A/N: Hello, dearest readers of them all. Response to last chapter was FUCKING AMAZING I love you all. Have a new chapter! *heart*
Severus watched Miss Potter flee. He had no idea what had just happened. She had stared at him with increasing alarm on her face, and then horror, until finally she had fled as if being chased by a storm of hornets.
He looked down at the shoe she'd left him holding.
"Now what the hell am I supposed to do with this?" he said through grit teeth.
Harriet pelted up the stairs to the Entrance Hall. Her only thought was to hide—hide hide hide. Gryffindor Tower—her four poster—behind the curtains—somewhere she could die alone without anyone ever seeing her face, where they'd find her bleached bones lying in a sad little pile beneath the covers ten years later—
She might have made it, if she hadn't tripped in the Entrance Hall.
Her ankle collided with something low and solid and the momentum of her charge pitched her forward, like a felled tree.
She didn't get her hands up in time to stop her chin from banging against the flagstones, and stars erupted behind her eyes as pain exploded on her chin.
Groaning, she sat up to see what she'd tripped over. Something small was struggling beneath her skirt. She dragged the petticoats away to find—
A dog. A fluffy, reddish, floofy little dog. She thought it might be a Pomeranian. It looked dazed and cross-eyed—like it had just been torpedoed, funnily enough.
What was a dog doing at Hogwar. . .
Just crack it open and throw it at your target and they'll turn into... something, George had said about ten feet away from this very spot, grinning not-so-nicely. Frog, dog, piglet, tortoise—nothing too vicious, since they'll be pretty ticked off at you. . . Keep it in case you see him. Though if I see him first, I can't promise I won't beat you to it.
She stared at the dog, which was shaking its head, as if to clear it. "Ron?"
The dog looked up at her, then released a torrent of yipping barks. It tried to jump to its feet but fell over.
"For the love of—" She reached to pick him up, and he tried to bite her. "You arsehole," she exploded, making him fall over again in surprise. "Fine! Fucking stay there, then, and see if I—"
Laughter came from the open doors to the Great Hall. She froze—but no, whoever-it-was had been laughing at something all on their own, inside.
The dog managed to stand on wobbly legs, but they folded under him when he tried to step forward. He looked very pitiful, really.
"Serves you right," she muttered, getting to her feet. Damn, she'd left her shoe with Sn—
She turned blindly toward the staircase. Running for her life and sanity, that's what she'd been doing. And she'd have gone on running, if it weren't for—
"Rrrar rar! Rrarr rar rar!" the dog squeaked behind her.
She looked down, pulling her skirt back so she could see him. He jumped, like he was trying to get on his hind legs, and toppled over again.
"I thought you didn't want my help."
His answering yip sounded panicked. He certainly looked it, as much as she could read his pointed little doggy face. She wavered, her bare foot on the bottom step, weighing her the ball of anger in her heart against the thought of being a small animal, relatively helpless, left alone in the castle, with no one but two or three people who knew what had happened to you. . .
Another burst of laughter came from the Great Hall, echoing through her memory. She clenched her fist in her skirt—
"Draco?" she heard Pansy Parkinson's voice echoing from down the corridor, out of sight around the staircase. "Draco, is that you?"
Harriet's heart jolted with horror. If Pansy saw her like this—
She scooped up the dog and charged up the stairs. She didn't stop till she reached the Fat Lady's portrait, where she wheezed out, "Fairy lights!" to a drunken Fat Lady, and toppled into the common room.
Thank God it was mostly empty. A couple was snogging on the sofa, but they were much too busy to notice her.
The dog whimpered in her arms. Stiffening, she set him down.
"There," she whispered, so as not to bother the pair entwined on the couch. "You're back now, you don't need me."
But he jumped at her skirts the second she tried to walk away, whimpering and clinging and trying to bite the brocade.
"What?" she hissed, eyes darting toward the snogging couple, but they still didn't have any attention to spare her.
The dog sat back on his haunches, raising his arms, like he wanted to be picked up again. He was trembling, shivering—clearly terrified.
Groaning, she picked him back up. "Fine, I'll get you up to the dorm. . ."
She opened the boys' stairwell and climbed the winding steps to Ron's dorm. There was no light under the door, nor any answer to her knock. The room was dark and empty, not even a fire lit in the grate.
"Well, it'll be boring, but too bad. I'll let Fred and George know where you are, if I see them."
But when she set him down on his bed and turned to leave, he tumbled off the bed with a squeak and a thump. He burrowed under her skirt, cowering against her ankles.
"This is your dorm, idiot!" She stepped over him, but he scampered after her, yipping so piteously that she had no choice but to pick him back up again. "What is your problem?" He buried his face against her arm.
"You can't come to my dorm. You have to stay in here. Look, we'll just put you on your bed and draw the curtains and they won't see you, they'll think you're sulking—"
But he fought so madly not to be put down that he scratched her arms. His heart was beating so hard and fast Harriet thought it might just run itself out, and his sides were fluttering at an alarming rate, his black eyes so wide she could see the whites around them.
"All right," she said, trying to sound soothing and not annoyed or bewildered. She stroked his fur. "All right. I won't leave you here. It's all right."
At last he stopped fighting, but his heart still beat too quickly against her hand. When she stepped out of the room and shut the door, his breathing began to slow, and by the time she'd reached the common room again he had relaxed into her arms. Sighing, Harriet climbed the girls' staircase, pausing outside her own door.
"If Lavender and Parvati are in here," she muttered, "I am giving you to them as a distraction and making my escape."
He flattened his ears and huddled against her.
But the dorm was empty. A fire leapt to life in the hearth as she passed it by, but she—and the dog—was alone.
Then she caught sight of herself in the mirror.
She dropped the dog in her shock. He fell onto her bed with a squeak, but she hardly noticed.
Her makeup. . . her hair. . . her dress. . .
The eye makeup had smeared badly, like she'd rubbed her fingers through it and streaked it across her temples. The Sleakeazy's had fought against her hair as best it could, but lost half the battle: it snarled around her head like a nest of snakes.
But the worst. . . the worst was the dress. The skirt was ripped and stained, from the thorns and grass and cobblestones, and the cut on her chin had dripped blood onto the bodice.
She looked like bloody Medusa. Who'd just done with killing some bloke who'd come to slice her head off.
She'd stood in front of Snape looking like this.
"Merlin fuck—something!" she cried, and threw herself on the bed, hauling her pillow over her face and pressing it down, hard, as if that could smother the memory out of her head.
Fuck balls, fuck Christmas, fuck everything.
She'd never felt so stupid in her entire life.
Snape, who was a grown-up. Snape, who was her teacher. Snape, who was barely nice to her, even by Snape standards; who ignored her and treated her like a child he barely had the patience for.
She threw off the pillow, almost sending the dog flying, and yelled, "BLOODY FUCKING HELL!"
He yipped, sounding almost admonishing, and huddled at the other end of the bed.
"I'm getting the fuck out of all of this," she muttered, tugging hard at her skirt. Half of her wanted to cry. The other half wanted to destroy everything in the tower, to curse the mirrors into dust, set the stone on fire, reduce the roof to powder, and bring down the walls.
She pushed herself up, looking down at her dress, and did want to cry. It had been so beautiful. . .
The door opened.
Her fingers curled into her palms as she fought the urge to throw her hands over her head and hide her hair. But it wasn't Lavender or Parvati, only someone both better and worse.
Hermione stood in the doorway, her hair a bit flyaway, but otherwise every inch as stunning as she'd looked on the stairs. She had clearly not been dragged to the bathroom by anyone and told she was a threat to their little sister's life, or run into Draco bloody Malfoy in the gardens, or escaped from deadly encounters with other people's garden trysts,
Her meeting with George swam back to her. Hermione's looking for you, he'd said. But Hermione couldn't have been looking the whole time; she had to have spent most of the evening dancing with Krum, having a lovely ball.
They stared at each other, Hermione breathing a little heavily, like she'd just run up the stairs.
Then her face screwed up and she burst into tears.
Harriet gaped at her.
"Oh, Harriet—" Hermione rushed forward and threw herself on her, clinging to Harriet's shoulders. "I'm so, so, so sorry!"
Harriet sat with her arms held out at odd angles, bewildered, as Hermione sobbed all over her. For a moment, Harriet's heart struggled—but the cruel laughter and the loneliness and her terrible realization echoed, aching, through her and she couldn't be anything except grateful Hermione was there. Then Harriet sagged against her, returning the hug, and Hermione's arms tightened around her for a few long, solid moments that Harriet did not want to end.
Hermione sat back, rubbing at her eyes—which widened as she got a proper look at Harriet.
"Oh, Harriet," she said again, despairing, "your dress! What—what happened?" And then, without waiting for an answer, "Your chin! Hang on—"
She jumped up and ran over to her side of the room, rummaging in her trunk, and hurried back with her first aid kit. She cleaned the cut on Harriet's chin very gently, without speaking, and Harriet was exhausted enough to be grateful for not needing to find things to say. Hermione's eyes were red from crying, but she'd got herself under control.
"Let's. . . take this off," she said, touching Harriet's cheek just below her eye.
Once the eye makeup had been rubbed off, Harriet felt a bit less like a terrifying harpy, but there was nothing to be done for the snarling mass on her head. The Sleakeazy's had caked into her hair, but she had no interest in washing it out—judging by Hermione's dismayed, "How much of this did she use?" it would have taken ages. She just wanted to change into her nightgown and crawl into bed and sleep until she forgot everything about tonight.
"Harriet?" Hermione said tentatively, as Harriet tried twisting her arms behind her to get the hooks undone.
"Yeah?" she said, not looking at her. She didn't know whether she felt angry a bit, still, or embarrassed; she just knew she was very, very tired.
"I—wanted to—to tell you." Hermione pressed her hands against her own stomach. "That—you were right."
Staring down at her feet, she didn't see Harriet's bewildered expression; she only kept going: "I don't know how I could press you to confide in me when I couldn't do the same. I—I owe it to you to tell you that I—I really do. . . fancy—"
And as the truth of what was coming dawned on Harriet, she remembered, with a clench of horror, the dog.
"NO!" she yelled.
Hermione took a step backward. She looked both astonished and slightly hurt. "What?"
Shit, shit, SHIT. "I—I know." Harriet's knees felt weak; she tried not to look terrified. "You—you don't have to say anything. I know."
"But. . ." Now Hermione looked confused. "I wanted to tell you. . ."
"You don't have to. It's fine." Harriet couldn't see him on the bed—had he crawled away? Hidden somewhere? Clever move, first one of the evening. "Just wanting to tell me is enough."
Hermione didn't seem to know whether to feel relieved, or as if the wind had been sucked from her sails. Then she hugged Harriet from behind, and pressed her face into Harriet's shoulder. Seeing as Harriet was the shorter one by quite a bit, it must have pained her neck.
Harriet raised her hand and awkwardly patted Hermione on the head. Hermione's hair felt stiff and sticky-sandpapery, like it was also coated in Sleakeazy's. It still looked a trillion times better than Harriet's, though.
Standing there with Hermione leaning on her shoulder, she realized it had been true, what she'd said. It didn't matter. The fact that Hermione had been going to say it was enough.
For now, at least.
"I wrote you a letter," Hermione said in a muffled voice, not raising her head.
Hermione sighed, her breath traveling down Harriet's back. "That's where I've been all day. I was trying to get right. . . what I wanted to say."
Straightening, she turned away, brushing furtively at her eyes. Harriet pretended she hadn't seen.
Hermione went over to her dresser and returned with a fat scroll. Harriet wondered how many feet long it was.
"Oh. Thanks," she said weakly.
"You don't have to read it now, of course." Blushing a little, Hermione set it on Harriet's bedside table. "I. . . got a bit carried away. Once I got started, there seemed to be so much to. . ." She took in a deep, fortifying breath. "Anyway. Let's get you out of this dress."
"Yeah." Harriet raised her voice slightly. "It's lucky it's just you and me here. If anyone else saw me getting changed, I'd have to kill them."
There was a bewildered silence which, Harriet fancied, was tinged with doggy panic.
"All right," Hermione said, clearly unwilling to ask.
"Let's hurry," Harriet said, "before Lavender and Parvati come back."
Hermione cringed. ". . . Good point."
"Ah, Severus," Dumbledore said, "good evening."
He was standing in the Entrance Hall, apparently enjoying the solitude afforded by loitering alone, staring at nothing. Several of the torches had burned down, raising the shadows, and slow strands of music filtered out from the Great Hall. Severus didn't know the hour, but he could feel the lateness behind his eyes.
"How is the night?" Dumbledore asked, as a pair of students—that Veela girl, to judge by the long, silvery hair, and her date—bumbled past them, giggling and not even noticing two old men standing within a pace of them.
"Tiresome," Severus said. "As in, I'm tired of it."
"Perhaps if you took a night off? No," he said when Severus stared at him incredulously. "Perhaps not, then. What is that?"
Severus looked down at his own hand, remembering, as he did so, what he was holding. "Miss Potter dropped her shoe," he said sourly, annoyed by the irony. "She was wandering round the garden by herself, the little fool. I drove her indoors again." At least, he assumed he had, though he could not, for once, recall what he'd said to get that reaction out of her.
"Did you notice anything, on your tour of the garden?"
Just Moody, the peg-legged troll-fucker. "No."
Dumbledore nodded, looking thoughtful. "Igor seemed quite. . . discontent, all through supper."
"Probably because his pet project was so happily fraternizing with the enemy."
"You haven't noticed something more persistent, in his air?"
"He generally avoids me." Ever since I tortured him.
Dumbledore glanced at him. Severus thought it was only his knowledge of his own deeds that made him imagine the old man's eyes glowed so strongly blue. They couldn't, in that light. And Dumbledore could not see inside his mind.
"Do keep a sharp eye out, Severus," Dumbledore said. "And have a good night."
Severus grunted and swept out of sight, down the dungeon staircase.
In front of his wardrobe mirror, he peeled back the sleeve of his robes till he could see the Mark. It had steadily darkened these last weeks, until now it had the look of an old tattoo. It didn't hurt, but he felt something when he looked at it, some phantom touch on his soul.
He knew that before too long it would be as black as fresh ink, and the pain would shoot straight to his heart like a binding rope of fire.
He looked at the shoe in his hand and knew that, in some infinitely more terrifying way, that the first of those days had already come and gone.
Harriet was exhausted, but she couldn't sleep. In the velvet darkness, her mind flickered like a lightning storm.
Bloody fucking hell, she didn't want to fancy Snape.
Even thinking it made her feel queasy.
Snape. If she'd dreamt that asking him to the ball would lead to the rise of Voldemort, him finding out she—that she—well, it'd mean the apocalypse, at least. And maybe a black hole would randomly appear and absorb the sun and suck the whole solar system inside it.
Why the bloody, bollocksing hell did she like him anyway? It wasn't as if he was nice, or handsome, or anything anybody seemed to like people for.
Viktor Krum isn't nice or handsome, she couldn't help thinking—dark, broody, awkward, sullen, duck-footed Viktor Krum.
But Viktor Krum wasn't the meanest teacher in the world. (How had those Ravenclaws' study turned out, anyway? The one they'd been doing at the end of first year. She'd like to see the results; she bet they'd be a scream.) Viktor Krum wasn't Neville's boggart. Viktor Krum didn't make her so angry she exploded jars in his hand.
Maybe she didn't really like him. Maybe. . . maybe this feeling was something else?
No. She knew it, even as she hoped.
She pulled her pillow over her face and moaned into it. Maybe she could just smother herself.
Her blankets shook, then—rather like a small dog was trying to climb up them. Tossing off the pillow, she batted her hand over the side of the bed. "Quit!" she hissed. "You aren't sleeping up here!"
He gave a little whine, but stopped when Parvati (who'd finally come back, giggling and exuberant, long after Harriet and Hermione had crawled into their four-posters) let out a particularly ripping snore. Harriet heard him shuffle back under the bed, and she flopped back down.
He's not even good-looking, she thought, echoing what Parvati had said on Hallowe'en.
He doesn't have to be, she, herself, had replied.
She pictured Snape in the garden, his greasy hair—which hadn't looked any different, as if washing it was more than he was willing to do, even on the night of a ball—hanging in ropy strands over one glittering black eye. . .
She stuffed her face back into her pillow.
Severus rang in the morning with a leisurely repast that consisted of two pots of coffee, as strong as he could brew it. He was meeting with Lupin today, to try and wring werewolf details out of him, and he'd need all the fortification he could get. Secretive bastard.
Severus had no patience for secretive bastards. He was one, and he knew full well the frustration of talking to such a person. People were secretive because they had something to hide. And everything about Lupin was a secret. He'd boxed up every sincere part of himself and hidden it where no one could find, perhaps not even he.
"Let's get this dreary fucking business over with," Severus muttered. Draining his last cup, he wound himself in his winter-weight traveling cloak, grabbed his bag, and left the comfortable solitude of his empty rooms all too soon.
She ran through the silver-lit black trees, the frost in the night air spiking in her chest. She needed to get to the lake. She could hear the centaurs' pounding hoof-beatsechoing through the forest, and put on an extra burst of speed. Her breath was heaving, her heart about to burst out of her, because when she got to the lake, she would finally be—
The silvery forest shattered into fading shards of memory when Lavender started screaming.
"HERMIONE!" she shrieked. "Your CAT PEED ON MY SHOES!"
Good, Harriet thought. Serves you right for waking me up.
Then her eyes widened as her shocked, sleepy brain caught up. Oh no. Ohhh no—
"Crookshanks would never!" Hermione snapped. "He hasn't ever since he got here!"
"No one else has a pet in here!"
Harriet discretely rolled over so that her upper body was hanging off the bed and peeled back her blankets so she could see beneath the bed. She couldn't see the dog. Maybe he'd got out, somehow, and gone to harass Fred and George to fix him? God, she hoped so.
But when she leaned all the way down till she was practically standing on her head, she saw him cowering behind the pillow she'd loaned him, and looking—as far as she could tell by the way he had his paws clapped over his little doggy eyes—as mortified as he was scared for his life.
Shit. He probably hadn't been able to hold it.
Harriet sighed. She was still royally pissed off about the ball, but she couldn't help feeling sorry for him. It had to have been humiliating, needing to do your doggy business and with no voice to ask for help or hands to let yourself out. And at least he hadn't peed on any of her things. Maybe it was his weird way of saying sorry? He knew that she and Lavender didn't get on.
"Good job aiming for Lavender's stuff," she whispered. "We'll find Fred and George when they leave."
He peeped at her past one of his paws, but he didn't look reassured. Maybe he just didn't believe her.
Lavender and Hermione were now rowing at the top of their lungs, Lavender threatening to turn Crookshanks into a rug, and Hermione shouting that she'd have to learn which way to hold her wand first. Harriet smirked, but she decided that was probably enough.
She threw open her curtains. "MORNING," she said as loudly as she could.
Lavender and Hermione had, as far she knew, never regarded each other with that much fury and loathing before. In fact, they seemed on the verge of jumping at each other and seizing handfuls of hair.
"MORNING," Parvati said hurriedly, at the same volume. Her hair was already perfectly braided, her makeup flawless. For the first time, Harriet appreciated the effort she put into that every single morning. She was also wearing a frenzied sort of smile, which she turned desperately toward Harriet. "How'd you sleep?" she added quickly.
"Fine," Harriet lied, trying to eye Hermione without looking to obvious about it. But she was already reining herself in, turning away from Lavender and striding behind her bed. Lavender still looked primed to kill, though. Keep talking normally till she cools down. "I meant to ask you—I sent your mum a letter a couple of weeks ago, but I never got anything back? Is she. . ."
"Oh!" Parvati looked surprised. "She's in Hyderabad, visiting my auntie. She just had twins, Mummy's helping out."
"Oh." Shit. "How long will she be there?"
"Till the spring." Parvati shrugged apologetically. "Sorry." Then she turned to Lavender, to begin stage two. "D'you still want to borrow my lilac sweater? Only I think Baudoin would think you looked amazing in it. . ."
Well, Harriet frowned. Crap. Now she had something else to worry about. . .
She pulled clothes at random from her wardrobe and was going to just throw them on, when she caught sight of herself in the mirror. She shut her eyes. If she'd thought her hair was bad before. . . well, that'd been before it mashed itself into Sonic the Hedgehog spikes.
"I need a bath," she hissed, crouching down to peer under her bed. "I'll try to be quick. You are staying here—unless you think you can get past Lavender."
That expression had to be doggy horror.
"What are you doing?" Hermione asked. Harriet jumped, banged her head on the underside of her bed, and swore.
"Dropped my wand under the bed," she muttered as she pulled out, rubbing the knot on her skull.
"Sorry," Hermione said, cringing.
"Don't worry about it." Harriet stood, hugging her clothes against her chest. "I'm showering."
To her great credit, Hermione managed not to stare at Harriet's hair. She'd already washed hers, but not too long ago; her curls hadn't yet regained their full strength. "I'll wait for you."
Harriet nodded, feeling awkward, and slipped out of the dorm. She wasn't angry at Hermione, really—just—
Yeah, awkward was a good word for it: that space between the moment you stopped fighting and the moment you made up.
She avoided looking in the bathroom mirror as she turned on the hot water. Soon the steam was thickening the air, and the hot water was stinging her scalp. It felt good. She wanted to wash everything about last night out of her head, but she'd settle for scrubbing it out of her hair.
As she shampoo'd all the Sleakeazy's out—three times—she tried very, very hard not to wonder yet again how it was possible to fancy Snape. It was like a scab in a place that was difficult to reach, but that you felt every time you bumped it against something. And you just wanted to pick at it until blood oozed under your nails and dribbled out as you peeled the scab back, and in the end you pulled too much and it stung as you ripped an extra bit of skin with it. . .
Yeah. About that pleasant.
Snape. Looking at her with cold, glittering loathing the first day of class. Snape. Making her disembowel horned toads. Snape. Ignoring her except when something threatened her life, because of the promise he'd made to her mum, who—
Who he loved.
She felt sick.
She turned off the water. Her mouth tasted like shampoo. Or maybe this feeling did.
Wiping her hand across the mirror, she leaned in and stared at her face up close.
"Why?" she whispered.
Her reflection didn't answer, because she didn't know.
When she returned to the dorm, Lavender and Parvati were gone, and Hermione was sitting at her dresser with the scroll she'd given Harriet spread open before her—editing it. It would have been all too funny if Harriet hadn't felt the creeping sting of misery settling in for a good, long haul.
Not wanting Hermione seeing her face before she got it under control, she hurried behind her bed and bent down to check on the dog. He was curled so miserably on his pillow, his nose tucked into his tail, that she felt the remnants of her anger fraying like a spiderweb knocked apart by a broom. How could she be angry at someone who was as unhappy as herself?
"Come on," she sighed. "Let's go find Fred and George."
She didn't expect him to squirm away from her and try to run.
"Oy!" she said, as he scrabbled farther beneath the bed.
"What's going on?" Hermione asked. "Harriet?"
Well, the cat was out of the bag—or the dog. "Help me get him, would you?" She flopped down on her stomach and crawled after him. He yipped and tried to dart out the other side, but past the flapping edge of her blanket she saw him collide with Hermione's ankles.
She gasped. "Lavender's shoes! It was—this dog? Ow!" she cried a second later. "He bit me!"
"Ron!" Harriet snapped, and then cringed.
SHIT. Harriet crawled out from under the bed. Hermione, gone completely white, looked like she'd been transfigured to stone. It was on the tip of Harriet's tongue to reassure her that she hadn't said anything incriminating last night—that Harriet hadn't let her—but even saying that much would call attention to it, wouldn't it?
"Fred and George turned him into a dog," she said instead. "It's a new thing they're working on. I couldn't find them last night to reverse it and he didn't want to be left alone in the boys' dorm."
Hermione was still staring at the dog in abject horror—or so Harriet assumed. Hermione was actually staring at the space beneath Harriet's dresser, where Harriet assumed he was cowering.
"So I'm going to take him now," she said, "and find them."
She couldn't say if Hermione had heard any of that. Stepping around her, Harriet hauled the dog out by his tail. But once she'd got him, he huddled against her chest.
"See you in a bit," she said to the stone-like Hermione, and left the dorm.
"What did you try to bite her for?" she fumed at him. "It's not her fault you didn't ask her to the ball before someone else did—"
Too late it occurred to her that this was not the wisest thing to say to him on the brink of this uneasy truce that had only begun because he was helpless and frightened and she was sort of protecting him. But a moment later, it didn't matter.
Because when she opened the door to the common room, she walked straight into Ron.
They stared at each other. They'd both come out of their separate stairwells at the same time. Ron's expression fluctuated through a range of emotions—none of them good—and while Harriet was still trapped, motionless, in her complete astonishment, he walked away without a word, slamming the door to the portrait hole behind him.
Harriet registered a few people giggling, but she was still too dumbstruck to feel anything.
That. . . was Ron. So who. . . was she holding?
Who had she let sleep under her bed?
She stared down at the dog in her arms, who looked like he was trying to shrink himself to be as small as possible.
"Damn," said Fred or George's voice mildly, from close at hand. "Wasn't paying attention. Little oik got right by me. . . Harry? You all right?"
She looked up, distantly registering the freckled face in front of her as Fred's.
"Who'd you turn into a dog?" she asked.
His gaze fell on the shivering ball of fur in her arms, and his eyebrows went up. "Who's this?"
"That's what I'm asking you!"
"We didn't turn anyone into anything, Harry," Fred said, looking at her curiously. "What about you?"
And then she remembered.
The capsule. She'd hurled it into the bushes as she'd left—
From the way the he'd done a Hermione and turned to stone in her arms, she knew that he knew she'd figured it out.
"How'd you turn someone without meaning to?" Fred asked shrewdly.
That's what I'd like to know. "Counter-spell?" she said roughly.
He eyed her a moment longer, then shrugged. "It's more an antidote, truth be told." He fished in one of his pockets and pulled out a smaller, red capsule with a black skull and crossbones on it.
"Is it poison?" she asked, glaring at the dog. "Hopefully?"
"Just our little joke," Fred said easily. He picked up her hand and clapped the antidote in it. "Have fun, Harry old girl."
Then to her relief, he sauntered away. Harriet hadn't wanted to explain that she'd brought Draco Malfoy into Gryffindor tower.
Gripping the antidote so hard her hand hurt, she climbed through the portrait hole and headed for the closest disused classroom. Shutting the door behind her, she set the dog roughly on the floor, then tossed the capsule at him.
It bounced off his head, but nothing happened except that he yipped and darted beneath a desk.
Harriet swore. "That's how he told me it should work!" Well, he'd said that's how the first one, the one that turned people into helpless little animals, worked—why would this one be any different? They were both capsules!
A thin line bisected the middle—a groove. So it unscrewed? She twisted the top and bottom in opposite directions, and they came apart at once, pouring out a cloud of red smoke. Flinging the capsule away from her, trying not to breathe, she ran out of the room and slammed the door after her.
Braced against the door by her palms, she leaned into it, listening for any yipping or scrabbling claws. But there was no sound of any movement in the room at all.
She wavered—to just leave, hoping he'd changed back, or to look in there?
God, what if his clothes hadn't changed with him?
She shuddered, and almost took off at light-speed.
But was she a bloody Gryffindor or wasn't she?
She pulled the door open just enough to peek in—and saw Malfoy, his hair and fancy robes disheveled, as he crawled out from under the desk. At least he still had his clothes on, thank all four Founders.
Then their eyes met.
Harriet slammed the door and walked away as quickly as she could without being said to be running, because she was a Gryffindor. She told her feet this very sternly as they tried to bolt.
In a dim corner of her mind, she registered that Malfoy had looked as mortified as she felt.
I let him sleep under my bed. She shuddered again.
He peed on Lavender's shoes! she thought hysterically.
No wonder he was so scared to be in Gryffindor tower.
She frowned, slowing to a stop in front of the Fat Lady.
"If you're going in, dear," the Fat Lady said, cradling her head, "whisper the password."
"Fairy lights," Harriet whispered, shaking herself back to the present.
It was very odd, to have that sympathy she'd felt for Ron—just enough that she hadn't wanted to hex his ears off—transferred to Malfoy.
But he'd still been in her dorm.
"Severus will be coming first, Sirius," Remus said wearily. "And then Madam Pomfrey."
"I don't want that fucking traitor anywhere near you," Sirius said, yet again.
"Well, too bad. He's the only one who could possibly solve what's gone wrong with the Wolfsbane."
"I still think he's the reason it fucking went wrong in the first place." And, again.
Remus closed his eyes and rested his head against the back of his chair. He had debated with himself, in the endless hours when he was so weak he could barely move, when Sirius had paced and raved, as if the long months since he'd escaped Azkaban had never happened—as if his return to something like normalcy had only been a veil over a deeper disturbance—whether he should tell Sirius that he and Snape had read the same reports and both come to the same conclusion: the Wolfsbane sounded like a poison.
But then Sirius would be angry with him. Sirius would feel betrayed by him. And as exhausting as it was to endure his anger towards Snape, Remus didn't know how to face Sirius' anger toward himself. So he'd said nothing beyond maintaining that the potion was to blame, not Snape. Over and over, he'd said it.
It made no difference to Sirus, of course, and now Remus didn't bother to say even that.
He did not particularly want to see Snape today, but Dumbledore had reminded him, very gently, how much Harriet would grieve for him, should anything irreversible befall him; how she'd asked for a visit, and he had granted her one for today, Boxing Day. It was manipulation of the cruelest, most loving kind: it was a request he could not deny and yet hated to grant; that made him feel both terribly selfish and deeply resentful. He would have to be cheerful for Harriet, when he did not feel cheerful at all; he would have to face her worry and her pain, when he wanted to be left alone; he would have to be comforting, when there was no comfort to be had.
So he kept his eyes closed, as Sirius muttered and prowled about the room. Remus was almost looking forward to Snape coming. At least he would not have to pretend with Snape the same way he would with Harriet.
Hermione looked up, hands twisted together, when Harriet came in the dorm. She looked pale, and her hair frizzier than it had been earlier, as if she'd been pulling at it.
"You were gone longer than I thought you'd be," she said.
For a second, Harriet considered playing along with their earlier assumption that the dog had been Ron. But if Hermione talked to him, she'd be bound to figure out it wasn't.
"I was wrong. It wasn't Ron."
Hermione looked like she might faint. "It. . . wasn't?"
"No. Not that you'd said anything the night before. That would mean he knew."
Hermione put her hands over her face. "Thank God. . ." Then it occurred to her, as Harriet knew it would. Dropping her hands with a confused frown, she said, "Then who was it?"
Harriet did not want to tell her the truth. At least she knew Malfoy wouldn't, either. She didn't know much more about him than"Mudblood" and "my father" being some of his favorite words, but she was certain of that.
"No one important," she said instead.
Hermione studied her. She didn't look reassured. Bloody hell, Harriet hoped Hermione wouldn't hound her for a straight answer. She'd had just about enough of that—particularly, as Hermione had pointed out last night, seeing as she was just as evasive.
But Hermione let it go. "I've been making some changes to the letter I wrote you."
Harriet couldn't help it; she groaned. "Hermione. . ."
"I—I really think you should read it," Hermione's voice jumped in pitch, the way it always did when she was nervous. "Or—or I could read it to you?"
Harriet was going to say maybe later, but with Hermione looking at her like that, biting her lip, she couldn't.
"All right," she said tiredly. "If I can lie down, though."
"Of course," Hermione said hurriedly. She even sounded a bit relieved.
As Harriet stretched out on her own bed, it occurred to her that Hermione was probably thankful not to have Harriet looking at her as she read it. . . and that maybe she was a bit thankful, too, to have to listen to this, because then at least she wouldn't be thinking about how bloody awful it was to fancy someone who would never, ever feel the same way, even if all the stars in the sky melted and the sea boiled itself to ash—and who you might not even want to.
"Dear Harriet," Hermione said, in the same tone she would read from any book, "I'm so very, very sorry. I feel so very stupid right now, and silly. . ."
Harriet did almost look at her then, because she knew Hermione saw stupidity in herself as a sign of failure, which scared her more than anything else in the world.
Her memory flashed back to the staff room last year, as the wardrobe opened and Snape-the-boggart stepped out, eyes glittering with cunning malice, looking so much like the real thing that her stomach flipped. . .
She stomped that thought down and tried to focus on Hermione's voice:
". . . and I don't know why it's so hard to tell you the truth about the way I feel, only that it is. I want to be brave, but sometimes I'm afraid that the Sorting Hat put me into Gryffindor because I wanted it so badly. I wanted us to be in the same House, because I wanted to be with someone who seemed to want to be my friend."
Harriet did glance over at her, then. Hermione had raised the scroll so that it was screening her face. She had never told Harriet this before.
She remembered them meeting on the train, Hermione already in her school robes and talking a hundred miles an hour, and Harriet had been so desperately relieved that someone wanted to talk to her, because she'd been afraid she'd be just alone at Hogwarts as she'd always been at Muggle school. Hermione had never really talked about her days before Hogwarts, but Harriet had always wondered if they hadn't been like her own.
"And you're right, you've been right all along," Hermione read on, her voice wavering. "I do f-fancy R-ron. And I know it should be such a little thing, to tell your best friend when you like a boy, but for some reason it's not. I keep wondering if I really do fancy him, or if it's only in a bad way—I feel so horridly jealous when he stares starstruck at Fleur, but isn't that a terrible reason to think you like someone, because you hate them looking at other people? And sometimes I get so angry and impatient with him, and I wonder if it can be honest liking if I feel so horrid like this. . ."
Okay, maybe this hadn't been such a good thing to be hearing.
". . . but when I knew you had to ask him to the ball I felt so very small because a part of me knew he was going to take one look at you in your dress and fall in love with you—"
"What?" Harriet blurted, sitting halfway up.
Hermione actually cringed. "Please don't make me stop or I won't be able to get through it."
Harriet lay back down, and after a moment, her reading-tone now tinged with mortification, Hermione read on:
"—and I found myself wondering if Ron was the boy you fancied—"
"What?" Harriet said, sitting all the way up.
Hermione dropped the scroll into her lap, looking defeated. "I don't think he is now—"
Harriet struggled to find words to address her profound horror. If anything could have been worse than fancying Snape— "God, no!"
Hermione slumped, as if for the first time in days she could finally relax. "I didn't think so," she said weakly. "Not really. You never acted self-conscious around him. . . but I figured it had to be someone you wouldn't tell me about. . ."
Harriet said nothing. She hadn't told Hermione because she hadn't known, but admitting that would only send Hermione into a tailspin of curiosity as she tried to figure out how and why Harriet had been enlightened, and who about. She couldn't truthfully say that Hermione was the last person she wanted to know, because that was most certainly Snape—but she didn't want anyone to know. The fact that she knew was enough to make her want to Obliviate herself.
"It isn't Ron," was all she said.
Hermione nodded, a bit timidly. "I know that now, I do. I'm sorry—"
"You like him. Liking someone makes you think weird things." She wondered how that worked in her case. Liking Snape in the first place seemed like the weirdest thing she could possibly do. How the hell had it even happened?
"Should I go on?" Hermione asked tentatively.
"No." Harriet could pretty well guess. "I thought you were mad at me for asking him."
Hermione swallowed. "I—can you believe I didn't think of that, at first? Not until I saw you at the ball, and you and Ron were clearly fighting—" She was wringing the letter now, ruining it. "I just felt so embarrassed that I hid away, and I convinced myself when you gave me the jewelry that you understood. I was so—but when you and Ron. . . fell out at the dance, I knew I'd, I'd been wrong. . ."
Except she apparently hadn't guessed part of that falling out had happened because Ron was jealous that she'd gone with Krum. Should Harriet tell her? Was that her place?
"I really am so sorry," Hermione said wretchedly. "I ruined the dance for you."
Not in the way you think. And it wasn't really your fault. "Why didn't you ask Ron to the ball in the first place?"
Hermione dropped her eyes to the ruined letter in her hands. "I wasn't brave enough."
And Harriet decided not to tell her, at least not for now. She didn't know what good it would do, or what bad. . . but it didn't seem right to tell other people's feelings for them. Or was it right, when you were the only one who knew both sides?
I'll ask Remus when I see him, she thought—and then she remembered.
"Shit!" She scrambled up from the bed. "I'm supposed to go see Remus and Sirius today! I completely forgot—"
"Oh, no. I did, too!" Hermione looked more aghast at this failure of her memory than anything they'd said so far. "Oh no, you should already have been downstairs!"
"Shit, shit, shit!" Harriet dashed about, looking for her coat and mittens and scarf—
"I've got the mittens and the scarf," Hermione said, as if reading her mind, "where are your Wellies? Go, run, I'll find them and bring them to you—"
In a whirlwind of winter gear, Harriet tore down the stairs, through the common room, out the portrait hole, and down the seven flights of stairs to the main floor. Madam Pomfrey stood beside the double doors, swathed in a thick grey traveling cloak and looking none too pleased.
"At last, Miss Potter. I was beginning to despair of your ever joining me."
"Suh. . . sorry," Harriet wheezed. It was hard to put on a scarf when you could barely breathe.
Hermione clattered down the stairs behind her, huffing and clutching at a stitch in her side, the Wellies tucked under one arm. "Huh-here," she panted, dropping them.
Madam Pomfrey waited with a fair imitation of patience as Harriet got wrapped up. Hermione had also thought to bring her hat.
"Tell Professor Lupin I said hi," Hermione whispered.
Harriet nodded, and waved as she followed Madam Pomfrey out the door. Hermione waved back, giving a tentative smile.
Not fighting, Harriet thought. Not angry. Still awkward.
She trudged after Madam Pomfrey down the icy path, toward the gates. It felt good, to be walking away from Hogwarts after last night. The cold wind seemed to cut straight through her, cleansing some of that icky darkness out of her.
And at least she was leaving Snape behind.
A/N: Sorry if Wellies aren't the shoes to wear to trek through snow. Are they just rain boots, and not cover-your-shoes-in-all-weather boots? /lives where "winter" means "it was below 60F for three days straight."
Credit: the chapter title is a line from Tarja's song, "I Walk Alone."