Havoc of the Opera
Chapter 17 - All She Asked of Him
Hermione had been waiting for him in the common room. Her head snapped in his direction when Harry, having eluded the boisterous crowd on its way to breakfast, closed the door behind himself. Still dripping more than his weight in raindrops, he gratefully noted that she was no longer wearing anything other than her school robes.
There was an infinitesimal pause during which she folded and unfolded her hands nervously and Harry's fringe dripped unceremoniously onto his eyes. Then they spoke in unison.
They anxiously scanned each other's face for reactions. Hermione eventually nodded timidly, and was surprised at the grin that spread on Harry's face. He could barely believe the extent of his own relief.
She blushed deeply, twisting her hands. 'You're drenched,' she pointed out unnecessarily, turning her back to him. 'Shouldn't you--'
Her shoulders slumped at his tone. She walked over to the fireplace, gesturing for him to join her. 'Come sit here, at least. It's warmer.'
He obeyed, plopping down on the armchair beside hers. She looked at him expectantly.
'Snape,' she repeated. 'It was Snape?'
For the first time this year, she hadn't called him 'Professor'. And Harry couldn't help noticing the barely-disguised distaste in the way she was looking at him.
Harry sighed. Perhaps it was better to get Snape out of the way before even mentioning Malfoy. 'Yes, Hermione,' he coaxed patiently, 'what do you want to know?'
Her eyes shifted, as she groped about for the right words. 'I would like to know... first, I would like to know... how serious this is.'
She nodded. 'When you said you had kissed, er, someone, you were talking about-- Snape?'
Why, Harry?' she finally let out, her voice breaking on his name.
'I don't know,' he answered honestly. A short, yet heavy silence followed. 'But I'd like to know why you're making that face. You're the one who's been defending him all along.'
'Yes,' she wheezed, 'but I didn't think he would-- he could--'
Harry didn't like her tone one bit. Someone who had woken up in a techer's quarters had absolutely no business looking at him that way.
'Harry, he... he doesn't like you, he--'
'He's not very fond of me, no. But we already knew that.' Harry shrugged. Hermione caught a glimpse of the red marks on his neck through his dissarrayed collar and she visibly, physically, flinched.
'Harry, what has he done to you?' she pleaded, her bushy hair framing her face dramatically.
'Nothing,' Harry snapped. 'Nothing that I didn't want him to do.'
With her wide, tired eyes, and her horrified expression, she looked so unattractive that Harry almost laughed at the thought that just a few minutes ago, he had been jealous. Conveniently, he forgot that he, too, wasn't looking his best, and that it hadn't stopped Snape from doing anything.
'We just kissed, Hermione, that's all,' he clarified with a sigh.
'He's a teacher, Harry!' That detail seemed to disturb her almost as much as the identity of the teacher in question. 'Don't you see--'
'I see that, from your point of view, relationships with the Slytherins are only acceptable when they involve you,' Harry snapped. It was unfair, and it strayed sharply from the apology he had intended, but Hermione's reaction was becoming quite hard to absorb.
She started, and then held her head high proudly. 'All I meant was that this would be a very complicated situation even if we weren't talking about Snape. As it is, I...' Her expression changed, as another, apparently more shocking, thought occurred to her. 'Ron! He told me so many times-- and I never believed him...!'
'Ron doesn't know what he's talking about,' Harry cut her off, in a tone that he had never used in connection with their absent best friend. 'He doesn't even realise half the girls in the school could lie down to let him step on them.'
'But he was right about Snape, wasn't he?'
'He was wrong!' Harry shouted. A ghostly head appeared through the wall, gaping in startlement at them and disappearing immediately. Harry lowered his voice. 'He hasn't done anything to me. I wish he would. All he does is... make sure my hopes are never up.'
Something in his voice must had tickled Hermione's sympathy, for she tilted her head sadly, and asked in a much gentler tone, 'You really like him...?'
'And he...? Does he know? What does he say about it?'
Harry suppressed a snort. 'You must know. You saw us, on the day I told him.'
She stared at him in beffuddlement for a long moment. And then her eyes widened in horror. This time, Harry snorted.
'He won't even look at me. It's like everybody in the school is worthier of a glance, just a glance, than me.'
'Harry, it... it really is sensible on his part -- that he-- that he tries to...'
'It hurts.' Harry added flatly.
Hermione placed her hand over his wet one, squeezing gently to make sure he understood she wasn't accusing him. 'Is that why you've been snapping at me at odd times? You thought we were... having a fling, or something?'
'I'm barely allowed to address him,' Harry clipped out bitterly, 'And you're allowed in his private quarters every day. What could I think?'
'Harry, he's never been less than utterly respectful to me.'
'I know,' he relented. 'I know, now. But you... this is completely pathetic, but you have a part of him that I'll never have, he treats you in a way that I know he'll never treat me, and it just...' Harry trailed off, silently cursing his wretched tone.
'The way he treats me really isn't-- all right, he's gentle, and attentive, and it's not something we would expect from Snape, and I suppose that in itself is, well, special, but you wouldn't even blink it it were anybody else.'
'You're not helping,' Harry grumbled.
'I know,' Hermione smiled sadly, 'But I can't help feeling that it's best if nothing else happens. I... it's relieving to know that Professor Snape hasn't been playing with you, but... but, should this go further, I'm not at all sure that he'd be above doing it.'
Neither was Harry. Yet a shattered bit of his mind was much more inclined to be toyed with than to be discarded indifferently, as it had until that morning. Until that kiss that told him there was something in it for him. Something brief, something disastrous, perhaps, but something. Something to remember.
But he couldn't tell Hermione that, so he switched to the other matter at hand.
'And speaking of unfortunate choices, how about you and Malfoy? How did he convince you to stay for the night?'
'I didn't spend the night with him!' she replied indignantly.
A cold tension creeped into Harry's nerve-endings again. 'Snape said you had.'
She did a doubletake at his icy tone. 'Well... he didn't lie, but... he could have worded it in fifty better ways, if that's what he said.' She sighed deeply. 'But he was very helpful, so I mustn't complain.'
Hermione looked down, flushing deeply. 'I went downstairs to talk to Blaise, like I believe I told you,' she explained, marking the last three words clearly, 'He joined us. Somehow, they let me in their common room... and when Blaise went to bed, he stayed. We talked for a bit.'
'And...? Harry droned, in the same tone as before.
'And then it was horribly late and there was Quidditch practice, and I left. That's all,' she finished hastily. 'By the way, shouldn't you...?'
'It can wait. Where does Snape enter this story?'
Hermione sniffed. 'He heard me in the corridor, I think. I... I was so worried that I might be caught, or that you might see me, that he let me in. We talked a bit about tonight's rehearsal, and then... I was so tired,' she added pitifully. 'He let me sleep for a bit.'
'I was cold, Harry, I wasn't properly dressed for the dungeons. He lent it to me. I wasn't planning on letting anybody see me wearing it,' she explained, a shadow of her usual tone returning to her voice.
'Oh,' Harry said simply. Then his mind turned in a different direction. 'You were alone and you... talked? Until dawn?'
Hermione shrugged. 'Well, we... we had six years' worth of things to say. It was so... comfortable, so enriching...' She paused for a moment, lost in thought. 'But he didn't try anything, if that's what you're asking.'
Hermione flushed. 'I-- I couldn't! I was in his common room! It would be so... decadent...!'
'He must be made of steel,' Harry commented offhandedly, now much readier to be generous with her current looks.
'Or perhaps he's more interested in Ginny?' she ventured.
'Pansy says he's absolutely not.'
Hermione blinked rapidly at him. 'Pansy?!'
'Long story,' Harry said dismissively. 'She's sure that he's got a thing for you.'
'And you... don't mind?' she asked hesitantly.
'It's not my bloodline he's insulted all these years,' Harry smirked. 'If you're comfortable with it... go ahead.'
Hermione smiled weakly. 'Your lips are turning blue, by the way.'
Harry stood. 'Besides, considering my preferences... I can't really criticise yours,' he pointed out.
She grasped his wrist. 'Harry... what are you going to do about Professor Snape?'
'I don't know,' Harry said, after a long pause. 'Nothing that you'd approve of, apparently.'
Hermione gazed at him in extreme concern, as he disappeared behind the door that led to the boys' dormitory.
As expected, Snape ignored him completely throughout the rehearsal. He no longer went out of his way to avoid Harry, which was probably a terrible sign, but Harry clung to it as a good omen. Seeing him with Hermione, albeit uncomfortable, was no longer the agony it had been.
Sometime during their next rehearsal, she and Malfoy made such a loud scene that everybody, even Snape, had stopped to look at them. They had been working on the All I Ask of You sequence, the love song, which Harry had thought would be easy work for the new, if clandestine, lovebirds.
Apparently not. After a half hour of bickering that ended in a scandalous show of mutual accusations, McGonagall dismissed them cooly, demanding, in a tone that simply defied them to think of disobeying her, that they didn't return before they were 'civilised and ready to work rather than upset everybody else with ridiculous tantrums.'
They glared at her, a first for Hermione, as they stomped through the barrier and into Bohemian territory. There, Dumbledore stuck his head out of a metal elephant to smile benevolently at them, but they walked on without noticing. Finally out of the Great Hall, they leant against opposite sides of the oak doors, glowering quietly.
'We're going to be here for a long time, aren't we?' Hermione sulked.
'Malfoy snorted derisively. 'Whose fault is it?'
He looked like he was about to answer, but ultimately decided against it. He sat on the stone steps and ran his hands through his hair. A long, heavy, sulking silence followed.
'Are you just going to sit there?'
He looked up, his hair standing on end. 'Want to go back in and face McGonagall's wrath?'
'Erm... I was just thinking we could... you know... work. I know it's a foreign concept for you, but--'
'Funny that you mention it. I was working, rather well, I have to say, until you had that preposterous fit and had us thrown from the room!'
'I had a fit?!'
'Oh, no, I did,' he snarked. 'You're right. Let's work. It's got to be more useful than this.'
She sniffed, concentrating with some difficulty. 'All right. From where we left off.'
'Huh, the shout or the accusation?'
She pursed her lips. 'Malfoy, just cue me.'
'What's the cue, again?' he grumbled to himself.
'Well, if you don't know it yet, you might as well give up.'
He appeared to be repressing the urge to hit her. 'For someone who's forgot her lines four times in half an hour, you're pretty snotty, aren't you? Here goes. No more talk of darkness, forget these--'
'I only forgot my lines because your little stunts distracted me!'
'Wasn't that Potter distracting you?' he snapped. 'Seeing as you couldn't take your eyes off him, and all?'
'I'd have kept my eyes on you if you were there!'
'We were working!'
'Either that or you just can't keep it under control for more than five minutes!'
He gazed at her venomously. 'You don't know how close you are to seeing just how under control it is, Granger. Now, as I was saying... I'm here, nothing can harm you...'
Hermione snorted noisily. 'Sure.'
He swore loudly. 'Ok. Let's get this out of the way. I wasn't doing anything wrong -- with Ginny or anybody else. Now, will you just say that you love me every waking moment and be done with it? I want to go back inside.'
'Oh, I'm sorry that I'm such bad company!' she shouted. The suits of armour in the corridor creaked and all portraits turned in her direction, surprised to see that the model student was making a scene.
'I'm going for a walk,' Malfoy replied tiredly.
'Oh, are you?! While we're working?'
He leered at her and turned on his heel.
'Don't even talk to me unless you really mean to work,' He was already on the second flight of stairs.
'Oh, this is...' She ran up the stairs, after him.
'Your cue, Granger!'
'Promise me that all you say is true,' she relented, feeling completely ridiculous when the passing ghosts stopped to look at her. 'Your turn!' she shouted in the silence, reaching the next flight of stairs and seeing no-one there.
He sang his own line from up above, and she swore inwardly, climbing faster to meet him. This went on through several floors, until, at last, Hermione made one final turn and glimpsed him standing at the very top of the next flight of stairs, leaning against the railing, his back turned to her.
'All right, this is absurd,' she panted, climbing up to him. 'This is useless, we can't even work on the blocking--'
He turned to face her, looking so pale, so somber, that the words caught in her throat. Her very first reaction, which she regretted instantly, was to look over her shoulder to see that she hadn't fallen in some sort of trap.
'There's nobody else,' he informed her quietly.
'Why are we here?' she whispered, without understanding why. For all his brash demeanor, he looked more ill at ease than she had ever seen him. 'Malfoy?'
'Hermione,' he replied calmly. He had never addressed her by her first name. 'You missed your cue.'
'Say the word and I will follow you...' she parrotted mechanically, only then realising, only then hazarding the thought that maybe... but this was too far-fetched, even for him...
An odd, understanding silence spread between them, as she waited for the reply that never came.
He looked quite rigid. His voice was hoarse, when it came.
'This is... very unusual for me,' he confessed, his eyes set on the patch of floor between them. He seemed to be choosing his words with great care. 'I've always been taught that... one shouldn't advertise one's feelings in public -- unless you mean to brag about something.' He looked up with a faltering smile.
She nodded slowly.
'So, this is... as close as I'll probably get to--' She placed a shushing finger on his lips, the first time she touched him, really touched him. It felt more intimate than any of the reluctant kisses they had shared during rehearsals.
'It doesn't have to be public for me to believe it,' she said simply. He smiled under her finger, his lips brushing it lightly. She withdrew it with a light flush. 'And you missed your cue.'
He breathed in sharply. 'Share each day with me, each night, each morning...'
'Say you love me,' she replied. He didn't. Instead, he took her hand and placed it over his heart, looking solemnly down at it.
The air between them was thick. Any recollections of the following lines seemed to have fled them.
'Very good, children,' Nearly Headless Nick complimented them on his way to the library, three floors below, 'I cannot wait to see you performing.'
'Are you in a hurry to go back downstairs?' Malfoy asked quietly, barely noticing the ghost floating past them. Hermione shook her head, turning pink. He then took her hand, walking slowly up and down the corridor.
The door to the Room of Requirement weaved out of the wall, awaiting them. Hermione started, looking at it questioningly.
'Ginny told me how to get in,' Malfoy explained. She huffed audibly, and the sound made him turn around to face her. 'She knew I wanted to bring you here. She was the only one who knew.'
The tenderness in her gaze at these words mystified him. Before either knew what had prompted them to do it, they had drawn each other close and kissed, gently, tenderly, aware that, now, they had all the time in the world.
A wave of whistles and soft clapping broke them apart. They spun around, to face what appeared to be every inhabitant of every portrait on that floor, perhaps the whole school, even, smiling corteously at them. A few of the older ones gazed adoringly at them. Others sternly told off their strident neighbours, demanding that they respected the students' privacy.
Malfoy's face had turned so red that Hermione's pink cheeks looked composed in comparison.
'The door,' Hermione suggested quietly. He nodded stiffly, walking to it with his head hung low and Hermione's hand firmly enclosed in his. The door swung open to let them pass.
'Ladies, gentlemen,' Malfoy turned to face their audience, 'I'm afraid our show is still a few weeks away.' With that, he and Hermione disappeared inside the room. In spite of the portraits' vocal protests, the door closed quite solidly behind them. Protected by the walls and the host of silencing charms that surrounded them, only Hermione and Malfoy really knew what happened inside the school's safest shelter.
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