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Chapter Five: With a Little Help from Her Friends

Harry was soaking in a bath in a copious quantity of suds. "I am never leaving this room again, Hermione. Never!" the girl said fiercely underneath the large sculpted merman that rose up from the water and frolicked with a lascivious grin against the wall.

Hermione sighed. It was ten weeks into the term, and Harry had only just emerged from the dungeons a month ago; however, the events of this afternoon threatened to send the Girl-Who-Lived back underground for good.

"I'm certain that no one noticed, Har--Ree," she soothed.

"Oh, gods, Hermione! How can you stand it? It . . . it's disgusting! It's awful! . . . It hurts!"

Hermione combed her fingers soothingly through her friend's curls and over her temples, and tried to help her relax. "Ree, it's part of nature. I can teach you some spells to deal with the pain, and show you the . . . supplies you'll need to handle the rest of it. It's going to be okay, I promise."

"How? Everyone must know--it was everywhere."

It was toward the end of the lunch period as people were beginning to file out of the hall when Harry had clutched her side and leaned into the table. Ron and Hermione had been scared that something truly bad was happening. They had helped her to stand up so that they could get her to the Infirmary, and it was then that Hermione had noticed the blood where her friend had been sitting.

So had Ron.

Harry had gone pale as she stared at the bench, and then turned and rushed from the hall with Hermione following.

"What is the trouble, Mr. Weasley?" demanded Snape.

He was approaching rapidly, and Ron knew that there was only one thing for it. He flipped up the back of his robes with a flourish and sat down in Harry's place.

Eeeew. Eeeew. Eeeew. "Sir?" he managed to ask in some semblance of calm as Snape arrived to loom over him.

"Is there some problem here, Mr. Weasley?"

"Not at all, Sir."

Snape glared. "Then why, pray, have Misses Potter and Granger fled the hall?"

"Oh, Harry just forgot her Divination textbook is all, and . . . and Hermione went with her to get it to keep her company."

Seamus, Colin, Parvati, and Neville watched Professor Snape's reaction to Ron's "story" apprehensively, all thinking the same thing: Was that the best you could do, Weasley? None of them knew what had been wrong with Harry, of course, but they were all certain that they could have lied more effectively on her behalf.

"Yeah, that's right, professor!" Neville spoke unexpectedly. "Harry's always forgetting things for Professor Trewlawney's class."

I would forget things, as well, Snape thought, glaring at Longbottom in disbelief, but the boy determinedly maintained unblinking eye contact.

Ron shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and a distinctive, coppery scent pervaded the air.

Blood, Severus realized. The sudden thought that Harry might be injured flashed through his mind, but the miserable expression on Ronald Weasley's face put paid to that idea. The professor found himself experiencing something of the boy's mortification, himself, but kept his face impassive.

"Um, Professor?" Ron asked.

"Yes, Mr. Weasley?"

"I'll tell Harry that she shouldn't run, if you like."

The remaining Gryffindors looked warily between Snape and Ron.

Severus blasted the students with a harsh look. "If you are quite finished, I expect that you should be getting to your next classes."

The teenagers needed no further encouragement.

Severus turned to stride back toward the high table, surreptitiously securing his wand. Casually, he pivoted on his right foot to face Ron, whose face was as red as his hair, and who remained firmly seated. "Mr. Weasley."

"Yes, Sir?" Ron asked, shakily. Oh, gods, I can't get up. He'll see it! he thought in desperation.

Severus almost choked on his repressed laughter as he saw the terror in Ron's eyes. "Scourgify!"

The boy straightened up in surprise.

Severus replaced his wand. "Do be good enough to inform Professor Trelawney that Miss Potter will be absent from class today, as she is feeling . . . unwell. Further, kindly urge the professor not to eat the turtle soup being sent to her rooms on her customary tray. Tell her," Severus said, eyes sparkling with malice, "that to eat it might prove fatal."

Ron, who by now had realized that he had fallen asleep and was having a dream in which Professor Severus Snape was a decent human being--and also that he was clean--replied, "It's unfortunate that Harry didn't get that warning, Sir."

"Such things are bound to occur in an institution that pays its house elves," replied the professor querulously.

It would not do to be perceived as kind, after all.

"Oh, no, Severus. You're not to say a word about it to the girl!" Poppy said.

"Thank Merlin you agree with me, but . . . is there anything I can . . . I should do?"

Poppy laughed. "You were always such a sensitive boy."

Severus bridled.

Poppy giggled.

Severus glared.

"Don't you look at me like that, young man. I know where all your moles are!"

The Potions master struggled to gather up his dignity as he felt himself flush from sole to crown. It was not his fault that Lucius Malfoy had been as inept in Potions as Longbottom. His old friend's failure to pay attention in class had almost cost both boys their skins on more than one occasion. He had frequently found himself wishing that Narcissa had been his Potions partner, despite his low opinion of Lucius' taste for her as an "appropriate" companion. "Madame Pomfrey--"

"Oh, don't take on so, my boy. You're sweet to worry so about Ree--"

"I assure you that I am only seeking to discharge my duties toward the girl in a responsible manner."

"Of course you are, and a fine job of it you've done, too. I'm very proud of you."

Secretly pleased, as he always was when Poppy praised him, Severus adjusted his tone. "You believe I should ignore the recent . . . development?"

"My dear, in the case of an adolescent female, one should ignore all development!"

"Come on, Ree! You'll get all pruney. You need to get out, now."

"Oh, Hermione, I just don't think that I can do this anymore."

"Don't be ridiculous. You . . . you've survived He-Who--Voldemort! What's a bit of blood?"

"It's not just the blood! It's the breasts, and the . . . rest of it! Every time I get dressed, I feel as if I'm peeping!"

Hermione blushed. "Well, so what? Isn't that a tremendous boy fantasy--peeping?"

"It isn't for me."

"You never wanted to look at naked girls?" Hermione asked, perplexed.

Harry flushed and allowed herself to sink under the bubbles. She dimly heard her friend shrieking something through the water.

"Sweet Merlin! It's true!"

"What's true?" Harry demanded, surfacing.

"You're gay, Ree."

"I know that, Hermione. Wait--how do you know? Oh, gods--does Ron know? Please, Hermione, please promise me that you won't tell Ron!"

The other girl winced. "Actually, there's no need for that . . . ."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, just that it was Ron who suggested it to me."

"It's really too bad, isn't it?" Myrtle asked as the soapy girl's eyes rolled back into her head.

Hermione grunted in response. No. Too bad would be if Ree were still snogging Malfoy.

Getting the limp Seeker out of the massive bathtub was quite a chore, but Myrtle moaned encouragement to Hermione throughout her ordeal.


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