Havoc of the Opera
Chapter 12 - Thinking of Him
Well, he had wanted attention from Snape, Harry thought, sinking in his bed with a groan. He had received it. He had been granted five full seconds of the purest loathing before Snape's glare shifted to Hermione, his voice blank as he asked for a few minutes of her attention, 'if Potter coul survive without her, of course.' Blushing deeply, she had taken the hand that he offered her - the hand that he offered her - leaving Harry alone for a humiliating session of pats on the back.
'You know, if this were anyone other than Granger, I'd be feeling sorry for Blaise,' Pansy had cackled.
'Blaise doesn't have anything to worry about. Not from me, at least.'
'That's a relief,' Blaise had replied, somewhat sarcastically. That night, for the first time since he could remember, Blaise was less than impeccable towards him. He also had a row with Hermione on the way up to the portrait hole, which plastered a grin on Ron's face that he was still wearing in his sleep. Blaise had apologised for his behavior before going downstairs, but that didn't help Harry's mood.
Sunday, and Quidditch practice, arrived. Hermione had rushed to the toilet after breakfast, and she remained out of their sight until the rehearsal.
Harry, who had bullied Ron into teaching him the Masquerade choreography, was too busy hypothesising about where she was, and with whom, to focus on his own work. Considering she had barely worked with Malfoy at all, he wondered if they should even bother leaving in the romantic sequences.
In fact, she seemed to be going out of her way to steer clear of him, although the rest of their work and the approaching deadlines forced them to have civilised conversations quite often.
Somehow, though, anchoring herself to Snape was the only way Hermione appeared to have found to escape Malfoy, who still found his dormant sarcasm every time he and Harry met.
On Monday, she anchored herself to Harry, for a change. Having felt somewhat ill early on, she was wondering if he wouldn't mind accompanying her to Madam Pomfrey for some information regarding the tests -- of whose results Snape apparently hadn't bothered to inform her. Harry repressed the urge to tell her that she was a spoiled attention-seeker, in great part because she had been very discreet and was trying to disturb as few people as possible. He agreed to go with her after their afternoon classes.
'But Madam Pomfrey, those results should have been ready days ago!' Hermione was perplexed.
'I know, dear, but your symptoms vary every day, and the tests have to be redone...' the poor nurse explained. 'Professor Snape seems to be getting somewhere, but he's... hmm... a peculiar researcher, and he will never share his conclusions ahead of time. Do give us a few more days, dear. I know it's hard, but we need them.'
Hermione accepted this answer with some impatience.
'It's not like I'm doing it on purpose...' she was murmuring on their way to the door, when Madam Pomfrey decided to ask them one last question.
'Miss Granger, dear...'
'...have you been taking proper care of yourself?'
Hermione blinked at her, and then replied hesitantly 'Yes, I... I think I am, ma'am.'
Madam Pomfrey nodded grimly, turning back to a second year whose ears had sprouted mushrooms.
Harry stared at Hermione. She shrugged and they returned to the common room.
Tuesday was a black day from the start. Snape was in a foul mood, and Harry was starting to think that his teacher's response to the kiss might have happened solely in his imagination. How the wizarding tabloids would love to know that he had assaulted a teacher, his most hated teacher, the one who was inexplicably haunting his dreams.
When Snape came over to check on the potion he and Hermione were brewing, Harry reached discomfortably behind her to retrieve her notes - his were ostensibly all wrong - thus bringing himself very close to a certain teacher. The space was so cramped, in fact, that in the process of picking up her bag, he somehow plastered himself completely to Snape.
'I'm sorry, professor, there's very little room here...' he said innocently, gesturing to imply that it would be in poor taste to lean against Hermione. Once the bag was in his hands, there was even less room, and Snape was virtually trapped between Harry and the pair working behind him. He dared look up when he felt Snape's breath catch, just a inch from Harry's throat.
He couldn't be dellusional. The man couldn't be as indifferent as he pretended to be. He just couldn't -- even the way he blinked denounced tension.
With another muttered 'I'm sorry,' Harry settled back down, listening to Hermione's explanations. Hours later, he still didn't have the foggiest about what they had been brewing.
Lunch was a less jolly affair. Ernie trapped him in a conversation about their upcoming match, which would probably have to be postponed due to the weather, and Ron observed, with the grin of the Cheshire Cat, Hermione and Blaise's quiet conversation.
'Never seen her so serious.' He grinned, when Harry asked what had happened.
Blaise, too, looked very serious. Hermione looked miserable, but determined as usual. It was easy to imagine what they were discussing.
They had just regained their places when the food was sent up. Blaise had pecked her lightly on the cheek before walking down the table, but just as he turned his back on her, Hermione seized his arm and pulled him into a tight hug. In spite of his obvious discomfort with the public display of affection, he kissed her cheek again and whispered something in her ear before striding away.
She dropped, rather than sat, down on the bench, sighing 'Broke up,' to Harry and Ron. Even Harry's well-aimed kick didn't make Ron's grin waver.
'Who was the first to see the light?'
'I was,' she muttered, apparently unnaffected by his choice of words. 'It was for the best. I think...'
The very next second, she stood and almost ran out of the Great Hall. Ron wanted to follow her, but Harry held him back.
'Keep that grin away from her. I need my Keeper alive on Saturday,' he warned, going after Hermione himself.
She was in the common room, sitting by the fire and fiddling idly with the hem of her robes. The Greay Lady floated about, humming Think of Me, perhaps in a misguided attempt to make Hermione feel better. Sparing the Ravenclaw ghost one startled look, Harry sat down beside Hermione.
'Think of me fondly, when we've said goodbye,' the Grey Lady sang delicately, reading the spines of the scattered books.
'Do you think he'll think of me fondly?' Hermione finally wondered.
'Blaise?' Harry asked. She nodded. 'Why wouldn't he?'
'He just... likes me so much, and maybe if I'd tried harder...'
'If you'd faked it, you mean?'
After a long silence, she looked at him pleadingly. 'It was for the best, wasn't it, Harry? It was, wasn't it?'
Harry squeezed her hand. 'I think it was.'
'Later, it would only hurt more, right?'
'It would only hurt more,' he agreed.
She recoiled in her seat. 'Then it shouldn't be hurting so much now...'
Harry momentarily didn't know what do say. His own break-up with Cho had been so hurried and confused he hadn't quite had the time to feel hurt.
'I suppose... it's because there's good stuff for you to remember -- the other way around would be worse, wouldn't it?'
'I guess... she smiled faintly. 'I like that logic. But I still can't help wondering... if...'
'Are you sorry already?' Harry asked tensely, hoping that she didn't recognise the hopeful note in his voice.
'No,' she said resolutely. 'I was deceiving him. I didn't actually, you know...' She gestured significantly. 'But who knows what might happen? At least now I know where I stand.'
'And what are you going to do now?'
She hesitated. 'Nothing, I think... I don't really think it's wise to jump into... something... so soon...'
Somehow, plopped on the chair, her pale, tired face so melancholy, she looked prettier than ever to Harry. He didn't know anyone else who looked better after an illness than before. The sheer impossibility of competing with her for Snape's attention was almost palpable.
'Good luck,' was the one thing that he managed to choke out, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze.
'Blaise wished me luck, too,' Hermione smiled, swiftly adding, 'I didn't tell him there was someone else, of course, but he knows. I know he does. And he still found it in him to bid me luck.'
'And you dumped him?' The words were out before Harry could stop them.
'I did.' It appeared Hermione was starting to get angry at herself. 'For an arrogant, bullying--' she clamped a hand over her mouth, eyes wide.
Harry's smile turned into something like a leer. 'Let me guess. He's a Slytherin, too.'
She nodded meekly. Harry considered his options for a moment. She was confiding in him. Knowing Hermione, she would be expecting him to do the same with her, at some point. Why not give her an edited version now? Wasn't Hermione's reaction bound to be the best out of the lot, after all?
'So's mine,' he finally ventured, scanning her face as she did a doubletake.
'Not Pansy?' she replied with a grimace. The very idea was so preposterous that Harry had to laugh. 'I hope she's not as partial to purebloods as, er...'
Harry shut his eyes for a deep breath. When he corrected her, his voice was two octaves lower than his usual tone.
'He. It's a he.'
Hermione's eyes widened so much that the rest of her seemed to be shrinking. 'It's a... he?'
'And a Slytherin,' Harry added, in a feeble attempt to lighten the mood. 'Sorry to be such a disappointment.'
Hermione stared at him in silence for such a long time that Harry wondered if she was attempting Legilimency. As the air between them became even tenser, Harry began to feel like he was being tried for a crime he hadn't even had the chance to commit. The scrutiny was so uncomfortable that he almost missed her quiet words.
'You've never disappointed me.'
He blinked. 'Huh?'
Her face was too serious for this to be a misguided attempt at a joke. 'At this point, just knowing that you still have it in you to fall for someone is a relief. I was beginning to think that you'd... anyway. You really couldn't have made it any harder for yourself, could you? Do you have any idea how many expectations there are have about you, about the Boy-who-lived getting married and having a proper, model family?'
'I didn't exactly choose this,' Harry pointed out, somewhat irritably. It was best not to remind her that his chances of living to see the wizarding world's reaction to his sexual preferences were rather slim.
Hermione's expression changed, as she took on a shocked tone. 'You must have felt so uncomfortable kissing me!'
Harry's hand went up before she had a chance to rant further on. 'It was great. It was fun. You know you weren't the first girl I kissed. You probably won't be the last. Please, please don't make me feel like a freak. I've had enough of that.'
She looked at him with something like pity. 'And you two kissed?'
Harry shrugged. 'To be totally honest, I kissed him.'
She shot him a warning look, and he blurted out, 'He kissed me back. But he also pulled away, and I don't really think he wants to do it again. In fact, I think we might be interested in the same person. And... this couldn't possibly become more embarrassing than it already is, could it?'
'My Slytherin, so to speak, would die before he kissed you, so I very much doubt that's him,' Hermione declared. When Harry opened his mouth, she insisted sternly, 'Believe me. He would.'
There was a creak and Ron's hand waved at them from the gap between door and wall. Floating just above the fireplace, the Grey Lady stopped singing to look at the newcomer. 'Are you decent, children?'
'We're having a private moment, go away,' Harry complained.
'Ah, but the thing is, I can't,' Ron explained, entering the room with a hand across his eyes. 'You skipped lunch and Snape is downstairs, demanding to know why Hermione went to the hospital wing with you without telling anyone that she wasn't feeling well.'
Hermione sighed. 'He really is beginning to worry too much. I'm fine...'
Ron cleared his throat. 'Actually, I'm interested in knowing that, too.'
'You're not jealous of me, now, are you?' Harry rolled his eyes. Hermione stared at them.
'I should be,' Ron plopped down between them. 'I want attention, too!'
Harry petted his hair jokingly. Hermione stood. 'Well, I can't keep Professor Snape waiting.'
'Wait,' Ron said hesitantly. 'I have something I need to tell you.'
Harry was standing already, but with a deep breath, Ron added, 'You can hear it, too. I-- I just want to apologise for-- for that, downstairs, and I just want you to know that... that I'm sorry. I won't even pretend that I'm sorry you broke up with Zabini, but I'm sorry you're hurting, and I really wish you weren't.' The last few words came out all jumbled, but Hermione had apparently understood what he meant, because suddenly she had pulled him into a tight hug.
At that precise moment, a tiny firework twirled its way into the room, exploding in a pink and gold mist. Dozens of minuscule pink hearts floated about them in a golden haze.
'What's... this...?' Hermione enquired.
'The twins are here,' Ron grinned. 'These fireworks are for Moulin Rouge. I was chasing them upstairs. Uh... on my way to see you, of course.'
As Hermione shoved Ron playfully, Harry walked to the window, two little hearts hovering around his wrist. Snape was downstairs. But he was waiting for Hermione.
They had barely reached the bottom of the stairs when Snape approached to inform them that Hermione would be having her meals with him for the next few days.
'The headmaster has authorised it. In fact, this was his idea,' he clarified before they had a chance to voice their outrage. 'The meals will be served in my office, at the usual time. You are, of course, allowed to bring company, but I must request that you don't turn my private quarters into a darker version of your common room.'
Hermione swiftly assured him that she would try to disturb his personal time as little as possible, and with an admirable amount of composure, considering the situation, she asked him what was the reasoning behind Dumbledore's decision. On either side of her, Harry and Ron fumed heavily.
'It's fortunately a temporary experiment. We want to see how it will impact on your health.'
For the next few hours, Harry entertained the hope that this was Dumbledore's idea of a prank. But by dinner time, Hermione had vanished. She reappeared on time for the rehearsal, accompanied by Snape. She looked quite cheery.
Three hours later, Harry was lying face down on his bed, cursing the lack of variety in his thoughts and wondering if Voldemort, too, had forgot about him.
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