Chapter Eight: Compliments and Courtship
Charlie had taken Harry to the ball, Charlie had brought her home.
And now, he's dancing with her, Snape thought irritably.
He had eaten far too many Christmas cookies with Albus, and drunk not quite enough whiskey with Sirius of all people while awaiting Harry's return. Now, all he wanted to do was find a moment to talk to the girl alone, so that he could discover what had occurred before taking his leave of the company and the oppressive holiday cheer.
When Ginny Weasley collected her brother for a dance, Snape thought he saw his moment, only to have another Weasley interfere in his plans. Ron whispered something to Harry, and they slid out of the room. Snape noticed that Hermione had observed her friends' exchange. She did not look pleased.
Well, who couldn't have seen that coming? Severus thought bitterly.
"So, yeah . . . um, well--"
"Spit it out, Ron!" Harry, said, exasperated.
"Give us a minute," the boy said. He took a breath and let it out. "Okay, well, it's like this, Harry . . . . You see, I know that I've been a bit of a git since the Change and all--"
"You don't have to apologi--"
"I'm not. Good grief, Harry, You changed into a girl--from a boy! I'm not sorry it was a shock." Ron held up his hand to prevent interruption. "The thing is, though, that you really haven't changed who you are, and you're my friend, and I wanted to show you that, um . . . well . . . here!" he said, giving Harry a small package wrapped in sky blue paper.
When Harry did not immediately open his gift, Ron said, "Go on, it won't bite. Happy Christmas."
"Thanks, Ron." Harry sat down on the bench in the foyer, and then opened his present. A small blue box was inside the paper, and it opened to reveal a flared bottle of deeper blue.
"You got me a potion for Christmas?"
"No! It's from Madame Rosmerta. I found out from Fred'n'George that she brews rinses and teas and other useful things . . . for girls, mostly. This is for girls--that's the point, really. I wanted you to know that it was okay with me--the girl thing--I mean."
Carefully, Harry un-stoppered the bottle. The not-a-potion smelled like rain and salt. "What does it do?"
Ron blushed furiously. "It's a hair rinse. It'll help it grow."
Neither of them noticed the twins dangling a long pink line just above their unsuspecting heads as they shared a hug.
"We should really try and develop Extendable Ears that record," George told his brother. "Those'd really fly off the shelves!"
"OW!" yelled Fred, turning to find Mr. Weasley behind them, hand out.
"No, brother, we need to develop a way of seeing out the back of our heads."
Mercifully, by the time they reached the foyer, Ron and Harry had rejoined the party.
"Having fun?" Sirius asked Harry, who was sitting out a dance for once later in the evening.
"I am, but I really need to buy better shoes. I mean, you couldn't really run in these if you had to."
"Girls aren't generally supposed to run in formal dress, Harry."
"Well, if the attack comes and you're in formal dress--"
"Your gentleman is supposed to step in and save you," Sirius finished, eyes twinkling.
"That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard! All the girls I know wouldn't wait for a 'gentleman' to save them!"
"Here, here, Ree," Professor Dumbledore toasted her from across the room.
"There, you see? Besides . . . I don't have a gentleman," she said faintly.
"Perhaps not now, but you do have a godfather. And he wouldn't mind dancing with you in your bare feet."
Harry smiled, slipped off the offending shoes, and took Sirius' hand. She allowed him to lead her to the center of the cleared and decorated parlor, which Mrs. Weasley had stretched a bit to accommodate everyone dancing in it.
"Oh, Harry, you look so very much like Lily," Molly said, her eyes shining.
"I shouldn't think so," Snape's voice carried over the music, though he had not shouted.
"What do you mean by that?" demanded Sirius, spinning on the Potions master.
"Simply that Miss Potter looks exactly like herself, and no other, though I will admit that she possesses a liberal portion of Lily Evans' grace and wit."
"That's Lily Potter," Sirius insisted.
Remus materialized at his lover's side and placed a restraining hand on his arm.
"As you say," Snape said, inclining his head a fraction.
"Excuse me," Harry told Sirius, stepping out of the protective circle of his arms.
The room began to quiet, but then Arthur Weasley picked up his glass and said, "To Lily and James Potter."
Everyone, including Snape, responded to the toast, and, as Dumbledore began a rather long one, Severus slid out of the room after Harry.
He found the young woman on the library balcony, rubbing her arms. She had abandoned her robe earlier during the heat of the dancing. Severus removed his long coat, which he had unbuttoned in deference to the warmth of the rooms, but not removed, and draped it around her shoulders. Harry started.
"Constant vigilance, Potter."
Harry shuddered. "It's not always as easy as you make it seem, Professor Snape." She turned to face him. "You can't prepare for every eventuality, can you?"
Based on her life to date, she made an excellent point. Snape considered Harry closely. Her eyes, which were quite her own, shined like wells of unshed crystals in the starlight. Right, I'm not drinking another drop this night. He shook his head. "I did not mean to offend you, Harry."
They were standing close enough that Harry could feel the draw of Snape's body, and she did not entirely mind; her feelings did not confuse her as they had when Lucius Malfoy had pulled that electric thrill of lust from her. No, Severus felt familiar if not entirely safe. Lucius felt like . . . an evil, seductive git. She wondered if sexual attraction would have been such a problematic subject had she still been a boy. Harry honestly didn't know; it was becoming more difficult to remember herself as a boy. She wondered when she had accepted that she would never be one again.
"Miss Potter?" Snape prompted. "I . . . apologize if my comments were . . . unwelcome."
"It must be Christmas," Harry said, smiling at him.
Immediately, she felt her comment might have been too bold; the professor did not like to be teased, after all, but a faint look of . . . pleasure overspread his features, so Harry pressed on.
"Your comments weren't unwelcome, just surprising. You're not someone from whom I would have expected--what's the word Hermione is always using? Oh, yes--chivalry."
"Surely you've become used to compliments a little in recent months?"
"I think you're a fine, brave man who has more mastery over his own will than anyone I've ever met," Harry said suddenly and inexplicably.
Snape just stared at her.
Harry giggled. "Well, I think perhaps I won't drink so much butter beer at the next celebration, but you see what I mean, don't you? It's not at all easy to take a compliment."
"Ah, you meant that as an object lesson."
Harry's face softened in understanding. "I don't say things I don't mean, Professor Snape."
"You didn't believe me, either."
"I did. That's why I had to leave the room." Harry looked down, and mumbled something.
Severus lifted her chin with his finger. "What was that?"
"It's important to me now. . . that you think well of me. I'd like to think . . . ."
"You'd like to think what?" Severus asked, telling himself to end the conversation immediately, but deciding not to do so.
No one ever sought his good opinion, and he certainly would never have expected Harry Potter to want it--not after what his early behavior toward her had been. It was an indulgence, but this was a holiday, and he intended to have the entirety of his . . . compliment.
"I'd like to think that after working together, after living together, you didn't just see me as a coddled brat anymore. I mean, we do know each other now, some, and I--"
The soft, warm pressure of a fingertip against her lips stopped Harry speaking.
You are drunk, man. Go back into the house!
But it was all too easy to forget, standing on this balcony under a canopy of flickering stars with a beautiful girl who wasn't horrified by him, that she was his student, his charge, his responsibility. For a moment, all Severus felt was a rush of acceptance, gratitude, and something too new to name. He had no idea what he was doing, but his head was bending down, and her head was falling back, and their eyes were locked on each other's mouths.
But before they could seal their embrace, Harry's eyes rounded wildly and her face went white. She staggered forward against Severus and clutched at her neck. The chain she was wearing had begun to sink into her flesh, and blood welled up from around it.
"DRACO!" the girl screamed, falling to her knees.
The strains of music abruptly stopped filtering out of the house, and Severus did not notice when people rushed onto the balcony, occupied as he was with frantically attempting to remove the chain.
Sirius tried to grab Snape, but his goddaughter waved an apparently uncontrolled hand in his direction, causing him to be thrown back into Dumbledore. The old wizard looked shocked, but bade everyone not to interfere.
"DRACO," Harry shrieked again, and then her head snapped up, eyes open and glowing with a faintly golden light. She looked at Snape, and said, "Pour sauver le dragon, allez à lui maintenant! Pour sauver le dragon, allez à lui maintenant!"
"J'accepte votre charge. Libérez le messager," he told her. "Libérez le messager!"
The light faded from Harry's eyes, and she would have collapsed onto the tiles of the balcony, save Severus caught her. The chain dissolved around Harry's neck and ran down her bosom, gold droplets mixing with the red ones of her blood.
"Arrêtez le saignement avec le baume chokeberry et de cendre!" Snape ordered Sirius, placing the girl into her godfather's arms and turning to run through the doors into the house.
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