Havoc of the Opera
Chapter 25 - The Music of the Night
There was a moment of chaos, and Harry blinked away from Ron. This sequence hadn't been thoroughly rehearsed. Everyone appeared to take their assigned positions with relative ease, Harry dodging Ron's overcoat, which flew backstage over Dean's head. The Overture blared its final notes. It was almost time to come in.
'This trophy from our saviours, from the enslaving force of Rome!' Pansy, or rather, Carlotta, or rather, Elissa, Queen of Carthage, took the spotlight, smiling in delight at Hermione and Ginny, who played her two leading slave girls. In the wings, just behind Harry, Lavender grimaced at the hideous severed head that Pansy carried. Because Ron had terminantly refused to allow a shrieking, bleeding head in a muggle production, the twins had decided to make it as realistic as possible. Harry thought that it bore a remarkable resemblance to Dolores Umbridge.
Parvati, Crabbe, and a great deal of people stepped onstage, pretending to be members of the crew working on the Hannibal set. From the wings, their chorus sang along with Carlotta.
'Hear the drums – Hannibal comes!' It was Neville's cue.
He silently recommended his soul to Merlin and began, with an extremely exaggerated Italian accent, 'Sad to return to find the land we love threatened once more by Roma's far-reaching grasp.'
To his right, there was a loud groan, and Ron emerged from a "rehearsing" group. 'Signor... if you please: "Rome". We say "Rome", not "Roma."' He turned his back to Neville momentarily to eye the audience with an aghast expression. His charmingly dishevelled looks, coupled with his half-open shirt and the rolled-up sleeves, drew more than one sigh from the girls in the audience.
'Si, si, Rome, not Roma. It's very hard for me,' Neville stammered, murmuring to himself, 'Rome... Rome...'
Harry's breath caught. It was his turn. He exchanged glances with Seamus and both followed Nott onstage, to be introduced to the crew.
'Gentlemen, please!' McGonagall snapped, banging a cane inches from Seamus' feet. 'If you would kindly move to one side?'
'Madame Giry, our ballet mistress,' Nott grimaced. 'I don't mind confessing, M. Firmin, I shan't be sorry to be rid of the whole blessed business.'
'I keep asking you, Monsieur, why exactly are you retiring?' Harry had to force himself not to try and spot the reason lurking from the wings. Where was he?
Nott ignored the question. 'We take particular pride here in the excellence of our ballets.' Ginny stepped downstage, whirling through the dancers. 'Meg Giry. Mme. Giry's daughter. Promising dancer, M. André, most promising.'
Hermione then took the spotlight, promptly falling out of step, and eliciting another snap from McGonagall. 'You! Christine Daaé! Concentrate, girl!'
Just as Carlotta sang Think of Me, a backdrop crashed ominously to the floor, hiding Hermione from sight. 'He's here, the Phantom of the Opera... he is with us-- It's the ghost...' Ginny and the chorus sang darkly.
Neville glared at Ginny and ran to Pansy. 'You idiots! Cara! Cara! Are you hurt?'
Dean, or rather, Buquet, the stagehand, holding a noose-like length of rope, claimed that it was not his fault, that he wasn't even at his post, and if there was anyone there, then Messieurs, it must have been a ghost...
'He's here, the Phantom of the Opera...' Ginny echoed. This time, it was Seamus who glared at her.
'Good heavens! Will you show a little courtesy?'
'Mademoiselle, please!' Harry added.
'These things do happen,' Seamus continued. Pansy turned on him.
'Si! These 'tings' do 'appen! Well, until you stop these 'tings' happening, this 'ting' does not 'appen! Ubaldo! Andiamo!'
Neville followed her obediently, muttering, 'Amateurs.'
'I don't think there's much more to assist you, gentlemen. Good luck. If you need me, I shall be in Frankfurt.' Nott swiftly excused himself.
Harry couldn't let his mind drift. Firmin should be a nervous wreck during Hermione's upcoming Think of Me. 'André, this is doing nothing for my nerves.'
Everything was carefully set for Hermione to change discreetly into a gala gown mid-song, symbolising the passage from rehearsals to performance. It was the first 'real' number, and she was extremely nervous. Much to her delight, when she finished, the 'Bravos!' came not only from the characters, but also from the real audience. Ron granted her Reyer's stiff appraisal.
'Yes, you did well. He will be pleased,' Mme. Giry said. 'And you! You were a disgrace tonight! Here – we rehearse. Now!' She pointed her cane at the dancers.
In the wings, Harry's heart had almost stopped with the anticipation of the next line.
'Bravi, bravi, bravissimi...' intoned a deep voice, offstage, across from Harry. Both Hermione, onstage, and Harry, off, jumped out of their skin. Harry looked around spasmodically.
Hermione sat at her dressing table, talking to Ginny. 'Here in this room he calls me softly...'
'Did she enhance her voice, after all?' Seamus asked, but Harry, still squinting at the darkness, didn't hear him.
'Somehow I know he's always with me... he, the unseen genius...'
Ginny put a hand on her shoulder. 'Christine, you must have been dreaming...'
Hermione glanced away from her, lost in thought. 'Angel of Music! Guide and guardian! Grant to me your glory!'
'Who is this angel? This..'
'Angel of Music! Hide no longer! Secret and strange angel!'
Harry jerked when he felt a jab on his back. It was Ron, glaring at him. 'Some discretion, ok?'
'He's with me, even now...'
'I'm not onstage.' Harry glowered. 'But you should be,' he gritted out towards Ron's retreating back. 'Git...'
'Your hands are cold...' Ginny crouched beside Hermione.
'All around me...'
'Your face, Christine, it's white...'
'It frightens me...' Hermione looked up tearfully.
'Don't be frightened...' Ginny retorted, interrupted by a raging Mme. Giry, who demanded that she joined the others in rehearsal.
Harry hurried through the wings, looking for the bottle of champagne that he had to carry onstage. Seamus was already on his way there.
'What a relief!' Harry swung his long overcoat and raised his eyes to the ceiling. 'Not a single refund!'
'Greedy,' Lavender squeezed his arm. She had a bit part as Firmin's wife.
'Gentlemen, if you wouldn't mind,' Draco calmly took the champagne from Harry's hands. 'This is one visit I should prefer to make unaccompanied.'
'They appear to have met before...' Harry commented knowingly, almost bouncing offstage, as Christine and Raoul reunited in her dressing room. As they launched into the Little Lotte sequence, he frantically searched for a good place to observe the next scene.
'Careful, Harry, the floor's about to move again,' Ginny reminded him.
'I shan't keep you late!' Malfoy promised, when Hermione refused to have supper with him. The Angel of Music was strict.
'You must change. I must get my hat. Two minutes – Little Lotte.' He sprinted offstage.
'Things have changed, Raoul,' she said thoughtfully. Harry stood as close as he could to the large mirror that hid the secret passage to the Phantom's lair.
'Insolent boy!' A voice snapped from behind it, but Harry couldn't spot the body to which it belonged, even if he craned his neck until it almost snapped. 'Ignorant fool! This brave young suitor, sharing in my triumph!'
'Angel! I hear you! Speak – I listen...' Hermione pleaded, her eyes roaming the empty room in confusion. 'My soul was weak - forgive me... enter at last, Master!'
'Flattering child, you shall know me,' Her Master's voice took on an amused tone. Harry wondered it the audience had recognised it already. 'Look at your face in the mirror – I am there, inside!'
The lights dimmed around Hermione, and the mirror shone. A dark figure rose behind it. In his hurry to see it more clearly, Harry almost fell onto the stage.
'Angel of Music! Hide no longer! Come to me, strange angel...'
Malfoy returned onstage, extending his hand to the doorknob, freezing upon hearing two voices. When he again tried to open the door, it was locked. 'Whose is that voice...? Who is that in there...?'
Watching from the wings, behind the Phantom, Ron burst with pride at the twins' work. The mirror slid down, revealing a darkly attired man, behind whom a bright light shimmered. The floor creaked.
'I am your Angel of Music... Come to me, Angel of Music...' the Phantom repeated, grasping Hermione's wrist. Hermione winced to indicate that the touch was cold, but not forceful. She walked through the mirror, and it slid back into place, just as a puzzled Raoul entered the room.
The lights blacked out around him, and the floor where he stood heaved, making Harry stagger in the wing. The other half of the stage descended to floor level. There, the Phantom and Christine ran hurriedly on and offstage. Mist and candles rose from the floor surrounding them, and the lights took on a blueish hue. A boat came into view and they climbed onto it. Malfoy had already stepped offstage, and that half of it, too, descended, the special effects spreading to it. The first bars of the Phantom's song thundered around them.
The Phantom was clearly visible for the first time. A shiver rippled through Harry's skin as he mouthed the line. 'My power over you grows stronger yet... And though you turn from me to glance behind...'
Hermione did indeed fidget and look around in doubt.
'The Phantom of the Opera is there, inside your mind...' the Phantom added, looming over Hermione, whose expression softened again.
'... my mind...' she sang along.
Offstage, the chorus added an edge to that peculiar love song. The Phantom approached Christine from behind, and breathed down her neck, never actually touching her. '... you always knew that man and mystery...'
'Were both in you...' Harry murmured.
Answering Seamus' doubts, Hermione finished with a cadenza that her real voice could never have achieved. It was chilling to see her raise her eyes to the ceiling, singing under her Master's command. The audience burst into an unexpected applause. Thankfully, onstage stood the two members of the cast who were least likely to slip out of character.
The Phantom's lair was sliding onstage, and in the ensuing mess, Harry spotted Ron and Malfoy, talking quietly in the far corner of the wing. He made his way towards them with a scowl.
'Well, you know I've got my hands tied, but it's not like I'll stop you... go ahead,' Malfoy said.
'... I'd like to see you try.'
'Hell, kill him, for all I care...'
'Excuse me,' Harry snapped. 'I need a word with you, Ron.'
Ron glared at him. Malfoy turned away to have a look at Hermione, tossing over his shoulder, 'Don't let me get in the way of the lovebirds...'
Ron wanted to retort, but Harry pulled him further back into the wing. 'You glared at me all day. I've had enough. Spit it out or look elsewhere.'
'I don't owe you any explanations on how I look at you,' Ron countered coldly. 'And you might want to lower your voice, there's a play going on beyond the drapery. Oh, but wait, you'd know that, the boyfriend's there...'
'Are you afraid it's contagious?' Harry snapped. 'That because I fancy him you'll suddenly want to be the Quidditch team's bicycle?'
He regretted his words instantly. He expected a fist to connect with his face at any instant, but Ron simply stared at him.
'Is this his work?' he finally replied. 'Are you turning into him, or are you just thick?'
Onstage, Hermione faced a mirror. Her reflection wore a wedding gown. The image extended its arms through the mirror, towards her, and Christine fainted, amidst shrieks from the youngest in the audience. The Phantom picked her up and carried her tenderly to bed. 'You alone can make my song take flight – help me make the music of the night...'
Harry gazed unblinkingly at the scene. Ron cringed at the words.
'I could have made a worse choice,' Harry mused, still looking at the stage.
Ron eyed him doubtfully, and he focused on the conversation.
'So, is it contagious? Feeling tingly, already?'
'It's got nothing to do with that,' Ron replied evenly.
'Then, what?' Harry snapped in a whisper.
'How long has it been going on?'
Harry shook his head at the change of subject. 'Just... a little over a week ago.' Ron nodded absently. Harry thought that he might as well be completely honest. 'I've fancied him for months, though.'
Hermione had managed to peel off the Phantom's mask, and she was currently squirming away from him, looking up in terror. He stood in profile, so that the audience saw nothing unusual, but both Christine and the wing-bound cast had a clear look at what lied beneath the mask. Ron squinted and Harry, following his gaze, felt slightly ill at the sight of the Phantom's horribly deformed face.
There was absolute silence from everyone as the Phantom roared, 'Damn you! You little prying Pandora!' He kneeled before Christine to give her a good look at his face. She retreated further, trembling from head to toe. Hermione and Harry had practiced this scene at great length.
'Damn you! Curse you!' The words echoed around Hermione, who now looked petrified with fear.
'You've fancied that?' Ron muttered absentmindedly.
What could Harry say to that? That there was a difference between the actor and the character? Ron already knew that. That was not what upset him.
'Can you even dare to look, or bear to think of me?' the Phantom began, now in a strangely subdued tone.
The silence between them stretched to an uncomfortable extent as Harry tried to figure what he could possibly say that was sufficiently effective to make Ron stop looking at him with such disappointment in the three minutes that Stranger Than You Dreamt It granted him before he had to run to the wing across from them.
'Fear can turn to love, you'll learn to see, to find the man behind the monster...'
Even in the dim light, Ron was visibly paling as the words reached them. Dean broke their silence. The length of rope in his hands twisted into a lasso, he brought their attention back to the performance by squeezing himself between them with a muttered 'Let me through, let me through.'
'Come, we must return, these two fools who run my theatre will be missing you,' the Phantom snapped, dragging Christine offstage. Harry tried to figure out where they had gone, but the stage was shifting again, and he had to jump out of its way. In the meantime, Ron had taken his leave, and Dean was already halfway through his song. Harry had to go.
'You must be always on your guard,' Dean said morbidly, exhibiting himself to the ballet girls. He slipped the rope around his neck and then his hand in between, pulling the rope taut without harming himself. 'Or he will catch you with his magical lasso!'
An open trap appeared centre-stage, and the Phantom emerged, holding Christine under his cloak and gazing at Buquet. The ballet girls fled in fear. The gloomy pair crossed the stage silently and left. McGonagall told Dean off for taunting the ghost. It was Harry's cue.
'Joseph Buquet, hold your tongue – he will burn you with the heat of his eyes...'
'Sad news on soprano scene,' Harry sighed, flipping nervously through the newspapers he carried. Seamus burst in, nervous to no end, and both had a hard time containing their laughter as they commented on the letters that the Phantom had sent them. For some reason, they had never quite managed to work on this scene without laughing.
'In addition, he wants money!'
'He's a funny sort of spectre...'
'... to expect a large retainer!'
Prima Donna was an extremely long, ellaborate scene which required the presence of almost everyone -- except, ironically, for the people Harry most desperately wanted to meet. Pansy simply glowed. This was Carlotta's brightest moment, and Harry was bitterly reminded of the numerous rehearsals in which she steadfastly refused to work, whinging and snivelling that they weren't showing Carlotta the sort of slobbering submission she expected.
Harry added a silent 'Please, no,' to the booming 'Once more!' that signalled the end of the sequence, and the stage was set for a performance of Albrizzio's Il Muto. Backstage, Hermione dressed as a boy to play Serafimo, Carlotta's lover in the show, and Parvati helped her adjust a maid's outfit over the many layers of fabric. Serafimo's liaison with the Countess must be hidden from her husband.
Pansy presented the audience with a spectacular cadenza that, apparently, only the Phantom disliked.
'Did I not instruct that Box Five was to be kept empty?' he roared above the music. Harry, Seamus and Malfoy, sitting in Box Five, stopped chortling and glared at the source of the voice.
'It's him... I know it... it's him...' Hermione said tremulously.
'Your part is silent, little toad!' Pansy hissed.
'A toad, Madame? Perhaps it is you who are the toad...' the Phantom retorted malevolently.
Pansy held her head high and turned to Hermione. 'Serafimo, away with this pretense, you cannot speak, but kiss me in my -- croak!'
There was stunned silence. She cleared her throat quietly and tried again, managing a set of croaks in several octaves. As she despairingly tried to utter 'in my husband's absence' in her perfect soprano, the Phantom started to laugh. Just a snigger at first, then a resounding laugh that echoed along the walls.
'Behold! She's singing to bring down the chandelier!' he jested cruelly, laughter booming above their heads.
'Non posso più... I cannot... I cannot go on...', Carlotta moaned pitifully, her words supported by the chandelier, which blinked and swayed ominously. Neville ushered her offstage. As soon as she set foot in the wings, Pansy complained that those rasping sounds had probably ruined her voice for good.
'Maestro – the ballet – now!' Seamus clipped out. The soft tune of the Dance of the Country Nymphs filled the stage. A bright light filtered through the backdrop, treating the audience to the Phantom's shadow, cast ominously over the dancers, closer and closer. As it filled the length of the backdrop, Ginny let out a blood-curling scream that made more than one audience member jump. The body of Joseph Buquet, garrotted by his own lasso, hung from the ceiling and fell onto the stage. A quiet flurry of cushioning charms flew in from the wings, to ensure that Dean wouldn't be hurt.
The sight of the dead body sent cast and audience into a panic, and provided Malfoy and Hermione with an excuse to run to the roof for All I Ask of You. It also allowed Harry to go gratefully back to Ron, who followed the events from the right wing. He nodded at Harry in acknowledgement. Harry waited, let him lead the conversation.
'Did you, huh... you know. Did you?' Ron looked like he couldn't believe his own words.
Harry thought for a moment and nodded. There was no reason to hide that from Ron now.
'Does Dumbledore know?' Ron snorted in response to his own question. 'Of course he does. He knows everything. What did he say?'
'He disapproves. And he's sending him away.'
Harry didn't like the hollow note in Ron's voice. His quiet tone was more worrying than anything else. Ron was only quiet when he was ferociously angry.
'Who knew?' Ron then enquired. 'Other than Hermione and Dumbledore?'
'No-one,' Harry answered truthfully. Ron raised his brow doubtfully. 'People suspected, but no-one really knew.'
Harry thought for a moment. 'Ginny and Seamus, I suppose... and Malfoy, but he thought I was having a fling with Hermione. Blaise, too. Pansy definitely noticed something strange.' Listing the names felt a bit like stripping naked. Looking at it this way, his secret sounded very, very, public.
'That's... a lot of people.'
'Yeah... but no-one really knew anything,' Harry reminded him. 'Even Dumbledore was only informed, er, later on.'
'I never suspected,' Ron mused aloud. 'Not once.'
'Yes, you did,' Harry countered.
'That was only because I thought he was... he wasn't, was he?'
Harry shook his head negatively.
'I never suspected,' Ron repeated absently. 'I always thought we were good enough friends that you'd tell me if something as important as this happened to you.'
'We-- we are!'
Ron's voice shook ever so slightly. 'But when you had to tell someone, you told Hermione.'
'You will curse the day you did not do all that the Phantom asked of you!' the Phantom bellowed from well above the stage. The chandelier fell, smashing just an inch from Hermione's feet. Intermission.
Harry and Ron had to change, as well as help with the stage for Masquerade, so there was no more time to talk. But at least now Harry knew where he stood with Ron. He would try to reach him during Scene Four. Beforehand, good Merlin, he had to dance.
He and Seamus wore matching skeleton outfits and opera cloaks. 'M'sieur Firmin?'
'M'sieur André?' Seamus took off his mask and grinned. Around them, a sea of colourful fabric flooded the stage, celebrating six months without news of the Phantom. To the left, Raoul placed a gold chain with an engagement ring around Christine's neck, though she was reluctant to accept it.
'Wait till the time is right...'
'When will that be? It's an engagement, not a crime!' he pleaded.
She squirmed her way through an acceptance, and they joined the ensemble, dancing giddily to their happiness.
'Masquerade! Take your fill – let the spectacle astound you!' the crowd echoed.
A chilled silence fell when a figure dressed head to toe in crimson and wearing a death's head as a mask appeared at the top of the staircase, descending frostily towards the ball guests, tossing the manuscript of Don Juan Triumphant at Seamus and beckoning Christine closer.
The Phantom jumped over the last steps, landed next to the directors, and walked towards Christine, his gloved hand brushing Harry's for a second. Harry's head jerked and he almost fell out of character at the only acknowledgement he had received from him all night, but the Phantom gazed coldly at him through the skull, and Harry refocused. He moved mechanically throughout the rest of the sequence.
Harry tapped his foot in impatience as Neville uselessly struggled to get 'Those who tangle with Don Juan' right, so that Ron could stop instructing him and return backstage. He had completely forgot that Ron was part of Scene Four.
Hermione walked past him in a flowing gown. Its silver embroidery translated the refrain of All I Ask of You into Ancient Runes. It had been Malfoy's idea, she told him. She walked solemnly upstage and entered a cemetery. The Phantom, Harry knew, lurked in the shadows.
'I was afraid,' he blurted out, as soon as Ron walked offstage. Ron, still musing over Reyer's lines, frowned incomprehendingly. 'I was afraid of your reaction.'
'Sure. Hermione's the mature one. I'd have told her instead of telling me, too,' Ron grumbled.
'I didn't mean to tell her -- or anyone. It just... happened. And we were both so worried that you might react badly--'
'That's the thing,' Ron said bitterly. 'Perhaps you didn't mean to tell her, but once you did, you chose to keep me in the dark. You didn't keep it to yourself -- you just kept it from me.'
'I was worried.' Harry gulped. 'I was worried that I might have to choose between you and him.'
Ron swore so loudly that McGonagall, sitting across from them, had a murderous glance around.
'You thought I'd make you choose?!'
Harry looked down as Ron's anger finally erupted. Nearby, Malfoy glowered at the noise they made.
'If that's what you think of me,' Ron finished, breathless with the effort to let out a record number of words in such little time, 'it's really no wonder you didn't want to tell me, isn't it?'
'Of course I wouldn't react well! It's Snape, what did you think? Just last year, we were teasing each other about girls, trying to ask them out without making arses of ourselves, and now... did you think I was going to congratulate you?'
'No, that's why I didn't tell you!' Harry hissed. Silence fell. 'I'm sorry,' he eventually added.
'I wouldn't have made you choose,' Ron mumbled. 'I didn't like it when you dated the Chang sniffler, but I didn't make you choose between us. And if you'd actually told me you... liked... him... I wouldn't have made you choose, either. I'm not a complete idiot.'
'I'm sorry,' Harry repeated.
'Yeah,' Ron uttered, gazing back at the stage. 'You should be.'
'Try to forgive, teach me to live, give me the strength to try...' Hermione sang softly.
'Why do you like him?' Ron asked at last.
Harry froze. He hadn't really had the chance to wonder about that. It seemed to have just... happened. Somehow, though, he knew that saying that wouldn't give Ron the best impression.
'He's a good singer, I guess?' he answered tentatively.
Ron smirked. After a second, Harry grinned.
After making up with Ron, time flew by. Harry felt much lighter. Ron told him how the twins had come up with the fireballs that the Phantom was currently tossing at Raoul, and how they had prepared an extra stage for the climactic explosion while Harry was in the hospital wing. Harry's mind couldn't be further away from the machinery, but still he listened attentively to all that Ron had to say. Everything was always so much more fun when Ron was around.
The climax approached. The stage was set for the performance of the Phantom's opera. Ginny danced coquettishly for Neville's Don Juan. He threw her a coin purse before being whisked offstage and immediately replaced by the Phantom, who sang heartbreakingly of loneliness with Christine. When Hermione serenely raised her hand and whipped off his mask, showing his face plainly to the horrified audience, he wrapped her in his cloak and they vanishd. The rest of the cast waited with bated breath, for this was a tricky sequence.
Fire licked at the scenery, the spare stage that had been brought up turned to coal, and Neville's, Piangi's body was brought forth, garrotted in the same manner as Buquet, making Pansy burst into a bout of hysterics.
'You! Why did you let this happen?' she shouted at Seamus, as Neville was quietly carried away and Harry moaned their disgrace.
The stage shifted again, as Mme. Giry firmly told Meg that no, she couldn't accompany Raoul to the catacombs, where, as the audience could see, the Phantom had already arrived with a terrified Christine.
'Track down this murderer, he must be found!' a mob clamoured, 'Hunt down this animal, who runs to ground!'
Mme. Giry gave her last directions to Raoul, instructing him to keep his hand at the level of his eyes, and he made his way to the lair alone.
'Too long he's preyed on us – but now we know, the Phantom of the Opera is there, deep down, below...'
Hermione looked at the Opera Ghost with an incomparable coldness. 'Have you gorged yourself at last in your lust for blood?'< The Phantom remained silent. 'Am I now to be prey to your lust for flesh?'
'That fate, which condemns me to wallow in blood has also denied me the joys of the flesh...' he explained softly. 'This face – the infection that poisons our love...' He walked to a dummy dressed in a wedding gown and took its veil, shoving it into Hermione's hands. She listened to his self-pitying words unwaveringly.
'This haunted face holds no horror for me now... it's in your soul that the true distortion lies...'
There was nary a sound from the audience when the Phantom realised that they had an unexpected guest. But there were gasps when the Phantom tied Raoul as though he meant to hang him. Hary and Ron couldn't avoid smiling. Never before had their Potions master mistreated his precious Draco.
'Angel of Music, when will you see reason...?' Christine muttered, as they went on and on about their love for her. 'Angel of Music...'
'You've passed the point of no return...' he assured her.
'You deceived me – I gave my mind blindly...' she finished sadly.
'You try my patience! Make your choice!' he snapped.
Hermione had the foresight of letting the words echo for a second before approaching him. Everybody's attention had to be on her actions rather than the lyrics.
'God give me courage to show you...' she sang as she approached him. 'You are not alone...'
Reaching him, she looked up, and he lowered his head. Backstage, and in spite of himself, Harry looked the other way. He had to focus on them again when he felt Ron pulling madly at his sleeve, and his chin dropped. They were kissing. Really kissing. Holding each other, their lips touching. Squinting, he thought he could see a bit of tongue. Even Malfoy looked shocked.
The silence when they broke apart was deathly. A second later, the chorus burst into song. 'Track down this murderer – he must be found! Hunt down this animal...'
Onstage, after a short deliberation, the Phantom released the two lovers, resigned to his unrequited passion. As they gratefully rushed to the boat, he looked at his mask and the music box started playing. He sang along melancholically, holding onto the ring that he had given Christine, and which she had given him back before leaving with Raoul.
The mob neared. He wrapped himself in his cloak and disappeared. How much work Flitwick had put into those disillusionment charms, they did not know, but they were certainly effective. When the rest of the cast burst into the Phantom's only home, they found only his mask. Ginny held it in the light, and the curtain fell.
A split second later, the audience stood, applauding heartily. The cast reappeared, led by the chorus and the extras.Harry and Seamus came out together, after Ron, and Pansy followed, receiving the loudest applause so far. Malfoy got catcalls and whistles on top of the clapping. Same for Hermione. At Parvati's signal, they stepped aside. The Phantom was walking downstage. He hadn't reversed the spell that deformed his face. The applause was sparse and reluctant. Hermione walked up to him and he bowed to kiss her hand.
As though it had been rehearsed, the crowd exploded in thunderous applause. Cast and crew held hands for the final bow. The Phantom stood in the middle, holding nobody's hand, with Hermione to his right and Malfoy to his left. As they approached, he took their hands and held them together, stepping back. When the crowd blinked, he was no longer there.
The applause redoubled and Ron quietly broke the line to pull Harry into the nearest wing.
'Hey, that's my husband!' Lavender playfully piped in.
'Shut up, Lavender.' Ron turned to Harry in a whisper, 'He's leaving, you said? Then you can't waste time bowing to these people. Hurry up.'
'Hurry... no! Are you mad? I don't want to go there!'
'Of course you do,' Ron countered, dragging him along the deserted corridor. 'Do you think I'm doing this because I like it?'
Onstage, after three curtain calls, Malfoy was ranting at Hermione for the kiss she had shared with his head of House.
'Professor Snape and I just though that we had to do something to match the show that the Bohemians put on.'
'And of course, kissing was the logical course of action.'
'It did cause a bit of a commotion, didn't it?' She smiled sweetly holding his hand for a final bow, as the crowd began to stand.
Harry and Ron had already reached the dungeons.
'Ron, I don't even... how do we even know he's here?'
Ron banged on the door. 'Where'd he go dressed like that? Have a pint at The Three Broomsticks?'
They waited. There was no answer.
'Just to be clear, I don't agree with this,' Ron grumbled irritably.
A different matter flitted into Harry's mind. 'Who were you going to kill? It wasn't me, was it?'
Ron froze, with his fist hand in the air. 'No-one...?'
'You were talking about it with Malfoy.'
Ron frowned, deep in thought. “Oh, right. We were... just talking about giving Nott a lesson.'
Ron stared at him for a moment. 'Right, you were in the hospital wing when Dumbledore told us... it was Nott who tampered with Hermione's food. Dumbledore's made him follow her everywhere now, do her bidding, carry her stuff... like a personal valet. For the whole term! I love Dumbledore,' he finished brightly, banging on the door again. It flung open.
'Do you want to bring down my door, Weasley?'
'I have a Christmas gift for you,' Ron countered coldly. 'And I'll search him for injuries when he goes back upstairs, so you want to be careful,' he added, before turning on his heel and leaving them alone.
'You have a peculiar set of friends...' Severus uttered, gazing at the empty corridor. He had already changed out of the Phantom's costume.
'Yeah,' Harry replied. He stepped inside the familiar office quietly, not sure of what to say next.
Severus closed the door carelessly and turned to look at him. 'I take it he, too, already knows.'
'Yeah... but I didn't tell him--'
'It doesn't matter. It was a matter of time before Miss Granger told him, too.'
Harry stared at him, earnestly searching for words. Ultimately, he opted for, 'You were great.'
'You weren't,' Severus countered plainly. 'You were terrible.'
'No, I wasn't,' Harry replied with a small smile.
'No,' Severus quietly conceded. 'Not quite. But you already know that.'
'Then, why are you here?
Harry hesitated. 'Ron dragged me.'
'Why would he do that?'
'I suppose he was trying to be useful.'
'How useful?' Severus asked pointedly.
'May we go to your bedroom?' Harry blurted out.
'I won't discuss this here as if we're talking about a school assignment!' Harry barked. He really had no ulterior motives. Seconds dripped by, and, to his surprise, Severus turned, leading him silently to his private quarters. Harry sat on the very edge of bed, taking a proper look around for the first time, as Severus warded the door heavily enough to keep even Peeves out. Not that he would have dared disturb one of the Bloody Baron's Slytherins in his own quarters.
It was a rather spartan room, much like its inhabitant. It was a far cry from Harry's own bright, noisy, happy dormitory. But that mattered very little. One of his most precious memories had taken place there. He looked down at Firmin's formal shoes, again searching for words.
'Before you speak, there is something I need to know.'
Harry looked up. He was always the one who asked questions. 'What is it?'
'Are these nightly visits of yours going to become a habit?'
Harry focused on his shoes again, his answer barely audible. 'And if they do?'
'Then I'll have to move to another room and make sure you don't know its location.'
A tense silence followed. Harry had hoped that they would eventually maintain a conversation that wasn't broken by these uncomfortable silences. It looked unlikely.
'You didn't want to have to see me when you came back,' he eventually retorted, echoing Severus' words of just a few days ago.
'How kind of you to remember.'
'Then why did you visit me in the hospital wing?'
'I'm going to rip out Miss Granger's tongue,' was the unfazed reply.
'Why did you touch me onstage?' Harry murmured. 'Why won't you make it easier for me and let me hate you?'
'Do you want me to?'
Harry looked up again. Severus' face was inscrutable. 'No,' he breathed out, countering his own request.
'Potter.' He gazed at Severus. He had always been Potter for him. Even now, he was Potter -- perhaps specially now. Harry was surprised to realise how little it mattered to him, how the developments had led him to a position where a snarled 'Potter' was an acceptable substitute for the name that defined him, his individuality and his worth. 'Potter.'
He jolted back to reality. 'Yes?'
Severus took one step towards him, but froze, as though wary of the teenager huddled on his bed. 'I haven't changed. You've known me for six years, you've loathed me for six years. I'm still that person. I don't even understand what prompted you to change--'
'You've never asked what I saw in you,' Harry cut him off. 'You just waited until I could see it.'
What a highly romanticised version of the events. Harry didn't know why his feelings had changed so dramatically, either, but contrary to everybody else, he couldn't be less invested in finding out why. Considering all doors were closing on him, introspection seemed to be a useless effort.
'You were right,' Harry said at last. 'I didn't know what I was asking for.'
Another of those unbearable silences followed.
'It couldn't have ended differently.'
'I-- I know where I stand with you,' Harry tried desperately, one last attempt. 'We could--'
'No. We couldn't.'
'It could work. I could control myself.'
'There's a tiny room adjacent to the Great Hall bearing witness to the fact that I don't always control myself.'
'I wouldn't mi--'
Harry resisted the urge to bury his head in his hands with great difficulty.
'I must go, now,' Severus reminded him.
'Let me stay,' Harry whispered. His head was heavy.
'Just for a bit,' Harry muttered almost inaudibly.
'I really must go.'
'I won't be here again. Give me just a moment.'
Severus relented, heaving a deep sigh. Harry gazed vacantly at the walls for minutes on end. It was a good pretext to keep them in the same room for a bit longer. But they would eventually have to leave, and it would be irreversible...
'Would you do something else for me?'
'And then you'll leave?'
Harry hesitated for a tiny moment, but then he nodded.
'What is it?'
'Will you sing for me?'
Severus did a doubletake. 'That's a completely silly idea.'
'Nobody's ever sung for me.' It was the cheapest of blows, it reeked of a need beyond even that of which Severus had once accused him, but Harry knew that it was also his best argument. I fell for you when I heard you sing, was just too laughable to be voiced. 'And I'd like to hear you sing again. Just a few bars...'
'Sing what?' Severus rather looked like he couldn't believe his own words.
Harry's choice had been made months ago. 'Only then can you belong to me...' he intoned with a sad smile.
Severus seemed to be repressing a snort, but, eventually, the lowest of low voices reached Harry's ears. 'Don't be here when I come back.'
Harry nodded with his eyes closed, waiting for the next words, which, he was now sure, would come.
'Let the dream begin, let your darker side give in, to the power of the music...'
'... of the night,' Harry mouthed along. He opened his eyes. Severus had approached him. He kneeled before Harry, scanning his face for reactions. It had all begun this way -- with Severus kneeling concernedly beside him, his brow set and his wand drawn.
'Don't obliviate me,' Harry murmured.
Severus considered his wand and Harry's face for a moment. Then he hoisted himself up just a bit, just so could be at eye level with Harry. Harry closed his eyes, repressing a gulp.
There was a faint, yet lingering brush of lips against his forehead. Harry's eyes flew open again. A kiss. A chaste, tender kiss, unlike any that they had shared. Their parting kiss, at last.
Severus didn't look away as he raised his wand and whispered, 'Nox.'
'You alone can make my song take flight; it's over now, the music of the night...'
And their show, too, was now over.
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