Chapter Six, In Which I Am Forced to Wear Swimwear
The only good thing I can possibly see of this situation is that it's not a bikini.
It is, however, designer. Apparently only Italian clothiers are willing to owl bathing costumes to boarding schools in February to champions now being forced to don them against their will. While it is spelled to keep me from catching hypothermia while swimming in winter, to never rip, tear, or come undone at the seams, and, supposedly, one of the most modest bathing costumes Greco and Mancini makes, it is still a swimsuit. One that I am being forced to parade around in before the whole school, never mind that I'll be underwater for most the time.
Oh, and did I mention, while only one piece, it exposes nearly all of my back? How I'm not supposed to catch hypothermia in a getup like this, I don't know, but it's not like I have any other options.
I have spent the last month fretting about this actually. I have looked through nearly every book in the Hogwarts library that might have a spell or potion that will allow slips of fourteen year old witches to breathe underwater, even giving Hermione and (reluctantly) Ron an abbreviated version of my discovery of what the next task is so that they can help me discover whatever it is I'd be willing to risk swimsuit humiliation to recover. But there is nothing in the library to help me with this unusual request, and there is nothing, nothing at all.
The night before last I give in to my desires. I am scrubbing cauldrons again – where I have been every night for this past month, more or less, of my own free will – and getting quite good at identifying what might blow up in my face if I put hot water in it and what might merely turn me green with something other then nerves.
There has been a strange tension since that last night I fell asleep in his office. It is not awkward, or even, dare I say it, sexual, no, it is only a tension borne of silence, however comfortable, and the words that we do not know we want to speak.
Our conversations are usually one of us questioning, the other of us answering. They are sparse and often started seemingly out of no where after a long period of silence from both of us.
He asked me what I knew of the map's creation one day.
I asked him why he became a Potions Master.
He wanted to know why people still call me Harry, and how I came to get that name.
I asked how many points he'd taken away from Slytherin upon hearing their innuendos after Rita Skeeter's article first appeared.
Most recently he asked me why I had cursed Malfoy in the great hall that day. "It wasn't really what he was saying – he's said worse things to me then offering a 'legal concubinage,' – but what he said before then. About me being a charity case," I told him.
"The Potter Fortune is quite large and quite singularly yours." He says this without bitterness; I suppose it was not money he and my father fought over. I do wonder, though, what else he knows about me that I do not.
It is the fear of an orphan that comes out in my response. "It's not about money either. It's more… the acquisition that someone would only want me – whatever the reason – because I'm, apparently, rich." It is the fear that my only value is the money I can offer. That I am not worth knowing in my own right. That I am a known entity – rich and famous and able to clean and cook without setting the house afire – kept only as ornament, a hedge fund for someone else's future. It is my fear that Ron only forgives me for my (his words, not mine) gross mistakes because of this. It is my fear (nay, knowledge) that Azkaban South is in some way enriched this way because of my presence. It is the fear that most, if not all, connections I make will be tainted by the desire for the girl who won Teen Witch's Most Influential Teen Star award three times in a row (and came in second place in the annual Most Eligible Bachelorette contest in this month's Star and Stave magazine, behind forty-three-year old Ara Antila, lead singer of the popular wizarding band, The Weird Sisters, who recently divorced from the band's bass player, Eugene Delphinis). It is my fear that the world wants me to be their heroine: a sporty, moderately intelligent girl dedicated to the Light and to justice, who will marry a couple years out of school a well-known Quidditch Star or member of a rock band, have two beautiful children, and somehow manage to take care of them while balancing my high-profile job and busy social life.
I don't want that life. I want to graduate and disappear into the shadows, coming forward only when my presence makes a difference. Maybe fade into a position in a wizarding law firm, where I can maybe keep the Ministry from perpetrating more crimes, like what they did to Sirius…
"You are many things, Éléonore," he assures me at the end of that conversation, "but you are not the type of person who can fade quietly into the shadows. No, when you leave the limelight, you shall take part of it with you and illuminate the night."
That was our conversation on Saturday night. I've thought long about it. He is probably right: as unhappy as I can be with the press, I wouldn't get to sue people as often if I was quietly hidden away in Potter Manor (if there was one) knitting or something. I'd have to learn how to knit first, but I'm sure Mrs. Weasley wouldn't mind teaching me if I had the sudden inclination to spend my time in a rocking chair with blunt needles in my hand.
Oh, yes, that reminds me, Remus owled me Monday morning. He said he's found someone that should do, but that it's not quite what I asked for. No idea what that means, but he wants to meet me in Hogsmeade as soon as possible, so you can guess what I'm doing on Saturday. Yes, there's a proper weekend the Saturday after, but things like lawsuits and annoying journalists can't wait even that long.
So, anyway, back to Monday night. You can't really blame me though – I had only one full day and the remainder of the night to figure out how to breathe underwater, a fact which, considering I'd have to be under said water by Wednesday, I very much had a stake figuring out. I was prepared to be as shameless as possible. I was dressed out, low-riding pants and tight sweater and everything. I needed an answer, or else face drowning. Spell, potion, whatever – I needed by Wednesday and was otherwise out of options. Desperation, I've been told, is one of my more interesting moods. It has driven me to kill a man Voldemort was using as a mouthpiece, however unintentionally at first; it has caused me to go into Basilisk-ridden chambers and face men I then thought worse then Judas, because it was my parents he betrayed.
I have outwitted a dragon. I will not allow myself to drown. I don't deserve to die like that. Not in a game.
Hermione catches me on my way down. She is playing chess with Ron, though I don't know why anyone bothers anymore. I suspect it is her own way of getting our oblivious friend to notice her in some light. Maybe she thinks if she plays him often enough, he'll look up from the board and see her in the light I think she wants him to see her in. I do not know, only that, if that is her plan, it's not going too well. Ron is Ron – a fourteen, almost fifteen year old boy, and, by definition, boys are dense. Not worth paying any attention to at all at this stage. I mean, he thinks dungbombs are funny. What's so funny about one of those? I rather hope she turns her attentions to Krum instead. He's at least interesting, and interested in her. I say this not just 'cause I'm still a little angry at him. He's too engrossed in the game to notice me, at least. No doubt he'd have an opinion on my… civvies… At least, just this once, that opinion is the one I'm aiming for. "Harry," she calls me over. She, like most, would not call me Éléonore even if I asked. I am Harry to them, and will always be Harry the Heroine in their eyes.
"How's it going?" I ask to be polite. Frankly, at this moment I wouldn't care if she told me she'd discovered the thirteenth use of dragon's blood, unless it helped me to breathe water.
"I'm currently trying to discern which chess master Ron was in a previous life."
"That well, then?"
"Yeah." She looked morosely at the board, moved a bishop, and turned back to me. Her eyes were ringed with shadows. She'd probably been spending her nights searching for ways for me to survive this next task as I had, though without the annoying habit of falling asleep in the middle of a page. I decided, heroine that I am, to help her out.
"So," my voice casual. I am good at faking casual. "How are things going with you and Victor?"
Before she can get a full word in, "What?" Ron, predictably, rages, "You're not still seeing him, are you?"
Hey, it's attention, right?
Okay, so that plan at least needs a little work. I've only so much energy to devote to everything going on around me and, frankly, Ron and Hermione fall at about five on my list. Nevertheless, it allows me to sneak out of the common room unnoticed by the two most likely to take note of it. I do run across The Twins on their way to another detention, one they seem to have gotten for the large amount of pudding that was discovered in a certain caretaker's office. They are much amused by what they assume is my sneaky sneakiness and only slightly interested in my destination.
As Twin A whistles, Twin B asks, "Off to see the beau?" waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
"I still don't understand how she could pass us up for an old man, Fred."
"Nor do I. She's more then enough woman to handle both of us, don't you think?"
"Yes, she'd not have to worry about that."
"Not at all, George, not at all."
"There'd always be one of us there to be dragged to high society functions-"
"-or yell at when we've not put the lid down-"
"-or forgotten to buy milk while the other of kips off to the pub for a pint-"
"-or we could do Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays-"
"-alternate Saturdays, if you'd prefer, or maybe every other week-"
"-or hour. We're not picky."
A blow them a kiss as I walk away, laughing. They fight with each other to catch it and then, one of them apparently having won, walk off to do their own mischief. The Twins are great. I don't know if I'd mentioned this, but right after the rumours about Snape and me got started, before the tournament and all, but they came up to me and asked if they could be pencilled in – together – whenever I was free. They had the gall to do this while I was drinking, and wound up sopping as I coughed the water out of my lungs.
I arrived at Snape's classroom at last, a little later then usual. He's sitting behind his desk, grading papers with his sharp-tongued quill.
"You're late," he said without looking up, as if we'd an appointment or something.
Walking to his desk, "Fred and George held me up," I explained. That tingly feeling of anxiety comes to life again, and I could have sworn that my nerve-endings were trying to cross the distance between me and him by willpower alone.
"This wouldn't have anything to do with the large amount of tapioca Argus found in his office this morning, would it?"
"Perhaps," I concede, now right before him, separated by only the desk laden with papers and potions journals. I can smell him now, mint clouded by the particular mixture of ingredients he has prepared today. I don't know why such a simple thing as that has such a strong draw for me – magnetic, almost hypnotic, making me shiver as I take it in. I can see myself falling for the man, if he'd let me. It'd be so easy… just reach out my hand across the short-enough distance of the desk to touch his right hand, playing with the ink bottle's cork as the left makes lines across the unfortunate student's paper… I imagine it would be calloused from years of stirring potions, and scarred from injudicious knife-cuts and battles in the war alike, and somewhat leathery…
I am starting to believe what Rita Skeeter is writing about my own life now, this is just great! I refuse to complicate my life further and take that path, the one my hand suddenly wants to make. I do not need that. I do not want that. It is but a fantasy of my mint-riddled mind. It will pass in time.
"Might I ask what your obsession with that particular pudding may be?"
I shrug, and he looks up from his papers. His lips are already starting to move to say something, but the breath never makes it that far. I might even have seen him swallow the words in a quick movement before he continued elegantly, as if nothing ever happened, but I'm not prideful enough to actually admit that happened outside of my own overactive imagination. "Is there something you wanted, Miss Potter?"
It's been ages since he called me "Miss Potter" in private. Almost a month, in fact. Éléonore is defence mechanism, trying to rebuild that barrier he himself has helped to tear down between us. "Actually…" his eyebrow raises, a questioning movement, but enough to make my heart flutter a bit. I really must get this stupid thing out of my head, these thoughts implanted there by some madness yet unknown to wizarding kind! He's my professor, for Merlin's sake. He's twenty years older than me. He still hates my father and I am nothing if not my father's daughter, my godfather's goddaughter. I am Gryffindor – everything he hates in the world – and as Gryffindor as it is possible to be.
Only, a true Gryffindor would have stolen whatever she needed from his storerooms. It is a Slytherin trait, this, what do I call it, seduction? A Gryffindor would never have come back after that last detention, or let the man fix her hobbled feet.
And I explain to him that, despite my best efforts, I have no way to breathe underwater. After a moment, I remember to tell him why I need to do so, and my request makes a bit more sense.
"We cannot have our fearless hero drown," he says after a moment, and returns with this strange looking tangle called gillyweed. I didn't think it would be that easy and it showed. I think I was almost looking forward to having to flirt with Snape, as odd as that is. We stay in silence the rest of the night.
I can feel the gills sprouting on my neck, the webbing growing between my fingers. I take a deep breath, but I may as well be breathing sulphur for all the good its doing me as I stand here, chewing this worm-like weed in my low-backed swimsuit in front of the whole school (which, one should know, includes the professors as well as the student body, but whereas the students are across the lake, the professors are gathered nearby and slightly behind, afforded a full view, if any cared to look, at my bare back). I throw myself into the water…
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…and Grindylows were not supposed to be this aggressive. I was struggling to the surface, both arms uselessly pulling Ron and Gabrielle along behind me, my legs kicking as fast as they could toward the brilliant glow of light. My anti-tear swimsuit has several gashes along my stomach, and I can feel the burning of four parallel claw marks on my shoulders and legs, one even going down my bare back. The red tint of the water around me would have given away that they'd broken my skin even before I could taste the metallic blood in the water coming in my gills.
Ron and Fleur's sister are useless in this fight, vulnerable even, and for some reason the creatures are still perusing us, and I can not do anything like this. Mustering my strength (and Merlin knows what they were thinking, making me compete), I push first Gabrielle and then Ron upwards with all my might, hoping they'll reach the surface soon – the light's glittering so closely now, and I can easily make out the piscine features of the Grindylows, their yellowed teeth shining malevolently as I turn in the water to face them. There are three, one with a makeshift trident in his hand.
I slide my wand out of the strap I have fastened around my arm and into my hand, shouting, "Relasio," as I flip open the knife Sirius sent me for Christmas in my left. A bubble of sound escapes my mouth and a burst of super-heated water scalds the nearest but otherwise does little damage. "Confringo!" I try again at the first, making a circular motion with my want as I kick away a second, who latches his long, spindly fingers around my ankle and tries to pull me back into the darkness when I fail.
The usual isn't working, and I'm not in the mood to die today. I spell to kill. Taking aim at the head of the one latched onto me (which is quite hard, as it is getting harder to breathe and, therefore, not panic and shoot my own leg off) I shout, "Deprimo!" and the creature's head explodes in a burst of red-tinged water and gore. Its arms are still wrapped around my leg, even as the rest of it floats into the drink, but a kick easily loosens them even before the bile has reached my throat. I dry heave, but take a swipe with the knife at another, one who clearly hasn't been deterred by the rough dissembling of his compatriot.
"Expulso! Reducto!" I struggled to think of spells in the fog of my mind, "Reducto!" I felt the knife collide with the arm of one attacker, drawing blood, as my Reductor Curse struck the third, propelling him in a wave of water away. The Grindylow claws for my knife, trying to knock it away from me and ease his attack, but, with one last, "Expulso!" I learned the sound that ribs make when cracking underwater.
I don't know how I make it to the surface, breaking into life-giving air seemingly forever after the gillyweed has worn off, panting as I struggle to tread water, inwardly cursing the wardens of Azkaban South for never teaching me how to swim, or even allowing me near a body of water larger than their small bath. The noises are surreal, and the February air blowing over the water chill despite my overpriced Greco and Mancini suit's assurances that I will not die of hypothermia while in it.
Somehow I don't think they actually thought I might actually ever need the spell, or, apparently, the anti-tear charm.
Turned about hopelessly, I search for Ron and Gabrielle, for shore, but quickly feel a spell catch me and tractor me in. Thank Merlin. I don't think I could have made it farther then an inch. Warm, dry hands pull me out of the water, exclaiming over the state of me. I could hear Fleur fussing in the background, going into one of her Veela moods. "It was ze grindylows… zey attacked me… oh Gabrielle, I thought… I thought…"
"Merlin's beard, Miss Potter," Madam Pomprey comes up to me and begins applying purple potions that steam and sting to my wounds without as much as a warning. I really hate her sometimes, "What happened to you?"
A towel was draped around my neck, but most of me and what remained of my swimsuit, which had once been the same pale gold of my dress robes, by necessity was uncovered, and I shivered in the cold. Why, I truly wonder, couldn't they have had this task when it was, I dunno, warm? Some kind soul must have seen my plight and cast a localized warming spell on the part of the dock where I was being treated. Before I could answer the mediwitch, though, the caster of the spell was kneeling down beside me and, taking my more injured arm in hand, turned it around to better view my wounds. "Grindylows," Professor Snape pronounced, correctly of course, "same as Miss Delacour. Oddly active for this time of year."
My arm, still being examined by Snape, feels on fire. In a good way. Every nerve is singing with excitement, and I try telling myself that it's only the oxygen-deprivation talking this time. Why do I always seem to be injured or sleepy every time something as admittedly exciting as this happens?
Gently, I pull it from his grasp and use it to brush strands of my very wet hair from my face. I catch a piece of Grindylow brain between my fingers in the process. I about spew. A few blood restoratives are forced down my throat as the healer and the Potions Master tend my injuries, and I mostly sit there in shock… "The first one's head… it just exploded. Like a balloon," I mutter to no one in particular. A hand on my swimsuit-strapped shoulder gently restrains me, and I notice that I'm swaying a little as I sit there. "The second… I managed to force it away for long enough… the third though… it was such a loud crack, like it was my bones…" Someone is murmuring platitudes quietly, or something I take to be platitudes, as they work on me, and the sound of the voice comforts me in a way I'm not prepared to admit.
I sit there for a long time. Fleur comes up to thank me for saving Gabrielle, whom I remind her of, but I barely hear what she says. Other people are talking around me. Scores are announced. I don't know what I got. They want to take me to the hospital wing, but I won't let them. I just need to be somewhere quiet, where I can't think…
I find myself in his office again, the blanket wrapped around me on the soft couch, but in the middle of the morning this time. A cup of peppermint tea is placed in my hands, but I do not drink it. I just stare into it for a long while.
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I took three showers that night, when I finally was able to face the common room. I don't know why the grindylows' deaths affect me more then, say, Quirell's did, but it does. There is something about the murder of two creatures that were, in all likelihood, only protecting their homes and acting on pure, animal instinct and the murder of a man who is trying to do the same to you. A major difference. Especially when its brains are lodged in your hair…
It has worn off, though, by the time I make my way to the Shrieking Shack to meet its former inhabitant. "Remus," I shout as I pull off the cloak, and throw myself into his arms. Like a movie, he spins to discharge the momentum of my leap, and I bury my face in his chest. I don't know how much I've missed him. He is not just a tangible connection to the history that is starting to unfurl behind me, he is a friend.
"Éléonore," he responds, amused and not a little flattered by my reaction. "Good to see you, cub."
"You don't know how happy I am to see you," I gush, telling him all about the Grindylows, still face still in his shoulder as he gives me a hug that does nothing like what Snape's touch can do to me, and I can almost see the sheepish expression on his face grow the longer I stay there.
"You do know there's someone else here?" he comments at last, and I jump back from him like I've been burned. It's Sirius, quietly chuckling at the werewolf's predicament, and so I launch in on him too. He is warm and comfortable, a mix between wet-dog and cinnamon in smell, and I lean on him as we sit on the floor to discuss what has really brought us here: legal matters.
There are some comments on how the law must excite me, in terms that take me a moment to translate into common English before I turn a deep red, before we get down to business. The fact is he's found a reputable firm willing to take my case(s) – the firm of Dunn, Hastings, and McGully – but there seems to be no way around the fact that, to secure such legal representation, I must be a legal adult or have my guardian's permission. The law also has it that the earliest I can even become an emancipated minor is sixteen, which helps me very little at the moment, especially as the day Petunia lets me retain a law firm will be the day… no, I can't think of anything spectacular enough to cover it. So, in a bizarre and singularly legal frame of mind, the firm will not represent me, per se, but rather carry out these acts for me in my godfather's name. How an escaped convict can be allowed to buy a law firm, I don't know, but it gets the job done, so it works for me.
The only thing actually left to do is figure out which of us wants to pay them (Sirius ends up winning that argument, and says it's my birthday present. How many girls, honestly, get law firms for their birthdays? This is why I have neuroses, I swear) and where we want them to begin. Skeeter and the Prophet are most pressing, but Sirius's case is also on the docket, after which he can legally gain custody of me as my parents wanted, as well as something Sirius insists on, which is charging the MoM with gross negligence for allowing, nay, forcing a fourteen-year-old witch to participate in the Triwizard Tournament. Remus is to be the go-between for Sirius and the firm.
The news breaks next Friday in the paper:
Black Claims Innocence!
Reporter Rita Skeeter Under Investigation
In Potter/Snape Defamation Case
with appropriately outraged articles and, I'm saddened to say, I don't think I've ever been so happy as seeing those words in print. Even if it was the awkward, mind-numbing print of the Daily Prophet.
The next two months pass slowly, my Grindylow wounds healing nicely, my nights being spent primarily in Snape's company. To my displeasure, the warm fuzzies failed to dissipate with time, and rather grew to be a comfortable, common feeling I had every time we spent these bizarre hours together, me cleaning the revolving mess of his classroom, and he doing those things a professor must do to stay gainfully employed.
He asked me, once, how often I had the nightmares that left dark circles under my eyes.
I asked, in turn, about the Snape's of Kent (there weren't any but him) and his childhood (which he refused to talk about, and so I guessed was similar to my own).
He asked how I managed to hire a law firm.
I asked why he wanted to be a teacher.
One day he even asked why I liked cleaning his cauldrons so much (I explained as best I could, and he seemed to understand) and about my guardians ("Unpleasant," was my only answer to that question, which even he didn't need to know the answer to).
I asked why he became a spy for the Light, but he never did answer that.
We found ourselves talking at times you wouldn't expect, when he didn't have to be there because he had no papers to grade or articles to read, and he could have been elsewhere innovating new potions or whatever he did for fun. I started bringing my homework with me when I came, so I had an excuse to stay when I was done. Sometimes these other talks were his rants on the incompetence of his students, myself included, and sometimes got as heated as our old arguments, B.D. (Before that Detention), were. I'd go on about the things I discovered were going on behind my back – I'd taken out a subscription to the Star and Stave and found out during these months that I supposedly have aspirations to join the Holyhead Harpies and am dating the twenty-seven-year-old lead singer of the Haz-Mats, Osiris O'Malley – all this time. We can argue with each other until we're blue in the face, and I'll stay away for a day or two swearing never to speak to him again, but I always come back.
He understands me, I think, in a way no one I've ever met understands me. But that could just be my imagination making things up again. It likes to do that, especially with Snape, and creates pictures that I shamelessly watch each night as I fall asleep. Though the time when he asked to see how my battle wounds were healing was real, and the only way to show the long scratch down my back was to lift the hem of my shirt up… He'd run a finger down the deepest of those scratches – to check the scarring, you see – and if he'd just gone up an inch higher, my imagination reminds me, he would have met the catch of my bra…
Oh, Merlin. I've done it, haven't I? I've fallen for a snarky, somewhat evil, git of a professor. How do I get myself into these situations? Is there a sign on my back that says, "Please, make life as difficult for this one as possible"?
I need to meet someone. Someone my own age. It's sort of hard to do at Hogwarts, but I did, honestly, give it a shot. I even made a mental list Hermione would be proud of. However, one after another, they all found their way into the "no" bin as I compared them without ever having spoken to them to a man who, in our longer conversations, I usually find myself arguing with.
My life is filled with normal things, though, things that aren't tangled crushes that I'll get over once school lets out for the summer and I don't see him every day. Sirius and Remus are sending daily owls on various things – the glacially slow progress of getting to court, calming my various mental statuses, the curses Sirius has hurled at a portrait of his mother to no avail – and, in general, I'm just an average Fourth Year. And school champion. With a crush on a teacher. Whose name appears in the paper on average of 1.167 times a week, even if it's printed as "Alexandria Potter," or, occasionally, in the continental magazines, "Margret Lenore."
I'm up the river without a paddle. No, I'm not just paddle-less in the river, I've drifted out to sea and lost all my rations and am slowly dying of dehydration.
Despite all this, who do I go to when they tell us what the third task is at the end of May? Who helps me, in addition to Hermione and Ron, find spells I should learn to navigate through the travesty that was once the Quidditch pitch? Who has let me crash at least three times now on his couch after I fall asleep on him after a long night of practising?
I wonder if he knows he's enabling my addiction to him. He has to. He has to see that I enjoy being around him, where I can be myself, where I can not have to pretend to be perfect and nightmare-less and, in general, the kind of person someone like Osiris O'Malley would want to date. Gryffindors like Ron and Hermione – and when I say this, I mean true Gryffindors, not ones the sorting hat debated over – understand passionate rages, they understand courage and bravery and the call to action. But they don't get that, sometimes, people can just be in bad moods or not want to deal with the problems facing them or might want to take such a thing as legal action against people instead of duelling them…
And then, at last, the day comes. June 24th. The final task. There is nothing more I can do to prepare. I am certain to live, what with all the effort people have put into me, and just want this whole stupid thing to be over.
I hear the whistle, and I'm into the maze.
An indeterminable amount of time later, Cedric at my side, there is a horrible pull from behind my navel and a swirl of colour that destroys the amazing happiness I had allowed myself to feel just a moment earlier at the prospect of actually winning this damn thing, and from the sinking feeling in my gut I know that something's very, very wrong as our feet touch ground in the shadow of a yew tree in a dark, overgrown graveyard I feel I've seen before…