"It's lonely up here," Harry says. He's leaning against a pillar, the moonlight casting an eerie glow on pale skin and hollow cheeks.
"More like peaceful," Snape drawls. He stands nearby like a statue and looks at the empty grounds below.
Harry looks at Snape like the man has just sprouted wings. "You're twisted if you think this"—Harry waves his hand at their surroundings—"is peaceful."
Snape sneers. "Leave it to an idiot such as yourself to be unappreciative of the peace and calm that midnight delivers."
Harry scoffs and kicks off of the pillar. "And leave it to a nasty old prick like you to enjoy rotting in the dark."
An expression of rage captures Snape's face. He whirls around to Harry and lifts his hand in the air.
I stifle a gasp.
Harry flinches, but Snape's hand never meets Harry's flesh. Instead, the older wizard lowers his arm, closes his eyes, and stands like that for a moment (probably counting to ten in his head). Once he's gotten himself under control, he opens his eyes.
The look on Snape's face—regret and sorrow and terror—takes my breath away.
I've never seen the man looking so startled, so remorseful.
"Potter," Snape says, "I should not have—"
"No," Harry croaks, putting his hands up in surrender and slowly backing up, "no, it's okay. I know you didn't mean—"
"THAT DOES NOT MATTER!" Snape shouts, balling his fists up against his sides. "It doesn't matter if I meant to or not. What matters is that I almost did."
"Right, but you didn't," Harry points out. "You didn't, nor have you ever, nor will you ever. I know you just lose your temper sometimes."
Snape shakes his head. "I pride myself on being more than capable of exercising restraint," he admits. "And you. . ."
Harry looks expectantly at Snape, waiting for the man to finish. When Snape doesn't, Harry picks up.
"What about me?" Harry questions.
Snape squints like he's in agony. "While I am capable of exercising restraint when it comes to"—Snape grimaces—"emotions, you seem to be the only one capable of sabotaging that restraint."
Harry swallows thickly.
Snape looks at a point somewhere above Harry's head.
An awkward silence settles around them, the air weighed down by the gravity of Snape's confession.
I have goose bumps, but I know they're not from the chill of the night.
Snape blinks quickly and breaks through the strange quiet.
"I'm trying," he says. "I'm trying to do what's best for you. I've been trying. . ." He sounds defeated.
"And so have I," Harry whispers. "So you fly off the handle sometimes. So what? It happens."
Snape throws Harry a filthy look. "Do not attempt to justify my distasteful behavior."
"Then don't attempt to downplay all the good you've done for me," Harry demands.
Snape looks taken aback. "Good?"
Snape throws his hands in the air and spins around to once again face the dark grounds below them. "Your definition of 'good' leaves something to be desired."
Harry approaches Snape cautiously, the way one would approach a sleeping tiger. He stops and leaves a considerable gap between the two of them.
"It's kind of nice," Harry mumbles as he stuffs his hands into the pockets of his jeans.
"What's 'kind of nice'?" Snape asks.
Harry doesn't answer for a moment. Instead, he shuffles his feet nervously and does not look up. When he speaks, his words are full of hope. "Having someone to talk to."
Slowly, Snape turns his head, his eyes warmer than usual.
Harry drags his eyes upward and catches Snape's. A knowing and understanding look passes between the two wizards.
"Agreed," Snape rasps after what seems like five minutes.
Harry grins, his entire face lighting up. It makes him look young, innocent, not like a boy who's been to hell and back. Then he ducks his head and bounces on the balls of his feet.
A hand reaches out and lays itself over the top of his head. Long boney fingers comb through his messy black hair—softly, gently—soothing and calming.
They stay that way for a several minutes, Snape petting the top of Harry's head. They look comfortable, yet not as comfortable as they could—should-be. There is a sense of something fresh and new here, something delicate that must be nurtured.
I don't think Harry could handle it if it were to break.
I watch from beneath the Invisibility Cloak as the two wizards turn to look into the night, and I can't help but hate myself a little for intruding on such a private moment.
And yet, I can't help myself.
There is good here. There is bad here. There is patience and impatience; like and dislike; compassion and resentment; comfort and fear.
And there is also a connection. The space between the two wizards indicates the connection is blurred, fragile.
But there is no denying its existence, and I'm thankful that out of all this grief, Harry has found something. It's not perfect. They always do this: bicker and criticize and misunderstand and apologize, a constant threat suspended in the air around them.
But maybe something beautiful can be born from the wreckage.
. . .At least I'd like to think that.
I feel a twinge of regret as I quietly slip back into the castle.
TWO MONTHS EARLIER. . .
I sit there, my left foot tap-tapping a shaky rhythm beneath the table.
I'm a liar.
I take a sip of my pumpkin juice.
It'll all be over if it comes out. . .
But I don't taste it.
Harry and Ginny are standing at the doors of the Great Hall. I am watching them, waiting and anticipating, a bundle of nerves wound tightly like coiled snakes in my stomach. Harry extends his arms, speaks with his hands, opens his mouth and shoots out words like bullets, words I cannot hear from this distance.
I continue to watch anyway.
There is space between him and Ginny, so much space it is like an ocean separating two countries.
Harry's motions rocket from frantic to pleading and back again, but Ginny's mouth never opens, not once. She simply stands there, steel beneath porcelain skin, her own arms hugged around herself. At one point, she blows a stray lock of hair out of her face. The flickering glow of a candle flame hovering in the air reflects off of that red lock.
My breath catches.
Ginny is shaking her head now while Harry reaches out beseechingly to her. She takes a step back, then another, then two more, and then turns and walks away, out of the Great Hall, leaving Harry standing there. His face twists into a mixture of hurt and fear and rage, and he begins walking in my direction.
Something stabs at my ribs.
"I don't get it," I hear him saying to himself. "What is wrong with her?"
That red hair fell all around like a curtain. . .
He takes a seat and stares moodily at his pudding.
"She seemed happy to be with me just two weeks ago," Harry says in a small voice. "Now she's distancing herself from me. I don't know what I've done wrong."
He speaks like a wounded animal and looks like a wounded animal, sitting there curled over the surface of the table.
He is a wounded animal.
For a moment, I want to smother the life out of him. I want to do it to put him out of his misery (isn't that precisely what one does to a wounded animal?). I want to do it to cure the ache inside myself.
And yet, there is also a feeling of. . .excitement?. . .blooming deep within, like a plant in sunlight.
I wait in front of the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy, silently debating between opening the Room or remaining there and waiting.
"I should've just taken the damned Invisibility Cloak," I whisper to myself.
My body thrums with anticipation as I shift my weight from foot to foot.
And then there are footsteps.
A jolt of electric excitement and white hot terror slam against me.
Best play it safe, I decide. There isn't enough time to open the Room because whoever is walking is too close.
I slink into a shadowy corner, fiery thrill and icy fear coursing through my body at the same time.
"Why can't you just tell me?" I hear.
It's Harry's voice.
"Why don't you just sod off?" I hear.
It's Ginny's voice.
I slide the nail of my thumb into my mouth and nibble on it like a rabbit with a piece of lettuce.
"Because I care about you!" Harry shouts.
Ginny comes into view first. Her hair is loosely tied back and, in this light, her brown eyes glitter and scan the area expectantly.
My breath catches.
"Look at me," she said, eyes shining and glazed. . .
Harry is chasing after her, his face full of fury.
"I want to know why you're out of bed so late!"
Ginny spins around to face him. I can't see her face, but her voice is chilly and I imagine her face matches her tone.
"You're not my father, Potter," she growls. "You don't need to keep tabs on me!"
The color drains from Harry's face, which I can still see.
"Not even a month ago you wanted me around," he croaks. "Now you don't?"
Ginny puts a hand on her hip.
Inexperienced fingertips followed by soft lips traced the pale flesh of a hip bone. . .
"I don't know how many times I have to say it," Ginny snarls. "LEAVE. ME. ALONE."
Harry shrinks back, his entire face falling.
Part of me feels like it's dying.
Another part of me feels like it's being born.
Harry quickly recovers and raises himself to his full height.
"I want you to tell me," he says quietly, dangerously, "who he is."
My heart jumps up into my throat and beats inside my ears.
Ginny says nothing.
"I know there's someone else," Harry says coldly. The tone of his voice coupled with the expression on his face scares me.
Ginny scoffs. "So sure of yourself, aren't you?"
"DO YOU THINK I'M BLIND?" Harry roars. He reaches out and wraps a hand around her neck.
I nearly lunge at him from the shadows, but I stop when I see that his hand does not squeeze. Instead, it caresses gently, almost. . .lovingly.
"Don't," Ginny chokes out. It is a plea, not a command.
"You didn't think I'd be able to see them, did you?" Harry asks quietly. His voice sounds small.
From this angle, I can't see what he's doing, but I'm fairly certain he's running the pad of his thumb across the skin of her neck. His eyes are tired as he watches her face, all of his previous rage having faded like burning embers into the night.
Ginny remains quiet.
"Whose been touching you?" Harry chokes out in a broken voice. "I see. . .all over your neck. I can see them. Whose mouth-"
"Enough!" Ginny hisses, grabbing Harry's hand and letting it drop to his side. She backs up and shakes her head. "Don't ask questions when you don't want the answers."
Harry furrows his brows. "Now what the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Trust me," Ginny says, her tone full of warning. "You don't want to know."
"IS THAT WHAT YOU THINK?" Harry cries. "OF COURSE I WANT TO KNOW! I WANT TO KNOW WHO'S BEEN FU—"
"What is this?" a familiar voice says silkily.
Snape creeps out of the shadows behind Harry and Ginny.
No one speaks.
Harry never takes his eyes off Ginny.
"What is going on here?" Snape demands. He is standing behind Harry, towering over the quarreling couple.
Harry's eyes still do not move from Ginny's face.
"Potter and Weasley," Snape says softly and dangerously, eyes glinting. "I will not repeat myself. What. Are. You. Two. Doing?"
Harry bites his lower lip. It looks like he's trying to keep himself under control.
"Just having a conversation," Harry finally grumbles after a moment.
"Ah," Snape says, gliding to the empty space (there isn't much) between the couple. He looks from Harry to Ginny and back again, a wicked smirk tugging at his lips.
"A conversation," he repeats. "At this hour?"
This is met with silence.
Snape sneers. "Oh, a lover's quarrel then? How. . .precious."
Harry's face warps into a mask of rage. "FUCK OFF, YOU GREASY OLD BASTARD!" he hollers, and Ginny flinches. "We are in the middle of a conversation. Maybe you should just keep your ugly nose out—"
"Enough!" Snape hisses, turning to face Harry, his back to Ginny. "You will not speak to me that way, Potter. Your disrespect knows no limits, does it?"
From where I stand, I can only see half of Harry's face because of Snape's position.
But I can see well enough.
Harry raises his chin defiantly, his jaw looking like it's made of iron.
"I meant no disrespect," Harry growls. "I was just telling you what you needed to hear. Sir."
That does it. Snape rockets forward and grabs Harry by his robes. Now I really can't see Harry's face. The two wizards are mere centimeters apart, so close Harry can probably feel Snape's breath on his face.
Ginny just stands there.
"You will pay for that, you little moron," Snape snarls. "Miss Weasley, leave us."
Ginny starts. "Wha—huh?"
Snape keeps a firm grip on Harry's robes. Without turning around, he shouts, "I BELIEVE I TOLD YOU TO LEAVE, DID I NOT, WEASLEY?"
I swear I hear Ginny whimper, but I can't be sure. Without hesitation, she scampers away, turning to throw a disappointed look into the empty hall behind her.
When she is gone, Snape loosens his grip on Harry's robes, but he doesn't let go.
"My office! Now!" he barks.
I follow behind them and keep myself hidden as Snape pushes the door open and quickly slams it, barely giving Harry an inch to squeeze through.
I press my ear to the door and I can hear words. Not clearly and not all of them, but I can still hear words.
Thank Merlin he didn't cast a Silencing charm.
I have to know what's happening. I feel something biting inside of me. I have to make sure Harry is. . .
Make sure Harry is what?
I could slap myself.
There are long moments of silence that seem to stretch on for eternity. There is shouting. Snape bellows. Harry grumbles.
I can only decipher bits and pieces of their conversation.
"Don't talk to me like that—"
"Hormonal teenage boy looking for a bit of pleasure in the dark halls—"
"Not like that—"
"I didn't mean—"
"So like your father—"
"Worthless, moronic boy you are—"
I swear I can hear sobbing, but I'm uncertain. I push my ear closer to the door and I know it's going to turn red and ache tomorrow morning, but right now I really don't care.
"Crying. . .pathetic. . .weak. . .STOP! You disgust me—"
The sobs fade into gasps, broken gasps; the sound of a man dying of thirst.
"FOR FUCK'S SAKE, POTTER!" I hear Snape bellow. "CONTROL YOURSELF!"
The gasps continue until a loud crack pierces the air.
All is quiet, and then. . .
I hear Harry shriek.
"Your sniveling"—Snape's voice has dropped back down to its familiar drawl and, once again, I have trouble hearing him—"quite possibly, the most hideous. . .I have ever. . .displeasure of witnessing."
"DON'T YOU EVER PUT YOUR HANDS ON ME AGAIN!" Harry shouts.
And then, whispering.
A good deal of whispering.
I try to pull the words out from underneath the whispers, but to no avail.
I would give anything for a pair of Extendable Ears right about now. The crack underneath Snape's door would give me enough room.
The soft, low voices continue to scatter throughout Snape's office and I give up after about ten minutes. There's no way I am going to be able to hear what they're saying. The storm has passed.
I traipse to a darkened corner and sit, distantly hoping no one sees me but too preoccupied with what's happening in Snape's office to be too fussed about being caught.
I sit and wait. I feel compelled—no, obligated—to wait, to make sure Harry gets out of Snape's office and back up to the tower.
I don't have a watch on, but a good hour passes before anything else happens.
I hear Snape holler, "GET OUT!" The door to his office is thrown open and out runs Harry.
He looks. . .relieved?
No, it can't be. How could an encounter with Snape calm someone?
My eyes follow Harry's retreating form as he disappears, and one thing is for sure: he doesn't look like he did an hour ago. It looks like some weight has been lifted from his shoulders.
I'm curious about what happened in Snape's office.
With a sigh, I rise to my feet and make my way out of the dungeons and up the stairs. My mind races as I walk, and I'm taken by surprise when a soft whisper beckons me from somewhere close by. And then there are hands, reaching out from behind a tapestry and pulling, pulling, pulling. . .
I already know. My body remembers, and I do not resist.
How could I?
TBC. . .