Harry Potter and the Fifth House
Christine Morgan
christine@sabledrake.com / http://www.christine-morgan.org

Author's Note: the characters of the Harry Potter novels are the property of their creator, J.K. Rowling, and are used here without her knowledge or permission. All other characters property of the author. 53,000 words. January, 2002. Adult situations, mild sexual content and violence.

Chapter Seventeen – A Hero's Reward.

Dumbledore's office was hazy with dust motes, and smelled comfortingly of leather-bound books, old parchment, and the lingering echo of a previous Headmaster's pipe smoke that not even decades could entirely chase away.
The room was spacious enough, but seemed crowded already by the amount of furniture in it and the portraits taking up every available inch of wall space. When several people were added, the room took on an apparent dimension no greater than the cupboard under the stairs where Harry had spend the first eleven nights of his life.
Elsewhere, Hogwarts was getting ready for the evening's festivities. It was Halloween. The Great Hall was decorated, there was to be a scavenger hunt and other games, and as a special treat, a large supply of Potion of True-Sight had been laid in. On this night of all, the barriers between the worlds of the living and the dead – and the twilight realm between them – grew thin. Any student who wished could apply the drops and see with his or her own eyes the shades of Battenby House.
The previous few days, since the events in the catacombs, had passed in a flurry of gossip and speculation. Everywhere that Harry went, he was resigned to being pointed at and whispered about again. No one knew precisely what, but no one doubted that he'd somehow saved them all from certain doom. Fyren Grimme fared somewhat worse, as word of his detention got around. But the chief topic was Ophidia Winterwind, whose classes had been temporarily taken over by Snape while she was put before a disciplinary review board.
Today's meeting was to announce the final decision of that board. Since it had concerned him rather personally and directly, Harry had been invited to sit in and hear Dumbledore's judgement. Ron and Hermione were allowed to attend as well, having witnessed the final outcome.
Ron still couldn't get over what Snape had done. "He had it right there in the palm of his hand," he said nearly every time they were alone. "And he gave it all away. I can't believe it."
"He might still have his chance," Hermione said. "Dumbledore may decide to dismiss her anyway."
"But with Snape arguing for her …" Ron shook his head. "It's amazing, it really is. The job he always wanted."
"Or the woman he loves," Hermione said. "I think it was very noble of him."
"So do I," Harry said, though the concepts of Snape and nobility still didn't jell well inside his head.
Be that as it may, it wasn't up to Snape. It was up to Dumbledore, and they took their places in his dusty office. The various other professors similarly took their spots, and at last Dumbledore came in. There was a young woman with him, and it took Harry several seconds to recognize her. He heard Ron's stifled cry of surprise, and Hermione's.
The woman was Ophidia Winterwind … and yet, it wasn't. She was still tall and slim and curvaceous, but in high-collared robes of plain black she hardly looked the same at all. Her skin, once healed of the horrible sunburn, had settled on a more normal fair tone rather than the pure alabaster white it had been. Her hair was unchanged, but her eyes were altogether different. Not red anymore, but ordinary brown, sad and soulful.
Most of all, the intangible aura of promise and danger and sweet seduction that had surrounded her was absent. She was to all intents and appearances a normal woman. Pretty, yes, even beautiful … but humanly ordinary.
"After reviewing all of the information," Dumbledore said once he'd greeted the assembly, "I offer the following solution. Ophidia Winterwind shall be kept on as a professor at Hogwarts, on five years' probation. She will give up all the dark glamours with which she surrounded herself. Her classes will be conducted during normal school hours. She shall be subjected to periodic and random aura readings to assure her continued good faith. A single infraction will result not only in her immediate dismissal but a full investigation by the Ministry of Magic. Is this acceptable?"
Professor McGonagall did not look overjoyed. In fact, she looked most troubled. Possibly, thought Harry, she was remembering a time when she'd been brought before such a review board herself. After some hesitation, she nodded.
So did Snape, and the others. Lastly, Dumbledore turned to the penitent herself with a raised eyebrow.
"Yes, Headmaster," she said in a low voice. "I agree to your generous terms. You have my deepest apologies. You all have."
There was more that was said, but that was the crux of it. When the meeting was done, Harry, Ron, and Hermione headed slowly down the hall, marveling over how different she'd looked. Hermione was smugly satisfied by this.
"Now all you boys won't be drooling so much," she said.
"I wonder about Snape," said Ron. "Think he'll still like her? She's not nearly so … so … well, malicious and delicious."
"Ron, you're a pig," sniffed Hermione. "You honestly are."
"I'm just saying!"
Harry glanced back. "Shh. Doesn't look like they're having any problems."
Behind them, having lingered to be among the last to leave the room, Snape was walking with Ophidia Winterwind.
"Come on," Harry whispered.
"Not more eavesdropping," Hermione complained. "Won't you ever learn your lesson?"
"We learn more this way than in class," Ron said.
"I'll say," said Harry wryly. "Not always what we want to learn either."
Hermione shared his thought and made a face, clearly remembering, as he was, what they'd heard and seen in the greenhouse. But the siren song was too great to deny, and they slipped into a nearby office and closed the door all but a crack.
"I will fully understand, Severus," Ophidia was saying. "I'm not the same now."
"Not outwardly, perhaps."
Her breath was almost a sob. "I lived that way for so long that it wasn't only outward. I wanted it so much that sometimes I started believing it was true. Now, what am I? Nothing special."
"You were always special," Snape said, and in the darkened room Ron mimed gagging. "You still are."
"And you … what you did for me … Severus, I know what that must have cost you. Why, you've wanted that job as badly as I wanted to be a real vampire."
"But when you had your chance," he said, "you realized other things were more important. So did I."
They moved out of earshot after that. Harry exhaled a disgruntled sigh. "It's getting harder to hate him all the time."
"I think he feels that way about you, too," Hermione said.
Ron snickered. "So Snape gets a happy ending. Who'd've thought it? Let's go see if they've posted the lists for the scavenger hunt yet. I may not know the castle as well as Fred and George did, but I've got to have a pretty good idea."
They went down, and the list was indeed posted. As each student touched the parchment tacked to the wall beside the doors into the Great Hall, a perfect copy peeled away into his or her hand. People were already rushing around and chattering excitedly, trying to plan the best way to collect owl feathers, werewolf howls, ghost fingerprints, green bedroom slippers, dragon scales, dried ink bottles, and the like.
"Want to team up?" Ron asked, brandishing his list.
"It's not for me," Harry said. "Sorry, Ron. I've gone chasing around Hogwarts looking for weird items often enough lately. I'm just going to go down and say hi to Hagrid, see how he made out with Stratford."
That was the other news, its true ramifications known only to a select few. On the day that Professor McGonagall had fainted, Dumbledore had dispatched Hagrid to find Cliffton Stratford. The gallery had subsequently cancelled the upcoming exhibition of his photographs. True to his word, Dumbledore had seen to it that the book was removed from the school library, and possibly arranged to have all copies confiscated as well; Harry wouldn't have put it past him.
As for Stratford, he'd been turned over to Hagrid along with instructions to take him for a little nature walk into the Forbidden Forest. That tantalizing hint had been the last piece Harry had heard, and until now he'd been too busy to pay Hagrid a visit.
"I'll come with you," Hermione said. "I haven't seen Hagrid in ages."
"Oh, come on," said Ron. "There's fifty points in it for the House of the winner. Aren't you going to do your part for Gryffindor?"
"I got thirty points for Gryffindor just the other day, when I aced an Arithmancy test that no one had ever completed before," she said. "I've done my part."
"I'll concentrate on the next Quidditch match," Harry said.
"Fine, but don't expect to share in my glory when I win," Ron said, and off he went.
Dusk had come early, creeping over the grounds in velvet shadows. The pathways were lined with jack-o-lanterns, a host of skeletons (not all human; most of them had been gleaned by Hagrid from the Care of Magical Creatures archives and museum) hung from the trees, and giant spiderwebs possibly woven by the horse-sized children of Aragog caught dew and glimmered in intricate design.
Hagrid's cottage was dark. Knocking got no answer, and when the door proved unlocked, Harry went inside. "Hagrid?"
No one was home except Fang the boarhound, and a sabertoothed kitten that Hagrid had recently adopted. The kitten, tawny-brown with enormous teeth depending from its upper jaw, was already as big as a cocker spaniel. Hagrid had, in the same spirit that led him to name a gigantic three-headed dog Fluffy, named the sabertooth Mittens by virtue of its two white forefeet.
A note was on the table, held down by a paperweight of a tarantula in amber. Harry read it while Hermione played – carefully! – with Mittens.
"Have gone to a costume party with Olympe," Harry read. "At the Three Broomsticks. Back late."
"A costume party, he and Madame Maxime?" Hermione laughed. "What in the world could they possibly disguise themselves as?"
"Good question." He replaced the paperweight, studying it for a moment because he could have sworn the tarantula had moved. "What now? I guess we could still catch up with Ron."
"Let's go down by the lake instead," she said.
"Um … all right."
Neither of them spoke as they walked down to the shore, then out on the dock. Harry's heart was beating fast with a curious blend of trepidation and excitement.
She stopped, and turned to face him. "Harry, I've been thinking about this a lot since … well, since that other night we were out here."
"Were you?" The seesaw of his emotions tipped toward trepidation. Was she going to slap his face, call him a bastard?
"You kissed me."
"Did you like it?"
"What? Of course I liked it!" He faltered. "Why? Didn't you?"
The night hid most of her blush, and her voice was almost too quiet to hear. "Yes. But it surprised me. I didn't think you were interested in me that way. I thought you and Cho …"
"I've had a crush on her, you mean?" He chuckled a little. "And Cho, unless we're on the Quidditch field, barely knows I'm alive. There's never been anything real there, Hermione."
"What happened, then? Why me?"
"I don't know. You're a great friend, always have been … but somehow, all of a sudden, I must've started thinking that maybe there was more. Started seeing what I should have seen before, how pretty you are and all. But then I also thought that, well, you and Ron …"
"Ron, don't ask me about Ron, I like him well enough as a friend and all but sometimes he drives me so crazy, infuriates me, that I just want to hit him … but the books say that something like that can be an indication of a hidden attraction … oh, Harry, I don't understand any of it. All the books in the world can't prepare you for the real thing, not when it comes to boys."
"Hey, there's no how-to book for dealing with you girls, either," he said with a grin. "But, Hermione … would you go out with me?"
"As in, on a date?"
"A date, yeah. Dinner. Next Hogsmeade weekend. The Golden Gryphon."
"Harry, that place is really expensive!"
"That doesn't matter. What do you say?"
"Well … yes, all right. I'd be happy to."
"Great!" Harry felt a large, and probably goofy, smile break over his face. He shoved aside all thoughts of what Ron or anyone else would say. He had a date. "So … now what?"
"If I remember right," she said seriously, "now I'm supposed to rush off and tell all my friends and we'll squeal and giggle and whisper behind our hands whenever we see you."
"Really?" Harry said, aghast.
She smiled. "No! Other girls, maybe, but that's not me."
"I'm glad."
"But if you want, you can kiss me again."
"Another joke?"
"No joke. You just can't call me your girlfriend yet. Since we haven't even had our first date and all. But a kiss would be nice."
He moved closer to her, clasped her hands in his, and leaned down to kiss her.


The End.

page copyright 2002 by Christine Morgan / christine@sabledrake.com