Snape and Dumbledore have a little chat while Harry and Hermione work on the clues for the Second Task.
When the rest of the students realized that nothing else was going to happen, they began turning their attention back to their own meals and conversations. There were a couple of students that didn’t take their eyes off the two Gryffindors right away. They were busy trying to sort their thoughts on what they had just witnessed.
Draco Malfoy had been quietly observing his handiwork. He had been the one that had begun the rumor that Potter had attacked Professor Snape. His goal had been revenge for his stint in the Hospital Wing courtesy of Potter. He never saw his attacker, but he knew that it was the Gryffindor Golden Boy. Turning Slytherin House against Potter was something that would keep his hands clean while providing him with entertainment and keeping him away from him and his Mudblood whore.
Another figure sat alone at the end of a house table, watching everything. No one ever sat with her, or even talked to her unless they had to. Her isolation allowed her time to think about events more than your average teenager did. As a result, she knew much of what went on, in, and around Hogwarts. She knew that events were coming to a head around the school and that Harry Potter and Headmaster Dumbledore seemed to be at the center of most of them.
The winds of change were beginning to blow. Now she just had to decide where her loyalties were going to lie.
Harry and Hermione settled into the Room of Requirement thirty minutes after they finished dessert. They wanted to discuss the meeting that they just had with Dumbledore.
The room looked just like the library at Hermione’s house and Harry couldn’t figure out why the room had morphed into this particular replica. He supposed that it was because it was the first place that he felt safe in since the tournament started. He hoped that one day he would have a home where he would feel safe and loved. ‘As long as Hermione is with me I would be happy,’ he thought wistfully while he looked around the room.
Hermione guided Harry over to the love seat that they had fallen asleep on while visiting her parents. She sat him down and then proceeded to lay down with her head in his lap so she could gaze up at him.
Harry began absent-mindedly playing with her hair when she lay her head down in his lap. He found it very calming to run his fingers through her hair. He noticed that it had grown quite long during the school year and he really liked it that way. It had lost a large portion of its bushiness with the added length and weight.
He spoke in a whisper using his regular voice, not the one carefully modulated from Occlumency, and he lovingly said, “I love your hair longer. It makes you even more beautiful.”
Hermione looked up into the eyes of the man that she loved, “Thank you. You’re actually one of the first ones to say anything about my longer hair. Ginny noticed it when we were getting ready for the Yule Ball but I think that it’s gotten a touch longer since then.” She had pulled a few strands in front of her face to examine them idly while she spoke.
Harry was mesmerized. Hermione’s hair had fanned out around her head and across his lap when she pulled a few strands loose. It made her look like her head was wreathed with a caramel colored halo. Leaning down, he placed a gentle kiss on her forehead and said, “I love you. Now, what were you going to tell me before all of this mess started?”
Hermione’s insides were dancing in pleasure. She so rarely heard his real voice that she had almost forgotten how much she loved its timbre. It was at that stage between a boy and a man where it was starting to deepen into what it would become one day.
Resignedly, she ended her ruminations and returned to the task at hand, “Professor Dumbledore is Rita Skeeters anonymous source. It’s the only thing that makes any sense and she must not know whom it is either. Otherwise, I don’t think that she would be going after him so vigorously in the paper.”
Harry had begun to seethe, his anger a slow boil, as he thought about the ramifications of Hermione’s statement. His voice held a hint of regret as he spoke, “I had been hoping that Dumbledore wasn’t as manipulative as we thought he was. I fear that he may actually be even worse. Has any of my life actually been free from his influence?”
Hermione’s reply was just a whisper, “I wish that I knew. The worst part is that I think that he wants you to sacrifice yourself for some reason.” She broke down into sobs at the thought of Harry dying for some cause where only Dumbledore knew the complete details.
His voice was laced with concern as he spoke softly to her, “Shhh. It’s okay. I’m not planning to throw my life away for some cause that only Dumbledore seems to believe in. Especially since he hasn’t seen fit to tell me what it is I’m supposed to become a martyr for.”
After a few minutes, Harry snuggled down on the sofa and Hermione draped herself across his chest, her fingers idly stroking his shoulder as she lay listening to his heartbeat. It was a reassuring sound and she found herself drifting off to sleep.
Neither teen knew what time it was, just that it was way past curfew. They day had been a very draining one for them, physically and emotionally. Harry pulled her tighter to his chest, kissed the crown of her head, and whispered, “I love you.”
Hermione was halfway between sleep and wakefulness; her response to Harry’s declaration was to grip his body tighter as she wriggled into a more comfortable position.
He didn’t know how long he lay there, holding her in his arms, before he drifted off to sleep. When he awoke, he was pleasantly surprised to find that she had not moved at all. Her hair had come free from its plait and fanned out over her back and his arm. It was little moments like these that Harry cherished the most. They were so pure, almost innocent, that he felt like crying and he didn’t know why.
What he did know was that if it weren’t for her, he would have succumbed to the darkness inside of him. Harry wasn’t sure if it was his own darkness or something from his connection with Voldemort. She kept him grounded in the here and now and that was a good thing. Lately, he had been getting flashes of anger from Voldemort and it had been affecting his moods, pushing his budding skills in Occlumency to their limits.
Harry knew he was no light wizard. He was more of a shade of dark grey. The tournament and Albus Dumbledore had seen to that. ‘How ironic, Dumbledore wants a passive martyr but he’s going to get a lion amongst the sheep,’ he chuckled quietly to himself as he thought, ‘well, some sort of big snake actually.’
Looking down at the beautiful young woman sleeping on his chest, Harry reached up and stroked a few loose strands away so he could see her face clearly. He knew that she had trouble sleeping in the tower since the second task but she didn’t want to admit it. It was times like these that Harry wished that he could take all of her burdens away. She deserved to be free of their oppressiveness. Unfortunately, only time, or leaving Hogwarts, would solve the problem.
Morning dawned and they awoke to the smells of breakfast on a table set for two. When they were almost done with their food, Winky popped in to check up on them and to deliver fresh clothes.
“Here are some fresh clothes and a new vest and cloak for each of you.” Winky said proudly.
Confused, Harry said, “Thank you, Winky. Why do we need to wear a vest?”
Winky’s voice held a hint of laughter as she said, “It is a dragon hide vest to help protect you. Just wear it under your robes. The pants, boots, and gloves are not finished yet. When they are ready, I will deliver them to you.”
While holding up the vest, Harry said curiously, “Winky, did you make this? It’s really impressive.”
The tiny elf blushed at the praise before replying, “I did. Please wear them every day for your safety. Before I go, here is the dragon’s tooth and tail spike that you requested. Have a good day and please call if you need anything.” Winky bowed low before popping away, leaving behind a pair of semi shocked teens.
“Wow, she really sounds different doesn’t she?” Hermione said in awe. “It’s like they are completely different people.”
Harry was still staring at the tooth and spike when he replied distractedly, “Yes, she does sound different.” He was turning the tooth over in his hands, looking for any cracks. Finding none, he slipped the tooth into his robe pocket and began examining the spike for imperfections.
Hermione was curious about the tooth and tail spike that Harry requested, “What are you going to do with those, Harry?”
“Hmm.” he replied distractedly. Realizing that she was asking about the tooth and spike, he answered, “Oh, I’m going to make them into knives of some sort. As I have discovered, wounds from a magical creature are very difficult to heal and they take a very skilled healer to fix them properly.”
She didn’t really know how to reply to that so she chose to stay quiet. Hermione had noticed that Harry went everywhere with his potions knife strapped into his robes in addition to his wand. Quietly, she asked him, “Do you think that I should start carrying my knife around too?”
Part of him wanted to say no, she didn’t need that extra burden. In reality, he knew that the better defended she was, the likelier that she was to come out of a situation alive. He gazed directly into her eyes as he spoke in a voice full of resignation, “Yes, I do. You have already been targeted twice this year.”
She reached a hand up to her neck, her fingers tracing the contours of her throat in a reassuring gesture. She understood what he meant so she replied earnestly, “I will carry my knife on my person at all times from now on.”
They sat in companionable silence for a while longer, both of them enjoying the quiet before they returned to the hustle and bustle of Hogwarts.
Severus Snape was in pain and he didn’t know how he ended up in the Hospital Wing. The last thing he could remember was walking down towards his office when something smashed into the back of his skull. There was another tiny detail flitting at the edges of his awareness but he knew it would come with time.
With a groan, he tried to sit up but found that the world spun with the effort. Slumping back down into the soft hospital bed, he called out, “Poppy?”
A few seconds later, the matron came bustling up to his bedside with her wand in her hand. Relieved to see him awake, she said concernedly, “You gave us quite the scare, Severus. Do you remember anything about the attack?”
That seemed to jog his memory. He experienced a brief flashback as a memory returned, triggered by Poppy’s question. He remembered a boot sailing straight for his face that appeared to be wreathed in a black cloak with green trim. Hesitantly, he said, “I do.”
After a few moments of silence, Madam Pomfrey couldn’t take it any longer and asked, “Well?”
Severus gazed back at her, his face an expressionless mask, but he refused to speak any further on the subject.
“Fine, be that way.” she huffed in annoyance, “I’ll fetch Professor Dumbledore. He wanted to be informed when you awoke.” She stepped over to her office and sent the portrait off to tell Albus that his tight-lipped Potion’s Master was awake.
Ten minutes later, Dumbledore strode into the Hospital Wing and headed straight towards Snape’s bed. Without any preamble, he asked, “What do you remember?”
Snape took a moment to reflect on the situation. He was sure that the attack was a message to him about his treatment of Harry Potter. His voice had resumed its low, silky, tone when he replied, “I was attacked as a warning. I could have just as easily been killed; instead, I was put into the hospital.” Seeing the look on Dumbledore’s face, he quickly added, “It was not a student, headmaster.”
Albus was relieved that it wasn’t a student that had attacked Severus. However, he was worried that an adult had gotten into the castle with the intent purpose to cause serious injury to a member of the staff. In his grandfatherly voice, he said, “Is there anything else you would like to tell me about the incident?”
Severus almost snorted in laughter at Dumbledore’s obvious attempt to wheedle more information from him. His voice flat, he said, “No, sir.”
With a sigh, Dumbledore said, “If you think of anything else, please let me know.” before turning and walking out of the room.
Angrily, Severus thought, ‘Oh, I know that Black attacked me. I’ll have my revenge against him and Potter. The boy obviously tattled about the treatment he received at my hand.’
Over the next couple of weeks, the rumors finally began to die down about Harry Potter attacking Professor Snape. Unfortunately, those two weeks were two of the longest that Harry had ever experienced while at Hogwarts. He was constantly on edge when around the Slytherin students and in Snape’s class.
Professor Snape had found some way to give Harry zero marks each day in class. Blatant sabotage of potions and vanishing the contents of his cauldron were the two most common methods of payback. His plan was to fail the boy for the year and force him to re-take the class with the fourth years while he was a fifth year next term.
Harry was at a loss about what to do in regard to his potions grade. He knew what Snape was doing but he didn’t know how to get around it. Harry had even owled Remus and Sirius to let them know what was going on.
Surprisingly, Remus was furious. He took teaching children as a sacred thing with no place for petty grudges and revenge for other people’s sins. Sirius thought that dropping potions all together was a better idea.
Hermione had been wracking her brain in an attempt to figure out what they could do to stop this nonsense. In the end, she went to Professor McGonagall and explained the situation in the hopes that she would intervene on Harry’s behalf.
The resulting row between the professors in the staff room one afternoon was clearly heard in the hall by passing students. By dinnertime that night, the whole school knew that Harry Potter was flunking potions and the teasing began by the Slytherins. There were even rumors that Harry had tried to get preferential treatment because of his status and that Snape had turned him down on principle.
The only things keeping Harry from lashing out at everyone was the extra training and snogging sessions each night in the Room of Requirement. He was able to take out his anger on the training dummies that looked just like the person that had irritated him the most that particular day. Hermione also rewarded him with kisses for keeping his temper in check. The good news was that Harry’s Occlumency skills were progressing rapidly.
Remus was frustrated. Snivellous was doing his best to avoid being caught unaware again. Nor was he ever alone in the halls. There was always someone with him, student, or teacher, when he was active in the castle.
As the days to the start of the third task grew shorter, Hermione had been trying to work out what Harry’s plan was going to be to no avail. He would smile and dodge the question.
They did get the map of the maze completed with help from Remus, Winky, and Dobby. The map now boasted the exact locations of every trap, creature, and the location of the Cup.
By the time the third task rolled around, Harry was looking forward to it because it would distract everyone from what was going on in his personal life.