Havoc of the Opera
Chapter 15 - An Unpleasant Sight
The next few days brought about quite a few significant events, yet in Harry's mind they were little more than a blur. He felt more detached from the daily reality than ever before.
The very night of his arguement with Snape, and for the first time in quite a while, Hermione fell violently ill. Harry, of course, had rushed to her side, threatening to hex whomever tried to stop him. A few days later, Madam Pomfrey still gave him the evil eye because of the crowd he had brought along to the hospital wing.
His first, rather shameful, reaction, however, had been to silently thank her timely indisposition for drawing the general attention away from him. In the course of the two days that Hermione spent in the hospital wing, only half-conscious and delirious, his gratitude eventually developed into remorse.
On the morning of the third day, Harry and Ron visited Hermione before breakfast and nearly collided with Snape, who was on his way out, in a visible temper. They found Hermione on the verge of tears. After assuring Ron that Snape hadn't done anything to her, she explained succintly that he was upset because she hadn't asked his permission before dining in the Great Hall.
They stared at her. 'What?!'
She shrugged, snuggling under the duvet. Ron's face plainly said that he was coming up with his his own theories.
Hermione was pensive. 'It's not like I could just--' one glance at Harry and she cut herself off. It took him a moment to realise what she had been about to say. She had been there. She had seen them, he thought with a chill. '-- I couldn't interrupt the conversation just to go to the dungeons. Malfoy would never shut up about how I don't belong in polite company.'
'Why would Snape care?' Harry cut in, barely looking at her. She had seen him telling Snape everything that he refused to tell them...
'He just thought I should have let him know.'
'He doesn't own you,' Ron snapped, indignant.
'He's just trying to help me, Ron!'
'Sure he is,' he growled.
'How did he know you were awake? Harry asked, spotting on the bedside table a book that he knew he had seen in Snape's office.
Hermione blinked at him. 'Madam Pomfrey told him, I suppose.'
'Madam Pomfrey never wanders about the school.'
Hermione flushed lightly. 'Well, she told me he comes here often, to see how I'm doing.'
Mrs Weasley would never have allowed Ron to say half the words he was spouting now.
'It's no big deal, really!' Hermione looked at him, amazed. 'He's done it before!'
'Only for you...' Harry said grudgingly. Misunderstanding him, Ron nodded fervently.
'Oh, you can't think...' She inhaled deeply and glowered at them. 'If you came here to make a scene, you needn't have come at all. Professor Snape has been extremely kind, and he was worried about me. That is all.'
Harry was quiet from that point on. He wasn't sure he would have a polite answer to give if Hermione jumped in Snape's defense again.
The weather was dreadful during the next few days, matches kept being advanced and postponed, practice and classes rescheduled to the point where even kind Professor Flitwick was grumpy.
Snape's words had lingered in Harry's mind. He had considered almost every scenario, every reaction that could come if he ever lost his mind and shouted his feelings from the rooftop, but it had never occurred to him that Snape might think he was looking for a surrogate father. He was sure that there was nothing filial about his feelings for Snape, at least. More than just his brains agreed with him.
On the other hand... what if Snape was right? He had never been attracted to men before. But wouldn't it make more sense if he felt this way towards Lupin, then, or even Dumbledore? Had this happened simply because he and Snape had been spending so much time together, lately?
Such musings invariably ended with Harry completely confused and terribly ashamed that he had even brought up the issue.
But then there would be a Potions class, or a rehearsal, and it would be absurd that he had ever imagined that the thrill under his skin and the stirring that coursed through his body were manifestations of any sort of need for a father.
True, Snape was doing his best to discourage him, in the way that he knew would sting Harry the most. Even that day, when Harry had daydreamed instead of stirring the potion he was brewing with Pansy and it had overboild noisily down the side of their cauldron -- Snape had simply flicked his wand over his shoulder and, in the blink of an eye, the cauldron was clean, Pansy was furious, and their Potions master's attention was on Hermione and Malfoy's potion. He hadn't so much as looked at Harry.
'Hasn't it been too long since your last lesson, Harry?' Hermione asked one afternoon, in the common room. Harry looked around. They were alone.
'I was supposed to have one or two, one of these days, but Snape hasn't mentioned anything yet.'
'Thankfully,' Ron provided.
'You haven't forgot how much Harry needs them, have you?'
Ron met her glare with one of his own. 'These lessons are useless. He's still having nightmares,' Ron snapped.
'Sorry, mate, but it's true,' Ron said apologetically.
'You're still having nightmares?' Hermione asked worriedly.
'Sometimes,' Harry said quietly.
'All the time,' Ron corrected.
'And they're my private business!' he repeatedly poked Ron with a roll of parchment, which he then uncreased somewhat. 'I need to get this to McGonagall while she's in a good mood.'
They watched worriedly as he left.
'Why do you push him?' Ron rounded on Hermione. 'These lessons aren't doing him any good!'
'Well, I think they are!' She huffed.
'He's only got worse since the last one! He barely speaks, he doesn't eat... and you should have seen him the day after.'
'Oh, I'm sorry I was unconscious!' Hermione snapped. Ron paled. 'I'm sorry,' she added. 'I just... I really think he's getting better. Yes, he's quiet, but at least he's not aloof all the time...'
Ron nodded reluctantly, after a moment. 'I still don't like the part Snape is playing in this.'
Hermione raised a hand in defeat. 'Speaking of him... do you want to accompany me downstairs?'
'Of course I do!'
'You and Harry don't have to shadow me all the time, you know?'
'Yep. We do it because we want to.'
'I'm starting to think you have a thing for Blaise,' she joked. 'Is this all an excuse to see him?'
Ron whacked the back of her head. 'I'm starting to think you have a thing for Snape!' he did a doubletake. 'Oh, wait, bad mental image...'
They bickered all the way to the dungeons.
On the last day of October, notices were put up in all message boards, warning them that, exceptionally, there would be no rehearsal that night. The staff feared that the house-elves' widely-known Halloween feast might prove too heavy for physical exertions. Sleepy, lazy actors wouldn't do, Dumbledore explained over lunch, and just this once, a good night's rest might be more useful than a full-blown rehearsal.
But there was no rest to be had that night, at least for the Gryffindors. After the feast, they gathered in the common room to discuss the upcoming match against Ravenclaw. Sunday was likely to be a stormy day, but no-one was keen on the idea of postponing the match again. Hermione joined the discussion for a few minutes, before excusing herself and returning to the dungeons. Apparently, there was something she had to discuss with Blaise. Everyone was so focused on Quidditch that for once, no-one thought of going with her.
Around five in the morning, Harry silently made his next decision as the captain -- daily discussions instead of all-nighters.
'What if we postpone it?' Ginny finally suggested, just as another bolt of lightning hit the grounds outside.
'Now?!' Dean snapped. 'It'll clash with the Ravenclaws' match with Slytherin. Of course, you'd be more focused on your precious--'
'What was that?!'
'Will you stop it, once and for all?' Harry shouted. They had bickered all night.
It was about a quarter to seven, when they were finally done, their plans made and the match's date safe. They needed to rest. McGonagall would have a fit if she saw their living-dead faces.
Harry just sank more deeply in his chair, looking at the fire, which had dimmed now that there was only one person to warm.
'Do you have a moment to spare me, Potter?' came a disagreeable voice from behind him.
Harry turned around in time to see that a Slytherin badge, gleaming a foot below a sneer, had slid out from behind a curtain.
'Parkinson, you know non-Gryffindors can't be here, don't you?' Harry yawned.
Pansy sauntered her way to his side and leaned on the arm of his chair with a smile.
'Then why are you -- how did you even get here?' He frowned.
'I have my methods,' she sing-sang. 'You know, our common room is much more comfortable than yours.'
'I'm sure you don't sit behind a curtain there.' He yawned again, looking at the fire and then at her. 'What're you doing here?'
'Thought we could talk.'
'At this time of the night?!'
'Couldn't catch you alone earlier. You do talk a lot.'
'You were here all night?' he stared at her. 'Spying on us?'
Pansy sighed. 'You can untwist your knickers. I don't care for Quidditch. Besides, I took a nap -- or two.'
'Then what do you want?'
'I told you. A word with you.'
'That meddling mudblood friend of yours.'
Half a second hadn't elapsed and Harry's wand already rested between Pansy's eyes. 'I'm not in a good mood. What did you call her, again?'
Oddly enough, his reaction seemed to delight her. 'My, aren't we protective? Very well.' She slowly pushed his wand away from her skin. 'I recognise that this wasn't the best start. But she's in my way. I don't like it.'
'And I don't care. Don't call her that.'
'Please,' Pansy scowled at him. 'Like you don't want to wring her neck every now and then.'
Harry's wand arm returned to his lap, and he raised an eyebrow enquiringly.
'You want her away from the Slytherins,' she declared.
'I don't see your point.' And he didn't like the path this was taking.
'I'm not stupid. Let us speak plainly, shall we?'
Harry nodded. 'Please.'
'You want her to stay away from the Slytherins. So do I. Can't we help each other out?'
'I don't know if you've noticed, but there's an ongoing project that weirdly involves both our houses. I can't exactly prevent her from talking to any of you.' No matter now much he wished he could.
'I don't give a toss who she talks to, as long as she gets away from Draco!'
Harry blinked and crossed his legs. 'Oh?'
'Don't play the idiot,' Pansy snarled. 'You want her for yourself, don't you? I want Draco back. Do I need to make myself clearer?'
Pansy raised her eyes to the ceiling. 'You know, for someone who defeated You-know-who so many times, you're pretty thick. What exactly did you miss?'
'The part where Malfoy enters the conversation.'
It was Pansy's turn to look blankly at him. 'You can't be saying you didn't notice.'
Pansy looked disbelieving. 'You haven't noticed that the mu -- your friend has been throwing herself at Draco ever since the Weasley girl finally left him alone? I thought everybody had noticed it! Blaise did!'
'Hermione... and Malfoy?' Harry repeated in confusion. And Pansy thought he had a crush on Hermione? The world was suddenly bright. 'And you want me to get Hermione out of the way so that you can have Malfoy back. Although he broke up with you.'
'I broke up with him, I'll have you know.' Pansy said proudly. 'I was... upset. But I can still make up for it. If you'll--'
'Good plan. You just overlooked two tiny details.'
She scowled. 'Which are...?'
'I don't betray my friends. If Hermione really wants Malfoy, I won't stand between them.'
'Not even if I wanted to. Trust me, you've never seen Hermione mad. Secondly, I don't feel that way about Hermione.'
'But then... the way you look at her...'
'Maybe I like working with you as much as you like working with us. Now, if you'll excuse me, I really must go.'
Pansy looked up at him and Harry helped her up.
'If it makes you feel better... if you're right about Hermione and Malfoy, I'm rooting for you. You're a perfect match.' Actually, he really hoped Malfoy got married to Hermione, or did something equally permanent with her, but that didn't make his words less true. 'You'll need somebody else's help, though, because I can't overemphasise how much I don't want to think about Malfoy's private life.' Pansy stared at him as he ran to the door and looked back. 'Are you really sure about this?'
'Of course I am...' she said numbly. Harry ran to her and planted a kiss full on her lips.
'You can do better than him.'
She was still gazing at him with wide eyes when he ran out, shouting as he sprinted down the stairs, 'Don't let yourself be caught here, or you'll change your mind about us being a bunch of goody-two-shoes!'
The Fat Lady was grumpily remarking that nowadays' youth had no respect for the nightly rest of their elders and Harry was already well on his way to the dungeons. Only when he stood, panting, at the door to Snape's office, did he think rationally and wonder if it was wise to bother the man so early in the morning.
His sleepy inner voice remarked that it would shameful for a Gryffindor to sprint down the entire castle only to get cold feet now.
What was he going to say? He still had no answer for the questions Snape had raised the other day... but now he knew that Hermione hadn't been talking about Snape. He had been going mad with jealousy -- the jealousy of a lover. It had to be better than nothing.
He quickly checked his crumpled school robes to make sure they weren't smelly or scandalously dirty, and then knocked on the door.
There was no answer.
Harry knocked again. He couldn't be asleep still. It was almost time for breakfast, and surely the man had classes to prepare. Harry tugged at his robes, trying unsuccessfully to uncrease them, and knocked again. A thin gap appeared between wall and door, beyond which stood a rather surly teacher.
'What in the name of Merlin are you doing here?'
'I have to talk to you.' Harry said bluntly.
'This is a terrible time. Come back lat--' Harry pushed his way inside the office and held his gaze firmly.
'Now. I promise I won't be long. There's something I need to tell you.'
'Then say it and begone,' Snape said briskly, opening the door wide to ease Harry's exit.
Just as Harry opened his mouth to speak, the sound of a door creaking open caught his attention. He instinctively looked around, trying to identify the source of the sound.
'Well?!' Snape said impatiently.
'I think I overslept... late for breakfast...' came a sleepy voice from the same place as the creaking.
Harry's head whipped around just in time to see someone coming out of the darkness of a side wall. A sleepy, yawning figure, wrapped tightly in an overlarge cloak of Snape's came into view. Harry's heart momentarily stopped. Leaning against the doorframe, still unaware of his presence, and yawning widely against the sleeve of Snape's cloak, was Hermione.
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