Havoc of the Opera

Chapter 5 - Damsel in Distress

By Roman


Hermione only rejoined them in Hogwarts, announcing that her day had been lovely and asking about theirs. Ron, who had been sitting by the window, stood and left, ostensively for dinner, as soon as she and her beaming smile entered the room.

'Where were you? There was no trace of you all day!' Dean asked. Ginny glared at him.

'Blaise wanted to, er, show me his favourite places,' Hermione replied, pink to the ears. 'They're not very visited.'

'I like him,' Ginny said supportively.

'He's great company,' Hermione added dreamily. 'Where's Ron?"

Harry had never seen her less perceptive, but he didn't have the energy to be bothered. The others had left him alone in sympathy with the remedial lesson ordeal, and he had fumed about Snape's sanctimonious attitude all afternoon. And now, the faint shadow of remorse he felt confused him. For months, whenever he could muster the strength to think about that terrible day for a second, he had blamed Snape. He had fantasised about cornering the man to tell him what he thought of him and his outdated grudge. And yet, now that he had voiced some of it, he felt self-conscious. Snape had listened to his rant without flinching, and somehow, it made him feel infantile -- and unfair.

Harry rested his face on his hands, trying to string two coherent thoughts together. When he looked up again, he was alone with a madly scribbling Hermione.

'I almost forgot my Arithmancy essay,' she said, somewhat apologetically, gripping the parchment tightly, trying to write faster.

'Where's... everybody else?

'Downstairs for dinner. I'm almost done... do you mind waiting just another moment?'

Harry nodded his assent, focusing on his thoughts again. All right, perhaps he could have saved the accusations for a more appropriate occasion. But they were still true. Snape was a git, he hated Harry and the world at large, and he was probably still celebrating Sirius'...

'Done. Let's go, Harry.'

The Great Hall was packed. They walked up to Ron, who immediately moved to a free spot between Neville and Seamus. A peculiar scene was unfolding a few feet away. Malfoy and Ginny were talking in a conspiratorial manner, oblivious to everyone's gazes.

Hermione, looking slightly hurt with Ron, spoke up, 'They're talking, now?'

'In a manner of speaking,' Dean informed her, without tearing his eyes from the pair. 'Malfoy came over to announce that they needed to talk, and that it was all the same for him if they did it in private or here, with us. She went with him.'

'What could they have to say to each other?' Harry wondered.

'I'd like to know,' Dean replied somberly.

'Well, they haven't drawn their wands yet, that's a good sign.'

They approached Ron, for a closer look, and this time he didn't stand at Hermione's arrival. He was concentrated on Ginny's serious face and the scattered words that they could hear.

'I'll talk to you tomorrow.'

'Today,' Malfoy insisted.

'I need to digest this, Malfoy. Tomorrow -- during the rehearsal.'


'Look at me that way again, and it's never.'

A few nervous words later, both went back to their places, and everyone looked vacant.

'... are you all ok?'

'What did Malfoy want?' Dean snapped, offering her a place. She sighed.

'To discuss the play. He can be really obsessive, little bugger. Thinks he owns the truth.' she snorted. "On the other hand, Hermione, I think he's starting to care about his part. Maybe he'll work properly from now on.' She elaborated no further, and they let her be. If Dean had no problem with it, they had best stay out of it.

Harry, however, was preoccupied with his own business, and his gaze wandered to the staff table of its own volition. McGonagall whispered in the ear of a faintly smiley Dumbledore. Snape was obviously displeased with his favourite student, but his warning looks seemed to bounce off Malfoy. Ginny sprinted up to the dormitory as soon as she was allowed.

As they vacated the table, Hermione commented with Harry that she and Snape had begun to work on their scenes together. Harry bid her good luck, paused to cast a filthy glance at the staff table, and went straight to bed.

After a light slumber, in which a dark figure glided indifferently away from him, he tossed and turned for hours, only to drift off restlessly again, listening to the apologetic voice that said, 'I'm expected -- I can't stay'. It wasn't right, they should be approaching, not sliding apart, Harry thought through the haze, spotting a beckoning figure far ahead. The man followed it, and Harry ran towards them, and it was clearer, now - it was Hermione. Harry relaxed. It was just a rehearsal and no-one would be leaving. But as they approached, Hermione's body grew, her face distorted, and her welcoming smile became a lipless leer. When Harry reached her, he saw with horror that she had turned into Voldemort. Harry wanted to warn the man, tell him to run away, but he turned to Harry with a quiet 'You shouldn't be here', and it was Snape, it was clearly Snape, despite the mask that was stretching across his face, the Phantom's mask turning into a Death Eater's, it was Snape turning his back on him, his one visible eye apologetic as he went away with a wildly cackling Voldemort, leaving Harry alone in the dark.

When Harry finally woke up, he was freezing, in spite of the warm sunshine crawling over his bed.

Ron and Hermione weren't speaking, so his arrival at the breakfast table with a heavily edited summary of his dreams provided a welcome neutral subject for conversation. And he really needed to talk about this one. He wanted to undertand it, and above all, he had to know why it upset him so.

'Are you sure it wasn't a vision, mate?' Ron sounded worried. 'A man being taken by You-know-who...sure it wasn't real?'

'It was a dream. They were all dreams,' Harry clarified firmly. 'This one just... felt so premonitory. The man never coming back, ever.'

'Well, if they're just nightmares...?' Hermione began sensibly.

'If they're just nightmares, I shouldn't feel sick waking up, should I?' Harry snapped.

'Harry, it's perfectly natural to be upset waking up from a nightmare, but dwelling on it...?'

'That man in the dream, did he have a face?' Ron suddenly asked.

Harry started. 'No. I couldn't see who it was.'

'Are you worried about someone?'

'No! I mean, yes... the two of you-- the usual--'

'I'm flattered,' Hermione grimaced. 'But you really should stop reading too much into nightmares and focus on any actual visions. They are our real problem.' Ron nodded in agreement, glomping his porridge at great speed. They were late.

'You said someone was walking up to me and then I turned into Lord Voldemort?' Hermione asked, after a short silence. Harry nodded. She was thoughtful.

'Then the man might have been Professor Snape...' she finally said.

Harry's very blood froze. Ron stared at him. 'You've been dreaming about Snape?!'


'I just meant,' Hermione sighed, 'that we had been talking about him before we went to bed last night...'

'You had?!' Ron made a face.

'... thus making it natural that it would carry into your dreams, tense as you are. Ron's right, Harry, don't worry too much about it.'

'Potter, Weasleys, do you need a formal invitation?'

They raised their eyes. Only the Gryffindor and Slytherin Quidditch teams remained in the Hall, waiting for Harry, Ron and Ginny, who was still engrossed in conversation with Dean, a few feet away from the trio.

'Coming,' Harry grunted, getting to his feet.

'They're right, we shouldn't keep them waiting,' Hermione hurried to reach Blaise, who stepped forth and offered her his arm.

Only Ron noticed that Malfoy hadn't addressed them as 'Potty and Weasels', or worse, as he usually did. He smirked at the arrogant young man leaning against the wall and turned away, missing the ghostly nod his sister directed at Malfoy.

At least they're speaking again, Harry thought on his way out. When they returned, exhausted and sweaty, the furniture had been waltzed away again, and they barely had time to lunch, because Hermione and Blaise were already throwing a fit about wasting precious time. Malfoy waited until Hermione went up to Snape, and approached Ginny, whisking her away from McGonagall in the blink of an eye. Ron signalled for Harry and Dean. They slipped around the others to get closer to the pair.

'I don't know, Malfoy, I'll have to think about this...'

'What have you been doing so far?!'

'I like him.'

'... good for you?'

'If I must choose between him and you...'

'Nobody's asking you to do that.'

'... he wins.'

'How melodramatic.'

'I need to think.'

'How long?'

'... few days.'

'... can't wait that long.'

Ron walked silently away, taking the others along. As they tried to make sense of what they had heard, Ginny rejoined her Head of house and Malfoy approached Pansy. Dean was so serious that Ron felt he had to say something. 'I know it didn't sound good, but--'

'It wasn't just me?'

'To me it just sounded liked Malfoy was being himself and trying to force Ginny into something,' Harry pointed out. 'And as usual, she proved that she can defend herself.'

'Dunno, she looked cooperative enough.'

'You're talking about my sister, mate,' Ron reminded him. 'She wouldn't do anything like that.'

'Of course not,' Dean quickly answered. 'I trust her. But I don't trust him.'

'The other day, Hermione said that Malfoy's been obsessing a bit about this performance. They were probably just trying to adapt their text,' Harry added brightly. He, too, trusted Ginny to at least have the decency of breaking up with Dean before moving on to someone else. But Malfoy seemed too far-fetched an option, even for the most rebellious of the Weasleys.

Seamus shouted for Harry. It was time to work. Hermione walked backwards to the stage, smiling at Blaise, who was trying to wrench Pansy from Malfoy's arm. People were gathering for the opening scene, and Malfoy joined them, barking at Pansy to get off him, and glaring at the stage, where Snape and Hermione were discussing a scene as discreetly as they could. Neville instinctively offered his hand to the staggering Pansy, but she brushed him off.

'Fine. Have it your way,' he grunted, swearing at her in a voice to soft that only the serpent on the nearby Slytherin banner heard him. It hissed reproachfully.

Onstage, Hermione had sat on the floor, looking up at Snape with a pitying expression, and he loomed over her, looking miserable. She touched his extended hand, pretending to give him something. 'The mask,' Harry thought, 'She's seeing him for the first time.'

Hermione took the hand Snape offered her, he addressed Harry and Seamus, who were still looking for their scripts, as 'those two fools who run my theatre', and, hand in hand, they sprinted through the crows towards the barrier. The Bohemians were remarkably quiet. Harry wondered what they were doing, and if any of them was going through his inner turmoil. The thought of Flitwick singing Cho a song was funny. He recalled that Cho wasn't in the school any more, and somehow, it was even funnier.

Blaise was now giving them instructions for the Il Muto sequence. 'Most of you are required onstage for this one, and we're not quite ready for that yet. Just to give us a general idea of what we need to do, I suggest you show us your sequences in pairs, in the right order.'

They agreed. It was a rather chaotic scene, and readying for it took them as long as actually doing it. Hermione was now centre stage, calling Raoul. An agitated Malfoy stepped onstage and embraced her, pleading with her to go with him. Ron thought that he should have looked more fierce. Hermione, shivering from head to toe, dragged him in the opposite direction, murmuring something about the roof.

Her acting had greatly improved, Harry thought, observing her pale face and bright eyes. 'She really should put on a stronger voice, though. What did she just say?' he asked himself. But he had no time to elaborate on his criticism, because, as she pulled Malfoy to her, for the ending, she swayed ominously and collapsed on him, unconscious.

For a second, they thought she was improvising. Lavender even commented that it would look very nice if Raoul had to carry Christine offstage. But then, Malfoy's knees gave way under the unexpected weight, and he too, collapsed, with Hermione on his lap and her head lurching somberly against his chest. He looked genuinely mortified. Turning to a wide-eyed Ron, Harry barely had time to see it, but there it was, the piercing, accusatory look from Ginny. Harry turned instinctively to Malfoy, who was clearly mouthing, 'I didn't do anything!'

Now everyone had crowded around them, suggesting wet towels, salts, assorted spells to revive Hermione. Blaise had run to her side, but had no heart to pull her out of Malfoy's arms. Her pallor was deathly, her lips and eyelids were ashen. The veins in her hands were blue against the white skin. Even Malfoy had more colour than her.

Harry, Ron and the others elbowed their way after Blaise. Ron, too, was pale, but Ginny was flushed. She approached Malfoy from behind and hissed, 'What have you done to her?'

He nearly dropped Hermione at this, but, getting a grip on himself and holding her more securely, he said loudly, 'I did nothing! She fainted on me. Perhaps you should feed her!'

Ron stood menacingly in front of him.

'I didn't do anything,' Malfoy repeated, looking Ginny in the eye. He sounded sincere.

'He's telling the truth,' Seamus said tentatively. 'I was here when it happened. She just fainted.' Harry had to nod his agreement. He, too, had seen nothing.

'I'm not even carrying my wand,' Malfoy sounded irritated, now. His chest heaved, making Hermione's head sway somberly.

'This does not seem to have been provoked by a wand,' said a deep voice that made Harry's hair stand on end.

McGonagall looked sternly at Snape. 'We can theorise later. She needs assistance -- now.'

'Indeed,' Snape agreed. 'Malfoy, take her to the hospital wing.'

Several Gryffindors started. Parkinson glared at her Head of house in a way that Harry had never seen her do. He doubted that she would have done it if Snape weren't completely focused on Hermione, who squirmed and jerked awake at last, looking blankly at the badges on Malfoy's robes, which gleamed in front of her nose. She raised her eyes to his face and, after a moment, her arms began to flail madly. He almost lost his balance, but eventually managed to dodge her arms.

'You fainted,' he said, as neutrally as he could, 'It's... all right. We're taking you to the hospital wing.'

She took a moment to fully grasp what he was saying, and then she tried to sit up. He uncomfortably helped her.

'N-no, I-- I can do it on my own. I--' she gasped, as she swayed against him again.

McGonagall breathed deeply. 'Mr Malfoy, I believe you had your orders?'

'I can do it,' Ron and Blaise said simultaneously.

'There's no point. Mr Malfoy has lost his partner, and you both have work to do. You, in particular, should know that the director is indispensable, Mr Zabini.' McGonagall glanced at Hermione, who was having trouble breathing, and scowled at Malfoy. 'Well, what are you waiting for?'

Malfoy looked at her incredulously. Snape nodded imperceptibly and he sighed, scooping Hermione up and making his way to the barrier that stood between them and the door. He almost looked like he wanted to hold her at armīs length. She, too, only seemed to be grasping his arms out of sheer need.

All eyes followed them as they left. Harry was rather uncomfortable with the thought that a very fragile Hermione was about to be alone with Malfoy. Snape seemed to read his mind.

'Make sure Miss Granger reaches the hospital wing in no worse a condition than the one she displays now,' he called, just as Malfoy reached the barrier. There was a tense pause before Malfoy looked over his shoulder.

'Yes, sir,' he said curtly.

'You will stay for Madam Pomfrey's diagnosis and report back to me. Miss Granger, too, will want to hear the details when she's in a condition to listen. If she is released tonight, which I doubt, you will bring her back. Understood?'

'Understood, sir,' Malfoy clipped out, stepping into Bohemian territory. Through his burgeoning panic, Harry thought that the Bohemians' faces would be priceless.

The incident had turned their focus completely away from the rehearsal, but it was very late when they finally left the Great Hall. There was something ominous about one of their own collapsing amidst them, as though gripped by an invisible, unbeatable power. Few of them could forget the mood that had begun to take hold of the wizarding world. Most couldn't avoid making eerie connections.

More than once, Blaise valiantly tried to restore the order, but he was visibly upset, and it seemed to be contagious, even though Hermione wasn't a particularly popular girl. Against all odds, it was Ron who showed a remarkable professionalism, calling Pansy and Neville to him, in order to work on Carlotta's entrance. Yet, no-one failed to notice his covert glances at the barrier.

Dinner came, and only then did Malfoy arrive, tired and paler than usual, announcing that Hermione would have to stay in the hospital wing for the night. 'She still has trouble breathing, and she can barely speak. Madam Pomfrey thinks it's safer to keep her there.'

'Well, when that one's too weak to speak...' Pansy began, cheerily.

'Madam Pomfrey just wants to examine her properly. She--' Malfoy rolled his eyes. 'She asked me to tell the Gryffindors not to worry.'

Ron stood. 'Well, let's go see her, then.'

Blaise made to follow him, but Malfoy added, with an unpleasant smirk. 'She also requests that there are no visitors tonight. Only tomorrow.'

'What, she'll still be there tomorrow?'

'She might have to skip the first couple of classes. Knowing her, though, I wouldn't count on such niceties.' Malfoy picked up his script and moved far away from Ron.

That was the end of the rehearsal. They began to gather their belongings, with Ron and Blaise prostrate amid them, companions in concern. At some point, Snape spoke from behind them, althouh nobody had noticed him moving.

'If Miss Granger isn't asleep yet, I'm quite sure she would like her friends to bid her good night.'

'But Madam Pomfrey--'

'Has a heart of gold. She'll take you in for two minutes -- although I wouldn't attempt a third one.'

'But--' Ron attempted.

'Unless, of course, you aren't as interested in your friend's well-being as you pretend to be, in which case...' Snape shrugged as though to imply that it was none of his business, and pointed at his own chair. 'Potter, your things are over there.'

Ron and Blaise left quietly, and Harry reached for his bag. From the corner of his eye, he could see Ginny crossing the room to talk to Malfoy.

'Thank you,' he said quietly, 'For letting them visit her. They'd be miserable--'

'I didn't do it for them,' Snape replied, as if the very thought offended him. Harry looked up.

'If your many levels of misery mattered the least bit to me, I would have told you to go with them. I did it for Miss Granger.'

'Thank you for that, then. She'd have been miserable all alone, too.'

Snape smirked. 'I'm sure an attention-seeker finds a night in the hospital wing rather lonely, but I doubt Miss Granger fills those shoes as well as you do. I did it solely because her welfare is my responsibility and it would do her no good to have two loud teenagers sitting outside the door all night. You might want to save your thanks for more deserving situations.' Snape whirled away without another word.

Harry stared at his undullating robes. Hermione's welfare was Snape's responsibility, but Harry's wasn't? The hell...?

'I'm not an attention seeker,' he said audibly, tossing his bag over his shoulder and walking out in a huff. He didn't notice Snape watching the back of his head. As he went, he could hear loose words in an argument that seemed to issue from one of the walls. It was Ginny's voice.

'... I ever find out--'

'Do... really think...?'

'Let's see... yes!'

Malfoy's answer was almost inaudible. 'I promised... wouldn't. I... my word.'

'... break it now... ends... here!'

Harry couldn't make out Malfoy's answer to that, but he couldn't be bothered with them. All he could think of was that the way Hermione's ashen face had lit up when Snape instructed Malfoy to treat her well was dreadful, and Harry never wanted to see it happen again.

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