Chapter Four, In Which I Become a Repeat Offender
I was sure the events of the past week were a dream. I was curled up tight, my face pressed into something soft and smelling vaguely of mint, my back offered to the world outside – a habit I'd learned during my prison sentence, as my "blood relatives" had a tendency to throw things to wake me. I have nightmares, you see, more constantly then when I was younger, and by far more detailed then they ever used to be. There is a green light, like a stop-light exploded, one I now know now to be the light of the Killing Curse, which no one but me has ever survived. There is laughter so malevolent I wish I could say I'd never heard it again, though I'm sorry to say I have. And then there are my parents' voices, and screams I know that they could not have made as they died, extrapolated from that one memory I have. That is my mind's favourite nightmare, but there are others, of Basilisks that loom and turbaned DADA teachers that die as I touch them; things that I have, logically, moved past but that scared the mind of a girl already frightened, in a world so fantastic and un-understandable that it might have been a dream itself. My nightmares have a tendency to wake everyone near me.
I've slept under a silencing charm at Hogwarts since I learned one.
I was warm, though, and comfortable, and woke feeling like I'd just had a very good dream, though I couldn't remember the details – I never could, unless it was a nightmare, - all fuzzy inside. Like things might turn out okay and, indeed, already had. Obviously, my fights with Ron and Hermione were only the delusions of a mind that had eaten too many sweets with dinner, and my entering of the tournament a thought run away with itself.
And then I opened my eyes, any found myself curled up on a too small couch in a dungeon office, a warm blanket placed carefully around me. My borrowed gold shoes were placed neatly near the top of my "bed," glasses folded atop them. My hair and face felt grimy from too many potions left on each for too long, and I strongly had the feeling one gets have having slept in clothes not meant to be slept in.
I muttered the first curse word that came to mind, then a couple more for good measure, and sat up quickly, trying to loose the knot between my shoulder blades at the same time. Needless to say, this didn't exactly work, and I probably came across looking like a floozy with a hangover, as my brain was too busy trying to process the events of last evening.
Ball? Check. Dancing, yes, I recalled that, though my feet didn't ache. Perhaps that part was a dream? Never mind, onward. The necessary Ron-Hermione fight, yes, that was clearly there. Snape-
I'd fallen asleep in Snape's office. Oh, oh my. And, even more startlingly, perhaps, he'd covered me in a blanket rather than wake me.
Someone had defiantly spiked whatever it was Snape had been drinking. Yes, that had to be it. Or maybe the nargles had gotten him and were using him to do their disreputable acts of good-doing and aid-giving.
This is why I really should never be forced to attend balls: without a certain amount of sleep, my mind becomes useless. As a defence mechanism, or something of the sort, I become helplessly tired at night (the only time I would have to myself at Azkaban South) so I can get those requisite eight hours. The only time this has not been true is during times where I've almost been killed, where I'm generally too pumped up on epinephrine to sleep for days. Hermione says it's really because I've never been eaten properly or received adequate medical care until coming to Hogwarts (being the genius she is, she knows things are worse at "home" than I let on) and this is my body's way of protecting itself.
But whatever. I have more pressing problems. I, clad in a strapless gold dress robe that I was seen by all to be wearing last night with clearly slept-in hair, have to find some way of making it back up to Gryffindor Tower (which, as I might point out, is all the way across the castle and many, many floors up) without being seen by student, caretaker, caretaker's cat, or ghost, and without normally helpful items such as an Invisibility Cloak or Marauder's Map, both of which I own, that fail to fit conveniently into an evening bag.
Cursed evening bags. I knew there was a reason I hated getting dressed up. Well, no, that's a lie. I don't hate it precisely, it just makes me feel uncomfortable, like I'm playing something I'm not. Too many days being spent locked in a cupboard and treated as subhuman, I suppose. (Hermione, if I told her this, would give me a very long lecture on why I shouldn't let what other people think of me get me down. Fleur, on the other hand, would just say something about me looking nice all the time, I just needed better clothes to look my best. You can see whose company I, obviously, prefer.) Nevertheless, I've lost that stupid evening bag. I always forget stupid things like that.
Out of habit, I fold the blanket Snape has strangely provided me and place it neatly on the couch while I think of how to get up to the Tower. It is both a Saturday and the hols, so if I go straight up to the Charms corridor from here and then cut across through the passageway behind the tapestry of the drunken gnomes… There's a fairly good chance that I can get to the Tower without anyone seeing me, save a Gryffindor or three, and cleaning up and changing before anyone save my room-mates realize that I spend the night elsewhere.
A humorous thought on what Sirius's face would do if told him I spent the night in Snape's anything flits its way through, and I catch onto it, trying to ride this still-high feeling I have of having slept a decent sleep. It keeps a smile on my face as I slip a thank you note:
- Éléonore -
into a desk drawer and my borrowed shoes upon my feet, and begin my trek upwards, hoping to God and Merlin that its still fairly early (though I doubt it) and everyone but me is still sleeping off the Ball, content in their own (or, at least, somebody's) beds.
Yeah, I didn't think my chances were good either.
Really, I didn't have time for the stir that my absence, if noticed, will cause. The egg still shrieks at me worse than my so-called aunt every time I open it, I've work for next term to do, friendships to repair, shoes to return to Simone (or was it Sophie?), what I'll do with what I learn from the egg (if I ever learn anything from it) to figure out, and, most importantly, ways to get people to stop calling me Harry and start calling me Éléonore to decide upon.
Oh, yes, and psychoanalyse every interaction I've had with the man over the last three-and-a-half years to figure out why Snape might have let me crash in his office on Christmas night, and provide me with a blanket with which to do so, albeit after the fact. That should take some time. I think I'll content myself with the fact that… well, no, I'll probably obsess over it until I get a chance to talk to Snape and ask him myself, which, because I really don't need any more detentions, I probably will never do. I mean, what if that day in Potions he only got so mad when I inadvertently propositioned him because he wanted to be so propositioned by me and was not fond of seeing it come out as a joke? I mean, he's twenty years older than me – though, who knows what he's hiding under…
Oh, Merlin, I did not just think that. I did not just think that.
This is sooo why I should be allowed to sleep and not made to attend balls. I mean, look how it turned out for Cinderella: sure, she was all happy being whisked away from her own personal Azkaban, but they always cut the story off before she learns that Prince Charming is just as vapid as he appears (looks and brains hardly ever come in pairs, least of all in fairy tales) and now she's mother to three screaming babies, left at the castle alone while he goes off with his mistresses to exciting places, and still expected to be pretty and polite (which no one ever prepared her for, not as a maid in her own household) when he comes home for dinner.
Maybe I'm the one with nargles. Or maybe it's just because I was given my own fairy tale, and found it not quite as glamorous as it was made out to be. I'd rather be here then Azkaban South, Merlin yes, but it's a lot less dangerous there.
Years of sneaking (and some personal training with The Twins) and some luckily sleepy inhabitants of the castle allow me to make it to the tower without being seen. Though the Fat Lady did give me an accusatory stare I suppose I deserved when I climbed through the portrait hole. Slowly, I peek my head in, to find the room littered with a couple of older students who were just too tired to make it the extra feet to bed, but no one seemingly is awake yet, and no one I know well is amongst them. I slip off the shoes, lest they give me away, and make my way through the sea of slumbering students.
I'm on the first step of the girls' stair when Neville comes tumbling down the boys', looking quite happy. This certainly can't have been my doing; something must have happened after I left to, er, lick my wounds.
"Hi, Nev," I whisper back, finding myself ducking down in case anyone heard and looks up from their sleep to yell at him to go back to bed, where people belong at this hour of the morning. Whatever that hour might actually be. I'll have to figure that out soon.
At a normal level of speech, "Have fun last night?"
"A blast," I murmur, surprised to find that I'm telling the truth. I did enjoy myself, and the dancing was fun, even if we probably looked like fools and my feet were all-but-bleeding there for a while. Maybe I should consider attending other school functions for the future. I can't think of any others there might ever be, but that's okay, it's probably the novelty of it anyway. "You?"
"Yeah. I ran into Hannah and we got to talking… We're going to Hogsmeade together during the next weekend."
"That's great, Neville," I enthuse, or do my best to enthuse in a hushed tone.
"You don't mind, do you?"
"No, I'm really hap-" I hear footsteps coming down the stair behind him. I would have known that thundering tread anywhere. "I gotta-"
"Hey, Harry," Ron says, choosing today of all days to wake up early (whatever time it actually is).
I try to hide in the non-existent shadows. It's a lovely, bright, snow-covered day. A winter wonderland. Because, or so I've been told, the weather will not change to match my moods, and weather magic is dangerous for all parties involved. I'm given to understand it involves several. "Hi, Ron," my whisper is an octave higher than it should be.
"Enjoy the-" he begins, and then, eyes narrowing almost comically as he realized that, yes, I was still in my dress robes and was, obviously, only just sneaking in, "Er, Harry, where exactly have you been?"
The overprotective lilt in his voice would have been endearing if I was not both, a) unwilling to answer where exactly I'd been, and, b) perfectly capable of taking care of myself, most of the time. "Er," I say slowly, trying to think of a lie that involved something other than tapioca, my brain only providing me with ones involving the pudding for some strange, sleep-estranged, reason. "Out," I offer at last, deciding, if he pushes it, to inform him of just how much business it is of his. Which is to say, none at all.
"Out where?" Neville, I see, is starting back up the boys' stair, an apologetic look on his face.
"Er…" I begin. So much for my rant. I suddenly can't think of any words that aren't the truth, or cassava-flavoured puddings, so I, naturally, in my most infinite and impeccable wisdom, spit up the truth. "I fell asleep." The things I do because I really can't stand fighting with my friends, no matter how angry I am with them. Hermione says this is because I have the lingering fear of abandonment only natural to an orphan, and that she and Ron should be less enabling, but I've not seen any of that yet.
He is neither my brother nor my father nor my keeper. I do not have to answer him. It is only my own subconscious, wanting everything to be right between the three of us, which makes me want to give him the, "Snape's office…" er, answer.
"What!" he screams so loud that most the occupants of the common room are wakened.
Back-peddling fiercely, "Now, Ron," I try, taking another step up the girls' stair, where he cannot follow. "It's not what you think." I doubt he even hears me, though, over his own rage.
I just can't take this at the moment, and head up to my dormitory with him going on angrily at the landing, throwing myself upon my bed, taking in the smell of my gardenia shampoo, which has been permanently impregnated into its threads. Deep, cleansing, breaths, I tell myself. I will not go downstairs and commit murder in front of witnesses. I will not-
"Harry?" asks Lavender, either woken by the slamming of the door behind me or the echoes of a certain red-head's temper while it was open, who obviously noticed my absence, "Is that you?"
I groan into my pillow. And the day had started out so well too.
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Through a combination of knowledge of where the kitchen is and the hols, I was able to avoid pretty much everybody until the start of term, my dear friend Snape among them. Ron was still upset with me, I knew, but, as I'd told him repeatedly, he'd no right to be. Hermione was outraged, for different reasons, but seemed to at least realize it had in no way been intentional, which was good, because I did have to share a dorm room with her, and she can be quite a witch when she's angry.
I found myself missing Fleur's company, and even those of the S's, but couldn't bring myself to leave the safe, whisper-free confines of my dorm, even to see her. Some champion I am. When it comes to Basilisks and dragons, I'm apparently as cool as a cucumber, but a little thing like a friend's anger…
Hermione's right. As always. Azkaban South has made me neurotic and unable to handle my life in a healthy way. At least Crookshanks loves me.
By the time January starts, I've seen quite enough of my room-mates and am forced by the inexorable movement of time to begin the second term. I'm quite confident, sliding into a seat at the Ravenclaw table beside Fleur like I'd been there every day this past week-and-a-half, that no one besides me and Ron know exactly why we're fighting this time.
And then an owl delivers the morning paper to the girl beside me, and I'm greeted with my own picture (I knew photo shoots were a bad idea) scowling at me and the rather unambiguous headline:
Potter, Victim or Gold-Digger?
By Rita Skeeter
followed by a rather unflattering article.
Alexandria Potter, known as The Girl-Who-Lived, is a girl of many talents. At the age of one year, she was responsible for the downfall of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Most recently, she has been named a champion in the infamous Triwizard Tournament, the youngest since Fredrick von Healdsburg of Durmstrang Institute in 1436, who turned fourteen shortly before the first task of that Tournament. Many have remarked upon the seemingly charmed life of the Potter Heiress. (I snorted there, reading over the Ravenclaw's shoulder.)Successful student, Quidditch Star, and winner of numerous school awards for bravery and sportsmanship, Miss Potter has recently been voted by Teen Witch the "Most Influential Teen Star" for young witches the third year in a row.
Despite all of Miss Potter's many charms, this reporter has reason to believe that all is not as well as it seems inside the hallowed halls of Hogwarts School, at least not for this champion. From sources that for good reason wish to remain unnamed, this reporter has learned that one professor, Potions Master Severus Snape of Kent – who, readers may recall, had all charges of being a Death Eater, one of You-Know-Who's supporters known to use cruel and often inhumane spell-work on Muggles and the Muggle-born, dismissed during the trials of 1981, though they were never fully dropped – may be eliciting favours of a sexual nature… POTTER continued on pages 2, 7, 8, and 14.
From the whispers around me, I gather that the article goes on to ask whether or not Professor Snape is entirely responsible for his supposed misdeeds and whether I, as it ends on a cruel note, "[am] not satisfied by the slice of fortune fate has afforded [me], and [am] after the Prince Fortune, to which Mr. Snape is the sole heir, currently valued at half-a-million Galleons."Ron, I note, is glaring at me from across the Great Hall, while Hermione wears a look of one who suffers fools.
"Fleur," I ask, turning towards the girl, who has throughout my over-the-shoulder reading of the headline story been reading a letter from her sister, "Do you think Professor Snape has been 'eliciting favours of a sexual nature' from me?" Baulking, she replies a negative, but not before turning to look at the man in question, who is stoically at his seat at the head table, though if she knew how he'd healed by Neville-inflicted injuries the other night and let me sleep on the couch in his office, she might not look so repulsed by the idea. "Well," I said, trying to shake thoughts of the sort of thing that have gotten me into this situation from my mind, "that's good. Now, if you don't mind, I think I'm going to find Professor Dumbledore."
A Daily Prophet is in her hands now, and, reading the front page, she informs me both that she understood and that she was surprised that I won Teen Witch's contest this year, considering how Celestina Warbeck's daughter has been, apparently, touring the continent raising money for dragon pox awareness. The things I fail to know about myself, I swear.
And the things they let get published! I'm a minor, for Merlin's sake. Aren't there supposed to rules about our pictures being in the press and our names mentioned? This sort of thing is… unacceptable…
"Headmaster," my voice torn between an indignant squawk and an I-could-cry-I'm-so-angry squeak as I storm his office, "who is my publicist and why hasn't he been fired?"
He uses a tone I've learned parents use when they don't want their child to know there's not a Santa Clause or taxes, "Miss Potter, you don't have a publicist. I assume-"
"Well, why the hell not? If my name's going to be spread all over the papers, I want some spin control, Professor. I mean," because, I see, he's looking at me carefully through those half-moon glasses with a studied twinkle, "you don't think any of what that woman wrote is actually true, do you?"
"No, Severus assures me-"
Merlin, he needed to be assured. Which means he thought. Which means he knows I crashed there the other night. Which means he thought it was possible.
I skip out on classes for the morning. I just couldn't face the Hufflepuffs, who are already peeved as it is with my presumed entering of my name into the goblet, or the, Merlin forbid, Slytherins. Or anybody. I hide out in the owlry, but by lunchtime the hate mail starts to arrive, and I can't get away from it and have to call Dobby, who Hermione luckily discovered working at Hogwarts, to help me burn it all, and sneak me some food so I don't starve to death in my second exile. I like Dobby. You always know where you stand with him, even if he's a bit mad.
I went to his classroom while everyone was at dinner, and start in on the cauldrons there to keep my hands busy.
I mean, how do these things get started? One word from my teacher, one sarcastic comment in reply, and all of a sudden I'm his, his sex slave or something. I suppose Rita Skeeter could have heard the rumours from anyone, it'd spread everywhere sure enough, but how had she known I wasn't in the Tower Christmas night? I'd not seen her since the first task, almost two months ago…
And aren't there more exciting people to write about? I'd not have thought that people would be interested enough in the doing of a schoolgirl, even if that girl happened to be one who lived thirteen years ago, for it to make the news. Well, I suppose it was the thought of what Snape might be doing to students that made front page, but there was also the idea that I was nothing better than a gold-digger, as it claimed on pages 7, 8, and 14, I'd discovered, though I'm only fourteen. I mean, fourteen. I can marry if I wanted to – I know the laws well enough to know that – but I can't think of a single example of someone getting married so young since Fredrick von Healdsburg was killed in the second task of his tournament, where they were unable to treat the burns he suffered trying to outwit a flame-breathing bull. I'm also fairly rich in my own right, I'm fairly certain, so why I might be digging for anything is another question, but one I can ignore for the moment.
Merlin, what would my parents say if they saw today's headlines? They must be turning over in their graves! And Sirius – and Remus too – must be halfway here with intent to murder-! And Mr. and Mrs. Weasley! They must be furious, though with whom I dare not guess.
This is why I need a publicist. I must send out owls searching for one if I don't die from embarrassment or dish-pan hands.
I'm listening closely for his approach, and so I hear him when he enters the hall this time, his walk more the soft glide of fabric over stone than the slap of leather on stone. I hear him pause, hearing the sound of the running water, the splash of my scrubbing disrupting the ethereal hush of the dungeons. When I was a first year, I was certain this classroom had been used for other things than potions brewing in the past, but now, in moment where I wait for him to pass through the door, to see if he will pass through the door at all, I know that was never the case. The silence does not reek of that kind of pain. No, these halls are alive with the apathy that has filled them, the heaviness of no one caring which, oft times, is more dreadful and more condemning then hate.
Will he enter? My nerves suddenly flare as if about to face a dragon. What do I say to him if he does? How can I apologize? He insulted me, I escalated the conflict; we're both responsible. Besides, I've already asked for and received forgiveness from him for that slight. And he, he's broken through whatever wall he's built around himself enough to be kind to me, a Potter, the last Potter, and not only let me sleep on his couch, but gave me a blanket. He didn't have to do that. He could have shaken me awake. He could have levitated me into the hall. He could have, if he was the type of person that people thought he was, taken advantage of the situation. But he didn't. He's not the man people see him as, what he wants to be seen as. He's… he's more.
My breath doesn't make it even as far as my throat as he paused outside that door – it catches in the back of my mouth, under my tongue, and hisses out of lips trembling with words unspoken and unspeakable. My scrubbing slows, and then ceases altogether. Was this a mistake?
I want to know how we got to this point, a Potter standing in his classroom willingly, a Snape hating my family so much that the former is all but inconceivable. I want to know what my father, and Remus, and Sirius – and Wormtail too – did to him all those years ago create such a deep and abiding hatred that, stalled as they all are on the cusp between twenty-one and adulthood, between war and peace, between giving in or moving on, he can still hate a man dead thirteen years so much that it has clouded his judgement of me all these years, until I started to scrub cauldrons of my own accord. I want to know the secret no one will tell me, the one that will unlock the mystery of this bizarre circle of hate and shame. I can taste the sourness of anticipation and worry on my tongue.
I release a breath, waiting for him to turn around and leave as I'm suddenly sure he will, red shame for my own impulsiveness turning my insides into jelly.
He enters, a sweeping murmur of fabric.
"Sir, I think we need to talk," I begin, my words slow and measured. I feel squeezed, constricted by a past I do not know and cannot change. I want to make this right.
"Indeed, Miss Potter." I do not turn to look at him, but I know he is, by now, seated at his desk, trying to recreate the position of authority he has over me, what he wants to have over this entire situation. This is his only chance, I know, at something akin to a real life. No one else will have him, not with the Dark Mark on his arm, branding him forever as a boy who made a foolish choice, or who hated people like my mother enough to wish a fate worse then she received upon all of them. I do not know which, but I think it is the former. He would not have recanted, he'd not be here if he'd not been that boy my father and his friends tormented so badly it has brought us, almost two decades later, to this position now.
I pick up my rag and continue what I was doing, eyes focused on the dull, worn metal beneath my fingers. "I do not know how Skeeter got her information, but I didn't tell her any of that nonsense."
A pause and then, "I never thought you did."
I babble a little now, nerves getting the better of me. I probably won't sleep for a week because of this. "They just can't print things like that about people – its libel! We can make them print a retraction. They could probably fight it, say they thought it was for the common good people knowing, well, what they thought, but I am a minor. I don't know who might be my guardian in these matters, but whoever it is, I'm sure they didn't sign anything saying that they could put my name or picture in print. It won't stop it, now that that… is out, but it should curb the worst of it. Get Rita Skeeter in the spotlight for once; see how she likes having things printed about her!" My outburst is followed by that uncomfortable silence again, the one wherein I can feel the weight of all the not caring these walls have felt over the years heavy upon me. It is almost like the cupboard, the weight, only colder and somewhat danker. But, in the same way, its nothing alike, because, like it or not, Snape is here too and he has to feel something for me other than complete apathy, not after all those detentions and all those years of remembering the wrongs done to him by my dead father.
The silence continues. The cauldron is clean now and faintly glistening, but still I scrub. I don't think I can stop until I have a response and, if there isn't one, I shall stay here, cleaning this one pot, for all eternity, for I feel this is a turning point. To what, I don't know. Maybe the patching of everything Dad did to this man, maybe this man's utter hatred of me in my own right; maybe nothing at all, and it's just a feeling I have for no reason, like nerves before a Quidditch match.
Then, at last, his tone snide and reproving, "They'll forget about it in time."
"They always do." I set aside the cauldron to dry and begin on another, as equally tarnished and mess-encrusted, and continue on with my work, trying to figure out what has just happened here. I know that I shall have to face everything again in the morning, and that I can't hide in the owlry forever, and that I still have to face Ron, and Sirius, and return those shoes to whichever one of Fleur's friends I took them from, and figure out what the egg means when it screeches at me. I know that Snape, for some reason, let me sleep on his couch and didn't use it against me at all, or accuse me of wanting his money, or him.
I do not know what it means. But, surprisingly, I'm actually looking forward to finding out. I scrub, and let myself relax in the understanding, if not understood, silence between us.