy barked from behind Ginny. Blaise, too, was looking at them. They gestured apologetically to him and sat up.

'So...' Hermione sighed. 'Which scene were we...?

'This one.' Harry pointed at the script.

'That's the kiss...' Hermione pointed out, flushing. Harry looked up.

'Yeah, Snape wouldn't let us work on it the other day, I thought maybe we could try it out at least once.'

'...in case we need to do it?' Hermione nodded absently, eyes flickering through the scene.

'Of course, if you'll only consider doing it with Snape... Harry added, hoping to disguise the embittered edge in his voice.

'Don't be silly,' she said, not unkindly. 'I just thought you might be uncomfortable doing-- this-- with me...'

'Are you?' he smirked. 'Think well before you answer.'

'Do you really think you can intimidate the Classicals' Official Kisser?' she fanned herself petulantly. 'By the way, what an infamous, classless title you got me...'

Harry had to laugh. She cleared her throat, signalling for him to get ready.

'Oh, you are uncomfortable...!' she whispered accusingly. 'Relax! I promise I won't bite you.'

Harry fidgeted flamboyantly. 'Better now?'

They looked around. No one seemed to be paying attention to them. So much the better. The others were on their second round of the Masquerade. Harry and Hermione said their lines very quietly, approaching discreetly. Their lips touched lightly and they pulled back immediately.

'At last someone who doesn't regret kissing me,' Harry commented, lightening up the statement with a naughty face. Hermione stuck her tongue out at him.

'Don't get too full of yourself. You're not that good.'

Harry smirked. 'Comparing me to the boyfriend?! No fair! He's had time to practice!'

'Let's try it again, then,' she winked. This time, they ignored the lines and went straight for the kiss.

'Better?' Hermione asked through her teeth. Their lips had lingered together for a second longer.

'I think I need another try.'

'Mr Potter, how awfully unprofessional of you!' she poked him playfully.

'I am entranced, my Angel of Music...' he grinned, wrapping his arms around her waist, and puting on a scowl. 'Why? Are you insinuating this is a sacrifice?'

She clamped her hands over her mouth in mock panic. 'Oh, I didn't...'

He didn't wait for permission before kissing her again. Ron greeted them with a whistle. Both Harry and Hermione raised their chins defiantly.

'Shouldn't you be working, instead of making us lose our concentration? Amateurs...' She clicked her tongue reproachfully.

'Besides,' Harry added, tightening his hold on Hermione and resting his head on her shoulder. 'I'm incredibly possessive. Look elsewhere.'

Ron held up his hands, turning to his group. Blaise's gaze rested on them for a moment and then he, too, went back to work. Beside him, Pansy smiled in delight, Malfoy frowned and Ginny eyed him with something akin to worry.

Harry and Hermione, still laughing at the absurd of the situation, couldn't really care less.

'Will you kiss me already?!' she snapped.

Harry pretended to cower. His embrace swiftly tightened and he leaned in for a nice, long, french kiss that drew a sincerely impressed whistle from Pansy. 'Who would have known Potter had it in him?'

'Masquerade!'

And then, as Harry's eyes roamed the place, watching their mates finishing the choreography that he would have to force Ron to teach him, the Great Hall became blurry and the floor appeared to sway under his feet. Behind Ron, arms crossed and raised eyebrow, sourer than Harry had ever seen him, stood Snape.

'Run and hide - but a face will still pursue you!'


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