Chapter Six: Cookies, Jam, and Other Sticky Situations
Hermione knocked once on Harry's door and walked into her bedroom before the other girl could say anything.
"What's wrong, then? You nearly bolted out of the kitchen."
"I don't know. I guess I'm just not convinced they got everything, is all."
"Come on, Harry, Sirius and Professor Lupin worked on this place for ages. It's cleaner than my parents' office!"
"Your parents have trouble with instruments biting back, do they?"
"You're just adjusting to things. It's not like you're used to having a fam--"
"You've been dating Ron too long, I think."
Hermione looked guiltily at Harry. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to put my foot in it, but maybe this is just . . . too much all at once for you?"
"You know--your own room in a house with . . . with family. I guess Sirius and Remus are your family, right?"
Harry tried to shake the odd feeling she had been having since she arrived at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. Even though it was not so grim anymore, she had felt . . . watched since she had arrived--perhaps even before that. It was disturbing.
"Of course they are. But you know," she said, trailing a hand over the end railing of her oaken bed, "I do have my own bedroom at school--and I had one at the Dursley's, too, even if it had been Dudley's. I don't know why this should feel so different."
"This one's permanent, mate," said Ron, standing in the doorway. "So, is there weird girl stuff going on, or can I--"
"Really, Ron. You're so sensitive!" Hermione exclaimed.
Harry flushed. She still was not sure how to react to Ron. He's awfully tall--no! Gross! He's your best friend, you disgusting git. What's wrong with you? Lately, Harry's thoughts tended toward the blue no matter what boy she was looking at, so she'd tried not to look at Ron, and Ron, for his part, had kept his attention squarely fixed on his girlfriend. I wish I were somebody's girlfriend.
"--and that's why Charlie's wrong. Whaddya think?"
"What? Oh. Oh, you're right, Ron. You should tell him so."
Ron looked incredulously at Harry. "But I just was telling him. Are you even listening to me? It's not like you to blank out during an important conversation," he finished, looking suspicious. "You okay?"
Harry looked to Hermione for help.
"Quidditch," she mouthed.
"Oh, good grief!" Ron said, catching the look that passed between Harry and Hermione. "There is weird girl stuff going on in here, isn't there?" He backed off the bed onto which he had so recently settled. "I guess I will go explain to Charlie, again, why Floridale Floggus shouldn't have been traded to the Chudley Cannons. He's an ex-Slytherin for one thing . . . ."
"Bye, Ron," Hermione said pointedly.
"What did he mean by that Slytherin crack?"
"You have to ask?"
"I told you. Professor Snape isn't trying to eat my brains for breakfast!"
"I think it's more of a problem with Malfoy . . . ."
"Draco saved my life, Hermione."
"Draco did more than that, Harry, and Ron knows it."
"--and I'm convinced that the boy was mis-sorted, Albus," Severus finished derisively.
"Did he really," Albus tried to ask, but couldn't for laughing, "did he really say that? In public? In front of his friends? Oh," and then dissolved again into deep chuckles.
Albus, Severus felt, could be excused this excessive and undignified display of mirth. Minerva was resting comfortably after having been attacked in the Forbidden Forest. She had been part of a patrol sent into the woods after odd figures had been reported lurking there. Nothing had been found, but an unconscious and badly scratched Minerva in feline form had been carefully brought to Hagrid's hut by Fang. The witch had insisted, however, that Albus make an appearance at Molly Weasley's Christmas.
"Yes, Mr. Finch-Fletchley's loquacity as a prelude to osculation is now a legend among his house."
"Oh, I don't know, Snape. 'Your eyes are the windows to your soul, here is the key to my kingdom' isn't the worst line I've ever heard," Sirius said with amusement." He refreshed Severus' tea, and then asked, in a darkened tone, "Still and all, do we need to kill him?"
"Sirius, a word with you, please?" asked Remus from the sink.
Albus took another Christmas cookie off of the dish in between himself and Severus. "These are delicious."
"So, do we need to . . . counsel that young man about his behavior, or was Ree's refusal adequate?"
"Really, Albus. I'm not sure how to close the jam pot now. I'm not a nanny. I've taken points for Mr. Finch-Fletchley's lack of . . . decorum, and I believe that it is clear to him that he is currently my least favorite student. Much more than that, I am not permitted to do."
"You and Argus, always longing for those oft-discussed "old days," hmm? Ah, but Mr. Zabini's solution was far more creative than hanging by chains."
Severus snorted. "Mr. Zabini, of late, has become something of a history aficionado."
"You can't wear that to the party. Honestly, didn't Mrs. Weasley teach you anything when you went shopping?" Hermione asked in exasperation.
"What's wrong with it?" asked Harry. She was holding a crimson dress robe of rich velvet, the bodice of which was constructed of elaborate gold embroidery. The sleeves fell away in trailing trains of fabric, and three small gold frog clasps secured the robe in place. "I think it's fine."
"The robe is fine, but it will swish open if you dance--"
"So I won't--"
"You will move quickly, though, and the robe will open then. You have to wear a decent dress underneath of it."
"You did buy dresses, didn't you, Ree?"
"No," she answered in a small voice.
Hermione went to the door, checked the corridor, and then waved her wand. "Accio trunk!"
A small brown trunk floated out of the next room and into Harry's. Hermione shut and locked the door. Opening the trunk, she pulled out two dresses, and smoothed them out over the bed. One dress was crimson, in a crushed velvet. It had a high neckline. The other dress was made from a shiny dark green fabric. It boasted a scooped neckline and when Hermione picked it up to show it to Harry, it fell to the floor making a sound like rushing water.
"This is a taffeta dress. It's a bit daring, but you'll be in your dress robes, so it won't matter. I think it will compliment your hair and skin, bring out your eyes, and look well under that robe."
"It will also . . . you know!" Harry said, flustered. "And it's a dress!"
"Harry--Ree, you really should dress the part, even if you don't feel it. Besides, Charlie is here, and he's going with you and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. If you look gorgeous, people will leave you alone and let you dance."
"Because pretty girls dance at these things," Hermione said, as if Ministry Christmas balls were usual occurrences for her.
"The red one is more, um, demure?"
"True, but Ron likes me in red," Hermione said, a note of warning in her tone.
"Ah. Okay. Give me a second to change, then?"
Hermione gave Harry an indulgent smile, and efficiently gathered her belongings to levitate them back to her room.
Now alone, Harry gave this dress issue some thought. She knew that she would have to look appropriately formal for this affair at the Ministry, and Mrs. Weasley had been dropping hints about her needing a dress or two for weeks, but Harry still was not certain how to feel about that. She did not always feel as though her brain fit her body. The brain-body disparity was most troublesome when on a broomstick, or when in close proximity to Justin, and she was nervous enough about tonight without wanting to emphasize the one part of herself that would make her the most nervous. She looked into the mirror after struggling into the gown.
Hmm. "I'm still not pretty enough to be a girl, really."
An odd half-tinklish buzzing, almost like laughter, popped into her ear and then seemed to skitter along the ceiling. Harry once again had the uncomfortable thrill in her spine that told her something had been missed during the clean-up.
"Who's there?" she demanded, reaching for her wand.
"It'z fine. It'zzzzzzzz fiiiine," the buzzing voice said.
Harry turned this way and that, searching for the voice. "What do you want? Where are you?"
"I'm right here, Miss Potter," a more familiar voice greeted her.
Harry turned, looked up, and up some more. Oh, he is tall, isn't he, she thought, feeling warm and very confused as Severus Snape smiled down at her.
"How fine you look this evening."
Say something, you idiot. "Um, thank you."
Severus continued to smile at her in a silky way, and Harry felt her insides start to liquify and slide down her bones. It was not entirely a pleasant sensation. She shook her head. The Professor's being awfully . . . courteous. Why?
"Happy Christmas, Miss Potter."
"And to you . . . ."
Snape's smile deepened, and he walked toward the girl.
"Is that a dazed expression with which you're favoring me?" Snape said, reaching out a hand to caress her eyelids. "Recherché . . . ."
"Oh," exhaled Harry, closing her eyes. Her wand began to slip from her fingers.
"Mmm, and all this pale skin. You really are a gorgeous little girl."
Harry giggled. Snape's fingers felt lightly cool where he touched her, but as the tips moved over her face, an unpleasant sticky sensation followed in their wake. No, this isn't right . . . .
"I have a present for you."
"Yes? A present?"
"Oh, indeed. Would you like it?"
With every fiber of her being Harry wanted Severus' present, but before she could tell him so, an intrusive voice from behind her exclaimed, "STUPEFY!"
"ZZGO AWVAY!" the buzzing voice retorted inexplicably from Snape's mouth.
His mouth, thought Harry, still fuddled.
The figure of Snape did nothing. Merely looked at Hermione, who grabbed her friend by her arm and shook her, while keeping her eyes and wand on the figure of their Potions master.
"Ridikkulus!" said Hermione firmly.
"Hzzz, heezzz," laughed the Snape figure.
"Harry, snap out of it!"
"What? Oh. OH!"
Aware and wand up, Harry took aim at the . . . creature.
"And just what is it that you believe you are doing, Miss Potter? Miss Granger?" asked "Snape."
They both stood up a little straighter, but did not lower their wands.
"You're not Professor Snape," said Hermione.
The Snape figure glared at them.
All of a sudden, Harry laughed. "Nice try, you . . . thing. But I know that glare, and you just don't have it right, does it, Mione?"
"I should say not!"
"You are making a mistake, witchling. I have your prezzzent."
"Again with the buzzing. You're an illusion of some kind, aren't you?" asked Harry, walking around her "guest" to examine it.
"I'm here. Aren't I?"
"Oh, dear," said Harry. "And I see you've got some other things wrong. Our Professor is rather more fit than that," she said, poking the figure in the behind with her wand.
"Don't look so shocked, Hermione. I live with the man. He isn't in robes all of the time. And anyway, look at him. He's not right in other ways, too."
A critical interest aroused in her, the other girl examined the creature. "You know, it's too tall, isn't it?"
"Yes. And I don't think Sev--I mean, Snape has silver eyes, does he? What are you?"
The figure blinked at them in annoyance, Snape's features faded, and then his body shrunk upward. With an irritated, "zzzzy" popping sound, it became a tiny, winged, mottled-skinned creature.
"Oh, really! How could I have been so stupid? I know exactly what you are!"
"What?" demanded Harry, completely surprised.
"It's a Sense Sprite--just a very nasty kind of fairy."
"Yrrrr juzzzt a verry nazzzty girrrl!" the sprite said, flying up to the top of Harry's wardrobe. "No prezzie for you!"
"Fine! I don't want your present. You go away before I squash you!"
"No, Harry! These fairies are summoned to a particular purpose. Someone sent it to you."
Harry glared up at the fairy. "Have you been watching me?"
"Hzzzz, hzzzzz. Szzzztupid girrrl. Yezzz."
A sharp knock sounded at the door. "Girls," called Mrs. Weasley, "is Harry dressed? We're flooing over to the Ministry in moments!"
"We'll be right out, Mrs. Weasley," Hermione responded.
"Shouldn't we tell?"
"No tellzzz, szztupid girrrl! Take prezzie. Open window for poor Zzzzarzza. Pleazzzz?"
"Just open the window, Harry, but don't take the present. It could be dangerous."
At that, the dark pixie came racing from the armoire to attack Hermione. It dove at her again and again, raising sharp red marks on her face. Harry did not think. She grabbed her friend and dove to the floor. Picking up one of the trainers that she had just been wearing, she brought it down on Zzzzarzza as it tried to scratch Hermione again. A sulfurous pop rent the air.
"To Miss Ree Potter, with the most sincere compliments of Mr. Draco Malfoy," said that person's voice from under Harry's shoe.
When she lifted it up, a delicate golden chain was all that remained of the nasty critter--that, and the smell.
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