|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.
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.
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.
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.
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
"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.
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?"
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.
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."
a pig," sniffed Hermione. "You honestly are."
"I'm just saying!"
back. "Shh. Doesn't look like they're having any problems."
having lingered to be among the last to leave the room, Snape was walking
with Ophidia Winterwind.
"Come on," Harry
"Not more eavesdropping,"
Hermione complained. "Won't you ever learn your lesson?"
"We learn more
this way than in class," Ron said.
said Harry wryly. "Not always what we want to learn either."
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."
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
"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.
"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."
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
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
"A costume party,
he and Madame Maxime?" Hermione laughed. "What in the world could they
possibly disguise themselves as?"
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.
and turned to face him. "Harry, I've been thinking about this a lot since
… well, since that other night we were out here."
The seesaw of his emotions tipped toward trepidation. Was she going to
slap his face, call him a bastard?
"Did you like
"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."
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 …"
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."
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
"A date, yeah.
Dinner. Next Hogsmeade weekend. The Golden Gryphon."
place is really expensive!"
matter. What do you say?"
"Well … yes,
all right. I'd be happy to."
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."
"No! Other girls, maybe, but that's not me."
"But if you
want, you can kiss me again."
"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.