Havoc of the Opera
Chapter 13 - Back in Occlumency
Early the next day, Harry fumed at Hermione's absence during breakast. And then he fumed when she was absent for lunch. Ron joined him in both activities. In a week that was clearly just a string of bad days followed by worse ones, it was good to know that his best friend supported him. He then fumed all afternoon because his customary Occlumency lesson had apparently been scraped. Ron didn't sympathise with his sulking, and then Harry fumed because he couldn't count on his best friend.
They stayed behind after Quidditch practice, the one good part of the day, their heads spinning with strategies. Shortly later, upon returning to the castle, a familiar squeal of delight caught their attention. Looking left, they expected to see Ginny laughing with her friends in that small garden whose plants seemed to resist the severest winters, but there was only one person with her. Malfoy. Harry and Ron crouched discreetly behind a ticklish bush that frush-frushed whenever they touched it.
'Really?' Ginny was saying. Malfoy, leaning against a tree, nodded smugly. 'Are you serious?'
'Well, if you still don't trust me, I don't know why I'm even here,' he replied, turning lazily towards the castle's entrance.
'No, no, no, wait. How do we do this, then?'
'Are you free tomorrow at six? From six to seven?'
She nodded vigorously, adding, 'Next to the phoenix statue... where exactly?'
'Fourth floor, right wing,' he completed, backing against the wall because she had pounced him. 'Don't do that in public, woman!'
'Thank you,' She grinned, ignoring his words completely.
'You know what you're doing, don't you?'
'Yes!' she squealed, pecking him on the lips and turning instantly crimson.
'Does milady have any further requests, or may I tend to my own business?'
If Ginny had anything else to ask of Malfoy, Harry didn't get to hear it, because Ron pulled him back by the hood of his cloak and he was dragged back to the castle. They were both silent for the longest time.
'Ron...' Harry ventured hesitantly.
'I hate to agree with Malfoy, but in this case I must. I hope she knows what she's doing, too,' Ron snapped. 'I really do,' he added more softly, with one last glance at the bushes hiding the garden from their view.
Ron was unusually lost in thought during dinner. There was the occasional sigh, but at least, Harry thought, the usual rant about Snape never reared its head. And when Hermione entered the Hall, mid-dessert, and Malfoy walked up to her, Ron only spared them an annoyed glance before looking away.
Hermione rejoined them, and Harry summed up the afternoon's events for her. Her face grew progressively serious.
'A date? Ginny and Malfoy?'
'Looked like it.'
Hermione pursed her lips. 'Good luck to her, then. She'll need it.'
'Granger,' came Malfoy's voice from behind her.
She cleared her throat and readjusted herself on her chair to eye him coldly. He looked slightly taken aback by the reception.
'Yes?' she clipped out, her eyebrows raised.
'I just wanted to hand you back your book.' He extended a massive volume. 'Interesting read.'
'Oh.' Her expression softened somewhat. 'Are you finished already?'
He nodded. 'Some of the portrayals are questionable, but it's interesting.'
'Let me guess,' she smirked. 'The Cartagens were to blame.'
'That's not quite what I meant,' he snorted, adding with a leer, 'Though I can see the point.'
A minute later, they sat side by side, discussing their respective theories on the muggle war. Because everybody was as lacking in concentration as they were, the night's rehearsal was quite forgettable. Had it not been for Dumbledore spurring them on, they might have postponed it.
Snape was on his way out when Harry greeted him with a flat 'I need to talk to you. Sir.'
He turned slowly and eyed Harry as though he had just scraped him off his shoe. 'Not now, I hope.'
Harry barely blinked. 'It's about my lessons -- and it's important.'
'Tomorrow is more convenient,' Snape replied cooly.
Harry thanked him politely and left with an impassive 'Good night'. He didn't feel quite as calm as he looked. Occlumency was his only believable excuse to talk to Snape, and if the man simply refused to see him, it wasn't like he could waltz into his office, uninvited, and expect a good reception. And he really needed to talk to Snape. Not so much about his lessons, which he really needed, by the way, but about the other day. No matter the eccentricities of the wizarding world, Harry was fairly sure a teacher-student snog still warranted a fair amount of discussion. Particularly when he was the student in question.
He was pretending to pay attention to his Charms essay when Ron walked into the common room, looking worried and snapping him out of a rather pleasant daydream.
'Want to come downstairs?'
'It's too early for dinner,' Harry groaned from the comfort of his cushioned armchair. Outside, it poured.
'It's almost six,' Ron reminded him quietly.
'Exactly. Too early for... oh,' He recalled, recognising the look on Ron's face. 'Ginny.'
Harry stretched, glancing at Dean from the corner of his eye. He was playing wizards' chess with Seamus. 'What on earth do you want to do? Rescue her...?'
'I don't... I just... I just want to see if...' Ron fidgeted uncomfortably. 'She's my sister...!'
'We're not going to watch them, for Merlin's sake,' Harry gritted out nervously. Dean had turned to them at the sound of Ron's raised voice.
'We're not going to... it's just a second! Just to see if she's all right. Believe me, if they're doing any of that, I won't want to see it.' Ron made a face. 'Hermione's coming too, come on, Harry!'
Harry looked at her. She sat by the fire, absently snapping out the petals of another rose. Crookshanks jumped about, trying to catch the petals as they fell.
'I... hadn't noticed her there, I thought she was...' Harry mumbled, his mood suddenly lifted.
'So you're coming? Great!' Ron pulled him off the chair and called Hermione discreetly.
They were quiet on the way to the corridor. Ron was distracted, Harry and Hermione a tad self-conscious. But for the first time in a few days, they were comfortable in each other's company, which alleviated the silence a bit.
But Ginny was nowhere to be seen, and they couldn't spot Malfoy anywhere. It was three to six, and the only person in the corridor was a girl whom Harry recognised from practice as the girlfriend of a Slytherin chaser. Although she often talked to the Gryffindors, during meals, that was all Harry knew about her. She walked gracefully along the corridor, exchanging a few words with the paintings, who complimented her on her looks. She was, indeed, very pretty.
'Are you sure you heard them properly?' Hermione whispered. They nodded. 'Well, then, they're late. Maybe they called it off,' she suggested, patting Ron's shoulder.
'Yeah...' Harry agreed. 'Let's get out of here. This girl must be waiting for someone, too.'
'Maybe they were early?' Ron countered, staring at the girl. Behind him hung a painting labelled 'George killing the lion - the muggle view of the legend', and the lion leaned out to growl at him. The girl glanced around.
'Let's go,' Hermione commanded.
Already in the Great Hall, they did their best to lighten Ron's mood.
'Why would they even want to meet in a dark, damp corridor? Even Malfoy would have better taste.'
'Yeah, we were worrying ourselves over nothing,' added Harry, who had worried very little. 'Maybe Ginny's here, let's see if we can find her.'
'I'm sure I heard it right,' Ron insisted halfheartedly. 'You heard it too, Harry.'
'Ok,' Harry began provocatively. 'Maybe they were early, after all, and they moved to a cosier, warmer, un-damp room...?
Ron whacked him across the head. Harry laughed out loud.
They couldn't find Ginny, but Malfoy was there, laughing with a few of his yearmates and not at all looking like someone who had called off a date.
'So much the better,' Ron commented, as they joined their own mates. Hermione was still eyeing Malfoy suspiciously.
'You don't think he told Ginny to be there just so... you know, just so he could gloat, do you?' she whispered in Harry's year. Ron discussed a brooms magazine with Seamus.
'I wouldn't put that beyond him,' Harry confessed, 'But what would the point be? Only we knew they were going to be there, none of those people were there... and Ginny isn't that naif.'
Hermione's reply was drowned by another voice joining them. 'Wanted to see me, Potter?'
Harry jumped and his head almost collided with Hermione's.
'I hope this isn't a bad time,' Snape added smoothly, raising an eye at Hermione, who blushed as if on cue.
The chatter around them had died. Harry fumed inwardly. Of course Snape would want to talk to him in front of everyone.
'You need to resume my lessons,' he said flatly.
'On the headmaster's orders,' Harry added angelically.
'He did inform you that I have no time to pat your head this week, didn't he?'
'Yes,' Harry looked up unwaveringly. 'And he also assured me that he would keep your schedule clearer from now on so that you can focus a bit on me.'
The choice of words was all his, of course. He had to suppress a smile at Snape's silent reaction. Weren't it for the copper plates, the man's glare could have drilled a hole into the table.
'Won't he ever stop spoiling you rotten?' The words had apparently left Snape's lips before he could stop them, judging by the way he looked around himself to check for their reactions.
'I don't know, sir, but while it lasts, I intend to profit from it.' Beside Harry, Hermione gasped. 'After all, I do need as many remedial lessons as I can get.'
'That, Potter, is quite undeniable. Compared to you, Longbottom is an expert brewer.' Snape smirked distastefully. 'Very well. Tomorrow, at six, in my office. And I suggest you save that smile for later. I haven't become more indulgent over the week. Miss Granger,' he said in the same breath, 'Would you mind an early dinner tonight?'
She hastily followed him out of the Great Hall. That was enough to wipe the grin off Harry's face. The least said about Ron's face, the better.
'How Snape hasn't driven you both insane yet is beyond me,' Seamus piped in. 'And you even go looking for it--'
'Yeah, I don't get it either,' Ron admitted, his eyes shifting between the doors and Harry.
'Desperation, my friends, desperation,' Harry sighed, flipping through the magazine. 'I want to be an Auror. If I need to badger Snape for a chance... so be it.'
'Can you imagine, depending on Snape -- for anything?' Dean grimaced.
'Yeah,' Harry replied, staring longingly at the doors. 'I can.'
As Harry daydreamed his way through breakfast, Malfoy and Ginny had the longest conversation in plain sight. Ron didn't pay them much attention, either because he thought Ginny was beyond redemption, or because his own conversation with Blaise was too engrossing. Talking with Blaise had apparently become acceptable now that he and Hermione had broken up. And Blaise, it seemed, was a bit of a connoisseur regarding Quidditch, although he had no interest in playing.
Harry thought that behind this blossoming civility was simply Blaise's desire to remain close to Hermione's friends, perhaps in the hope of a second chance. He couldn't really blame the bloke, he thought, readying to leave for class.
'Hand this to Granger, will you, Potter?' Malfoy requested, extending him a small, ornate book. 'She needs it for her part of our Ancient Runes essay, but I didn't have a chance to give it to her yesterday.'
'Why don't you give it to her yourself? Class begins in a minute.'
'And her bodyguard will be there. I don't need a row this early in the morning over a book. Do you mind...?' Malfoy said irritably.
'Sure,' Harry mumbled, shoving the book in his bag. He almost missed Malfoy's begrudging 'Thanks.'
Hours later, back in the common room, everyone was chattering around him, while Harry tried, and failed miserably, not to think of what lay ahead, when an unbelievably loud arguement broke out, snapping him back to reality.
'Dean and Ginny,' Ron explained, 'They're in our dormitory. They've been there for ages!'
'Yeah, but I hadn't heard them until now.'
'They hadn't got loud until now,' Ron added.
'You're awfully calm!' scolded a worried Hermione. 'Listen to them! They've got their wands with them, they might hurt each other!'
'This has been brewing for weeks,' Ron snapped. 'Everybody noticed it. Except for you -- you only had eyes for Zabini.'
'That's so unfair!'
'No, it's not!' Ron took a calming breath and looked at her seriously. 'It's not like you ought to notice it, or anything. You've got nothing to do with this. But it has been brewing, and it would eventually come to this. And honestly? It couldn't come soon enough.'
'Are you insane?'
'It couldn't go on, ok!?' Ron snapped. 'She can date whomever she wants, not two at the time, or however many she has! It's not fair to Dean, it's not fair to her, it's not even fair to Malfoy, if she was enough of an idiot to fall for him. Let them argue. At least she'll have to make a choice and stick to it.'
'Are you aware of what you're saying?' Hermione asked, mouth agape. Ron stood defiantly before her, his arms crossed.
'I'm aware of what I see. If it's Malfoy she wants, let her have him. But let her do it properly.'
'You didn't tell Dean about yesterday, by any chance, did you?' she asked pointedly.
'That's what they're rowing about?' Harry looked up. 'A thing that didn't happen?'
'I didn't tell him anything,' Ron said, his ears reddening. 'Someone must have taken pity on him. I'll have to thank them.'
'So, as long as the man in the relationship comes out with his manhood unscathed, you don't even care about how your sister feels. It's so typical of you...!' Hermione nearly shouted.
'I care so much about how she feels that I lied to one of my best mates, for weeks, for her!' Ron shouted back. 'But, boy, am I glad someone else was more ballsy than me!'
Hermione's angry reply was on its way out when the door to the boys' dormitory was slammed open and Dean stormed out of the room without a word.
'Charming,' Hermione grimaced. 'Funny how you only disliked my boyfriend. Everyone else's is perfect even if--'
'Look, if you need to be told that he's fantastic and that you should never have left him, maybe you deserved to be dumped!'
Hermione was so furious that she couldn't even seem to find the words to answer him. Ginny's reappearence spared her the effort. As soon as she emerged from the dormitory and stalked over to Seamus, everyone pretended to be incredibly busy.
She looked terribly upset. 'When your friend sees how wrong he is, you might want to tell him that the moment for apologies went by two minutes ago.'
'Ginny...' Harry tried to reason.
She looked so out of it when her eyes rested on him that Harry had to resist the urge to reach for his wand. Surprisingly, she addressed Hermione.
'It was all because of you.' She didn't sound accusing, just resigned, and Harry had the frightening feeling she was going to cry. Hermione stared at her in stunned silence.
'And tell your friend,' Ginny shouted, now addressing Ron, who was as stunned as Hermione, 'that if he so much as looks at me the wrong way, I'll hex him!'
She turned on her heels and walked to the girls' dormitories with her head held high. The door closed behind her with a resounding bang. Hermione made to follow her, but Ron's hand on her shoulder pushed her back down onto her chair.
'Let her be.'
'Let me go! Just because you don't care...!'
'Let her be,' Ron repeated gravely. 'I know her. She needs to be on her own, now.'
Hermione finally relented, crossing her arms and glaring sideways at Ron. Around them, the chatter had been resumed. Harry left for Occlumency in silence. It was best not to tell Hermione that he rather agreed with Ron's stance on this.
Harry took a deep breath before knocking on the door. When no sound issued from beyond, he proudly waited for two full seconds before opening it.
'Only by five minutes, sir.' Harry stopped fiddling with the knob and turned to face his teacher, who stood against the shelves behind the desk, arms across his chest, one foot on the back of his chair. Harry imagined that Snape found the informal posture a small price to pay for getting the message across.
'I don't recall you ever being early for these lessons. You seemed to prefer skipping them.' Snape remarked silkily. Harry felt like a first year again. 'Why the sudden interest?'
Harry blinked. Did he not remember their previous, er, encounter?
'I need them, don't I?' He finally shrugged. Never had a leg propped on a chair looked so prohibitive.
'Have you had any new visions?' Harry shook his head negatively. 'What could make you take an interest in Occlumency, then? A sudden urge to become a decent student?'
The corner of Snape's mouth twitched almost imperceptively. Was he making fun of... the words were out before Harry could stop them.
'I don't know, professor, has something happened to make you care?'
Snape straightened up with a scowl. The lesson had begun. Five minutes and two falls later, Snape cast him an acid look. 'You made all that fuss over this lesson... for this?'
'I'm trying!' Harry retorted, trying with all his might to keep his eyes above Snape's shoulders.
'That... is trying? Potter, show yourself capable of doing something, anything, or leave me alone. Contrary to you, I'm very busy.'
'With Hermione?' Harry bit out.
Snape frowned. "No, not with Miss Granger, although, now that you mention it, she should be here soon. As you can see, I can't afford to waste my time on you.'
'Dining with her--- having all you meals with her isn't a waste of your time?'
'I should have imagined that a simple explanation wouldn't have cut it through your thick skull, but having my meals with Miss Granger is just another useless part of my work day. If it bothers you,' Snape added with a slight grimace, 'have a word with the headmaster about it, as you always do when your pride is injured.'
'Why don't you have a word with him, if you think it's useless?'
'Obviously, I already have, and even more obviously, it didn't work.'
'You needn't have accepted.'
'Will that be all?' Snape said irritably.
Harry paused for a second. 'Will we be resuming our lessons on a regular basis, sir?'
'Yes, sadly enough. Not in the next few days, but soon enough. I can barely reign in on my joy. Why?'
'People keep asking,' Harry explained absentmindedly.
'You told people about this?' Snape spat murderously.
'Just Ron and Hermione,' Harry clarified. 'And Dumbledore knows. Everyone else just think you're keeping me from attending practice.'
Snape's eyes rolled into the back of his head and he relaxed just a bit.
'So, I really need to know when the next lessons will be. So that I can at least justify my absences in advance.
'You'll be pleased to know, then, that you won't be skipping your practice next week. '
'I have no room in my schedule for these lessons,' Snape elaborated, in a voice fit for dealing with the very dim. 'I might be able to arrange for one, perhaps two, during the week after that. Come November, we should be back to a regular schedule. Now, get out of my sight.'
'Two lessons?' Harry repeated, without bothering to mask his disappointment. 'Why do I just know that you'll still find the time to have three meals a day with Hermione?'
'I'll have to find the time for her even if I have to bribe that timeturner out of Dumbledore, Potter.'
'Do you look her in the eye, at least?'
Snape actually did a doubletake at this. 'I don't recall hearing stories of spiked pumpkin juice today, Potter. Are you delirious?'
'You haven't looked me in the eye for days. Has Hermione had better luck?'
Snape stepped calmly in his direction. 'I seem to recall looking you in the eye just a minute ago, Potter. You ended up on all fours. Do you really want to do that again?'
He had indeed locked eyes with Harry as he spoke, and he was now so close that Harry had trouble focusing on the words rather than on the sound of his voice. Had there been more light in the room, he would surely be able to see himself reflected on Snape's pupils, so close were they. Judging by Snape's expression, he didn't cut an impressive figure.
'You kissed me.'
The words rang ominously in the squalid space between them. Harry's gaze didn't waver. This was, after all, what had brought him here, not a set of lessons in which he had always been hopeless. In the heavy, somber silence that followed, the narrowing of Snape's eyes was almost audible.
'You kissed me,' Harry repeated, in a clearer voice. He was inches form Snape's cloak -- it would be so easy to reach for him.
'Out,' Snape commanded hotly.
For all his contention, Snape couldn't prevent his quickening breath from showing, at such a short distance. He certainly couldn't stop Harry from noticing it.
I could just lean in, Harry told himself, his eyes travelling down Snape's face. It would be over before he even knew it.
That wasn't quite what Harry had in mind, and yet the proximity gave the idea a decidely alluring aura. He was an inch away, a second away.
And the tip of Snape's wand was resting against his chest.
Now Harry's eyes drew thinner. He had no intention of running off like a scared child again. He grasped Snape's wand with a gesture that looked far more obscene than he intended and tilted it away from his own ribs.
'You're afraid of me,' he realised at last.
One of Snape's eyebrows shot up snarkily as he twisted his wand out of Harry's grasp and looked at it and then at Harry.
'Of course I am. Longbottom haunts me in my dreams, too. How well you know me. Out.'
There was a loud rumble upstairs and the sound of approaching chatter. Harry ignored it completely, all of his attention focused on Snape's reaction.
Twirling his wand between two fingers, Snape let it come to rest idly on Harry's chest again. Momentarily worried for his integrity, Harry wondered if the heat that appeared to emanate from the tip was just his overworked imagination. The wand travelled up from his chest, catching in his collar and grazing his neck. When it slid across his chin to ghost over his cheek, Harry had to suppress the instinct to close his eyes. Finally, it pushed his messy fringe away and froze, atop his scar.
'This,' Snape asked, changing the subject shamelessly, 'Has it been hurting?'
Utterly puzzled, Harry shook his head. Wand and hand retreated immediately, and again the desk was between them.
'Miss Granger should be on her way. Get out.'
The door opened on its own, inviting him to obey. Perhaps because the offhanded mention to Hermione had suddenly made it quite hard for him to breathe, Harry was out of the room and on his way to the Great Hall before his mind had a chance to register what the body was doing. The surreal conversation had taken over his thoughts. Every tense word, every calculated gesture indicated that Snape wasn't indifferent to him. Yet, he couldn't even get the man to admit that something had happened, let alone... do it again?, Harry thought.
His foot was hovering on the first step to the Entrance Hall when Harry decided to go back downstairs for one last question.
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