Damaged Bridges

BY : Gandalfs-Beard
Category: Harry Potter > Het - Male/Female > Harry/Hermione
Dragon prints: 12543
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, all rights belong to Rowling and Warner Bros, nor do I make any money from the production of this work.

The story takes place during sixth year, at the tail end of Slughorn's party, just after Harry spies on Draco and Snape.

That it takes place during the Half-Blood Prince is something to keep in mind, in terms of the behaviours of Harry and Hermione (and certain issues which may come up for some readers in the first and second chapters, are addressed in later chapters, something else to keep in mind). 


 

Damaged Bridges

 

Harry couldn’t believe it - finally, confirmation of all of his worst fears. Malfoy was involved in some shady mission for Voldemort and Snape had offered to help him. His heart still thumping wildly against his ribcage, and his thoughts racing, Harry almost didn’t notice McLaggen slipping away from Slughorn’s party with a beautiful girl on his arm.

It took Harry a moment to register what he was seeing. What on earth was Hermione doing with McLaggen, laughing and giggling, hanging all over him, when not ten minutes ago she had been trying to escape McLaggen’s squid-like clutches?

Harry chewed his lower lip pensively, his excitement about finally having proof that Malfoy and Snape were up to no good evaporating when he saw the smug expression on McLaggen’s face.

“I knew you’d come around eventually, Hermione,” McLaggen chortled as he led Hermione down the passageway. “Not that there was much choice, really...”

“I know,” Hermione giggled, sounding very unlike herself, and much more like Lavender. “I don’t know what I ever saw in Ron. And Harry... he’ll never see me as more than just a friend, no matter how long I wait for him to figure out that I like him. Besides, he likes Ginny... ”

“Too bad for Potter and Weasley then...” McLaggen let out another bark of laughter.

Hermione giggled again and stumbled. Cormac caught her before she fell to the stone floor of the corridor.

“Careful Hermione... We won’t be able to have any fun if you end up in the hospital wing...”

Harry watched until Hermione and McLaggen disappeared around the corner, unable to make heads or tails of what he had just witnessed, two thoughts competing for dominance in his frontal lobes. Hermione liked him - she liked liked Harry. Since when did Hermione like Harry like that? How come he’d never noticed?

And what was up with her liking McLaggen now, when just a short while ago she had been distinctly annoyed about McLaggen trying to cop a feel under the mistletoe? Feeling agitated and unsettled, Harry yanked off his invisibility and headed back to Slughorn’s party to find Luna. Maybe she had some ideas.

Harry’s foot connected with something on the floor of the corridor and he heard a tinkling sound. He bent down to pick up the object glittering in the flickering orange light of the wall-lanterns. He frowned and the hair on the back of his neck began to prickle when he spotted the Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes logo on the label of the vial which read, Love Potion #9.

Harry was fairly sure that it had fallen from McLaggen’s robes when McLaggen had prevented Hermione from falling over. Feeling a bit panicked, Harry marched around the corridors, looking for Hermione and McLaggen, trying not to think of all of the worst possibilities. After an hour searching, Harry gave up and headed back to the Gryffindor Tower, wondering if he’d find Hermione and McLaggen snogging in the Common Room.

But stepping through the porthole into the Common Room, Harry only spied Ron, who was looking very satisfied with red lipstick smudged all over his face.

“Hi Harry,” said Ron, grinning. “How was Sluggy’s party then?”

Harry grit his teeth, suddenly feeling a surge of anger towards Ron, but he didn’t know why.

“Fine!” he said curtly. “Have you seen Hermione and McLaggen?”

“No! Er, well someone did come in while me and Lavender were busy snogging... might’ve been McLaggen I s’pose - sorta looked like him. But definitely not Hermione...” Ron paused, catching on to Harry’s moodiness.

“What’s up Harry?” asked Ron, looking a bit puzzled and feeling slightly irritable now. “You look a bit cross. Did Luna ditch you without giving you a snog?”

“We just went as friends Ron. You know that!” Harry struggled to keep his voice even. It wasn’t Ron’s fault that he was angry, after all. “I need to find Hermione. I think McLaggen might be trying to snog her...”

“So?” said Ron, scowling now. “That’s what she wanted, isn’t it? A snog from McLaggen?”

Harry couldn’t help himself; Ron’s denseness was just a bit more than he could handle right now.

“No, you stupid prat!” said Harry cuttingly. “I’m pretty sure Hermione wanted to snog you!”

In the heat of the moment, Harry began wondering why Hermione would ever want to snog Ron. They were like oil and water together. Putting that thought aside, Harry carried on, sounding more and more aggravated with each word.

“...But you stood her up for some snogging with Lavender instead. So Hermione decided to go with McLaggen to make you jealous...”

“Oh yeah!?” Ron’s face and ears started to burn, growing redder by the second. “Well, too bad for her! She was too late! If she wanted to snog me, she should’ve said something. I’ve moved on! I’m a free agent!”

Harry was really starting to get sick of Ron’s “free-agent” justifications. The more Harry thought about it, it was Ron’s fault that Hermione had gone with McLaggen. Hell, Ron had even been the one to suggest she take McLaggen in the first place.

“So, you don’t care if McLaggen has his way with Hermione then, do you? Is that what you’re saying?”

“What if I am, then?” Ron suddenly shouted. “She invited him! If she didn’t want to snog him, she shouldn’t have gone with him. Guys don’t like being led on! Blimey Harry! You’re starting to sound like a girl!”

“What if McLaggen used a love potion on Hermione?” Harry snarled, shoving the vial he had found under Ron’s long nose.

“Serves her right for going with McLaggen then!” Ron snapped back.

Harry flushed guiltily. He’d more or less said the same thing to Hermione after she had escaped McLaggen’s tentacles at Slughorn’s party. Taking advantage of Harry’s momentary silence, Ron went on.

“Besides, so what? There’s nothing wrong with a bit of a snog! Everyone likes snogging...”

“And you’d like it if Millicent Bulstrode dosed you with a love potion and snogged you then?” said Harry angrily, finding his voice again.

Ron looked briefly horrified at the thought, but his own fury reasserted itself. “What’s wrong with you Harry? I thought you were on my side! I thought you were supposed to be my best friend.”

“Hermione’s my best friend too, Ron,” Harry said a bit more quietly, taken aback by Ron’s attitude.

But having decided that Ron was still just letting his jealousy get the best of him, Harry tried reasoning with him some more. “And she’s your best friend as well, Ron. Don’t you at least care about what might happen to her... just as a friend?”

“Not if she’s going to be all stupid and girly about things!” Ron retorted nastily.

Harry raised his eyebrows at Ron, eyeing him coldly as a knot formed in his stomach. “You don’t really mean that, do you?”

Ron hesitated, looking sulky, then shook his head.

“Not really! No! Of course not! ... But still, she’s only got herself to blame!” Deciding that he’d had enough of Harry’s judgmental looks, Ron turned around and stomped up the stairs to bed.

Harry almost ran up after him, then slumped on the sofa and ran his fingers through his messy black hair worriedly. Hermione was more important than Ron at the moment. There was no way that Harry could sleep right now anyway, and he really didn’t feel like being around Ron anymore.

Just the thought of it made Harry feel a bit ill. Ron’s attitude was incomprehensible to him.

Harry wondered if McLaggen really had come back already. Maybe Ron was wrong. Maybe it was someone else who had come in while Ron was snogging Lavender. Harry couldn’t decide which was worse - McLaggen returning by himself, leaving Hermione all alone somewhere, or McLaggen and Hermione still out there together, getting up to who knew what.

Feeling too agitated to remain seated, Harry returned to his feet and started pacing. More than once he retrieved his invisibility cloak from his robes, only to replace it, deciding that it made more sense to wait until Hermione returned, with or without McLaggen.

The hours ticked by interminably as the crackling flames in the hearth gradually waned, but there was still no sign of Hermione or McLaggen, and Harry’s worry and guilt grew deeper. He should have never left the party to follow Draco...

 

~o0o~

Hermione awoke feeling cold and stiff, and sore in places that she didn’t want to feel sore. Blinking in the wintry morning light spilling through the frosted over windowpanes into the unused classroom, her eyes widened in horror. Shivering, Hermione spied her knickers lying on a desk nearby and her ballgown on the floor, finally realising why she felt so cold.

The memories of the night before hit her with full force. Shaking violently, Hermione turned her bushy head and vomited on the floor, heaving several times. She had said yes! Why had she said yes?

Hermione had been saving herself for Harry or Ron, whichever one was brave enough to ask her to be their girlfriend first - though Hermione had given up on Harry in despair when it seemed that he was finally seeing Ginny as more than a surrogate sister. There was no way Hermione would have said yes to McLaggen!

Hermione distinctly recalled telling McLaggen no, and to keep his hands off her, before escaping from his groping grasp. But by the time McLaggen had found her again, Hermione had been feeling giggly, and all of a sudden he had seemed so much more attractive.

More than attractive. His strong jaw and broad shoulders, his winning smile, his sensual aroma...

The crush on McLaggen had been as intense as the one she had had on Harry ever since he and Ron had saved her from the troll. McLaggen had asked Hermione if she wanted to mess around a bit and she had left the party with him, finally ending up in the chilly classroom in which she was shivering right now.

The last thing she remembered after they had had sex, was fading into oblivion as McLaggen grinned and pulled out his wand - his actual wand - and muttered something about demonstrating a spell he’d finally mastered.

Flushing with shame, Hermione picked up her knickers and gown with trembling hands as she began to sob. Harry was right! She should have never gone to the party with McLaggen.

 

~o0o~

Harry continued to pace as time crawled by, wondering how he could have been so stupid as to miss the signs that Hermione had liked him. She had been a constant presence in his life since the moment that he and Ron had saved her from the troll.

Hermione had broken rules for Harry. She had been at his side through thick and thin. She had set Snape’s robes on fire to protect Harry. And that last hug after she had told him that friendship and bravery were more important than books before he had passed through the flames to face Voldemort was a clear sign.

She had stolen supplies from Snape’s storeroom and brewed one of the most difficult Potions and accidentally turned herself half-cat for Harry.

Hermione had looked out for Harry, even when he had wished she hadn’t. Harry had been cross with Hermione for telling McGonagall about the Firebolt - not as angry as Ron, surprisingly, but still cross - but Harry knew she had only been doing it to keep him alive.

Hermione’s only mistake was not talking to him first. Maybe she had just been afraid that he was too attached to flying to hand over the broom for inspection. That thought almost made Harry feel a bit angry; he may be thick, but he didn’t think he was as thick as Ron could be sometimes.

If Hermione had just explained things, Harry knew he would have agreed to turn in the broom. The last thing he had wanted was to die being hurled off a cursed broom like he almost had been in first year. But the anger faded quickly. Nobody was perfect, Harry reasoned, not even Hermione. Harry had made plenty of mistakes himself.

Hermione had stuck by Harry when Ron had finally lost his marbles and ditched him in a jealous huff after Harry’s name had come out of the Goblet of Fire. Hermione had invented the four point spell for him to use in the maze.

Harry furiously kicked himself mentally as his thoughts continued to swirl around fourth year. He should have asked Hermione to the Yule Ball instead of pining over Cho. So Cho had straight black hair and pretty eyes - big deal.

Hermione was just as nice to look at, bushy hair and all. And Harry actually knew how to talk to her. But Harry had been too stupid to see her as more than just a best friend at the time.

And now he was being just as stupid over Ginny as he had been over Cho. What had he been thinking? Ginny was Ron’s sister. Ron would go mental if Harry ever looked at her that way. Besides, the Weasleys were more or less his adopted family. Didn’t that make Ginny more or less his adopted sister?

Harry was a bit confused about his own feelings regarding Hermione at the moment, but as he thought about it, his feelings for her seemed a lot less confusing than those he had for Ginny. It just felt right being around Hermione. He couldn’t imagine not being around Hermione - ever.

He momentarily returned to third year and the night he’d flown on the hippogriff with Hermione. That should have been a big fat clue right there. Thinking back to that night, Harry suddenly realised that his Super-Patronus had absolutely nothing to do with going back in time. The power to perform that Patronus had been within him the whole time, and had emerged because Hermione was there with him.

And then there was fifth year. What a bloody nightmare that had been! But Hermione had put up with all of his moodiness and anger, even going with him to the Ministry when she knew it was a trap.

It was all his own fault, Harry suddenly realised. Hermione’s attitude towards him this year was his own damn fault! If he hadn’t been so stupid as to nearly get her and every one of their friends killed at the Ministry - like he’d got Sirius killed - maybe Hermione would have believed him about Malfoy.

Maybe Hermione was right about the Half-Blood Prince’s potions book. Harry didn’t really think she was though. There was nothing wrong with using the Prince’s notes to do well in class - Hermione had shared plenty of her own notes with him before. Underneath, Hermione had to know that wasn’t really cheating.

There had to be another reason she was being so snippy with him about the Prince’s book. Was Hermione jealous because Harry seemed to like Ginny more than he liked her this year? That almost made sense, considering how bad Ron had made her feel by ditching her for Lavender.

Hermione had made it clear to McLaggen that she had feelings for both Ron and Harry. Though for the life of him, Harry was having a harder and harder time figuring out why she had those sorts of feelings for Ron.

The rug in front of the hearth with dying embers grew thinner and thinner as Harry trod back and forth, unable to bring himself to be cross with Hermione about anything at the moment. Harry just wanted his Hermione back, and knew he’d do anything for her. He’d give up that stupid book if that was what it took to have Hermione back.

Harry was out of his mind with worry when the clock struck six am, and he considered marching up to Dumbledore’s office and demanding that the castle be searched from top to bottom for Hermione when he heard the familiar click of the portrait of the Fat Lady as she opened up to let someone in.

His heart leapt when he saw the bushy hair of the girl climbing through the porthole.

“Hermione!” Harry gasped, making her start with fright. He almost asked where McLaggen was, but at the sight of Hermione’s puffy red eyes, tear-streaked cheeks and trembling frame, Harry thought better of starting off with an interrogation.

“Hermione!” said Harry again. “I’m sorry! I shouldn’t’ve left you at the party all alone.”

He peered at Hermione earnestly, patiently waiting for Hermione to say something as she slowly moved towards him, casting her eyes at the floor. For a moment, they both stood there saying nothing, and Harry began to think that maybe a lot worse had happened than some unwanted snogging.

Harry struggled to control his breathing, the momentary relief he’d had at seeing Hermione again evaporating. His stomach churned and some bile rose with his anger, which he savagely squashed for Hermione’s sake, leaving only his surging guilt.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated in almost a whisper, reaching out a hand to gently take hers.

Hermione jerked her hand away as if it had been stung and began shaking. Now Harry was absolutely certain.

Harry dropped his hand lamely, feeling horrible and not knowing what to do. He’d had moments like that, after being grabbed and slammed against a wall, or cuffed around the head, or receiving a few whacks from Uncle Vernon’s belt, when he was little. Over the years, he’d become more or less inured to it, but he still felt a bit uncomfortable when people touched him.

Hermione was the only one with whom he’d ever really felt comfortable being in close physical proximity. Her hugs were magical.

And just like that, no sooner than Harry had thought that in his head, Hermione flung her arms around him and buried her bushy head under his chin, crying into his chest. Cautiously, Harry reached his own arms around her and held her. They stood like that for a short while, arms around each other in silence except for the sound of her sobs.

“I... I sh...should have listened to you, Harry,” she whimpered when her sobs turned into sniffles. “I d...don’t know what I was thinking. One m...minute I thought he was a c...creep, and th...the next I w...was saying yes wh...when he asked me to have sex with him. I d...don’t know how I could be s...so stupid!”

“You weren’t stupid!” Harry muttered, grinding his teeth as he felt the rage building up again. He violently suppressed it once more - this wasn’t the time.

“McLaggen slipped you a love potion - one of the ones from Fred and George’s place...” Harry made a mental note to himself to tell the Twins to dump all their stock if they wanted his business or investments in the future.

“Wh...what?” Hermione gasped, lifting her head and peering into Harry’s green eyes. “How... how could you know that?”

Harry swallowed guiltily. “I... I was there. I saw you with McLaggen - b...but by the time I figured out something was wrong, you were both gone. Then I spotted a vial on the floor - it had dropped out of his pocket. It wasn’t your fault - it was mine. I should have tried to stop you going off with him...”

“No!” Hermione whispered, looking confused. “No! That can’t be right. The Weasleys’ potions supposedly last twenty four hours. I should still be in...” Hermione caught herself, too revolted and humiliated to suggest that she had been in love with McLaggen - even temporarily.

Harry frowned. If the potion hadn’t worked properly, what did that mean? There was no question that Hermione was back to normal now, and that she hadn’t been last night. He saw the gears whirring in Hermione’s head as he peered back into her brown eyes, and marveled that she could work through a problem even with whatever emotional turmoil she was going through at the moment.

“...unless... unless it had something to do with a spell he was trying to cast when... when it was over,” Hermione muttered as more bits of her memory returned and everything fell into place. “I think the idiot tried to cast some sort of memory charm on me to make me think we had become boyfriend and girlfriend at the party. It must have somehow canceled out the effects of the love potion, if... if you’re sure he really did...”

“I’m sure!” Harry growled, sounding more forceful than he intended. “I’ve got the vial still in my pocket, and I think we should go to the hospital wing with it now...”

“NO!” Hermione said sharply, pulling away from Harry and looking frightened. “I... I can perform a contraception charm on myself. Th...that should be good enough.”

“What?” Harry was stunned. “But Hermione, you have to... McLaggen... He can’t get away with it! And Madam Pomfrey will look after the vial - the proof that he gave it to you...”

“I can’t Harry,” Hermione squeaked, flushing with shame. “I d...d...don’t want anyone else to know what he did to me.”

“Who cares about that?” said Harry, feeling the anger flaring again. “Anyway, it’s Pomfrey - she won’t tell anyone...”

“B...but she’ll tell Dumbledore, and then Dumbledore will p...probably expel McLaggen, and... and then everyone will know!” Hermione began to tremble as tears rolled down her cheeks again.

As Harry thought about how Draco Malfoy was getting away with nearly murdering Katie Bell, he wasn’t so sure that McLaggen would be expelled anyway. Harry didn’t know what the hell to think. He’d told Dumbledore about Malfoy, but the headmaster had dismissed his concerns and called Katie Bell’s misfortune an “accident.” But Harry was sure that Dumbledore knew better.

And Dumbledore trusted Snape - but Snape was trying to help Draco in whatever Draco’s secret mission was. It was clear to Harry that Malfoy’s secret mission was to murder someone. Maybe Katie Bell wasn’t the intended target of the necklace, but somebodyhad been. And if she’d died, just because Draco was too stupid to get the necklace to the right target, that would’ve still been murder - not an accident. So what was Dumbledore playing at?

What if Draco’s intended target had been Hermione all along? Maybe Dumbledore was truly investigating but didn’t want to jump to conclusions, or alarm Harry? Would Dumbledore be just as dismissive about Harry’s concerns regarding McLaggen?

Harry pushed aside his sudden paranoia and focused on Hermione again.

“Hermione... Please! You have to go to the hospital wing! ... Even if it does come out, loads of people have treated you like rubbish since first year anyway. How would it be any different? You’ll still have me and...” Harry hesitated, Ron still seemed to be in one of his distinctly anti-Hermione moods.

“Well, you’ll still have me anyway, and I’m never leaving you alone again... ever!” Harry concluded fiercely.

Hermione shivered slightly at the look in Harry’s eyes - not from fear or humiliation, but because she saw in them something she’d been hoping to see for ages. For a moment she wondered if it was just the residual effects of the love potion, but quickly dismissed that thought as it didn’t really make any sense.

“Please Hermione!” Harry begged when she didn’t respond. “You have to turn McLaggen in... If not for yourself, then for any othergirls he might try it on with next, when he realises his stupid plan to make you his girlfriend didn’t work.”

Hermione’s breath caught and her eyes widened in shock. She mentally kicked herself for being so wrapped up in her own anguish that she hadn’t thought of that.

“Al...alright Harry,” said Hermione, casting her eyes down and feeling even more ashamed of herself than ever. “Let’s go to the hospital wing then.”

“Hey,” said Harry, gently cupping Hermione’s chin and lifting it to look into her eyes, “Don’t blame yourself. You’re the victim here...”

 

~o0o~

After staying with her for a short while, Harry had left Hermione in the hospital wing with Madam Pomfrey, who had been surprised to see anyone in the infirmary so early in the morning.

No longer having a reason to keep himself calm, Harry’s rage began to bubble in the pit of his stomach as he made his way back to Gryffindor Tower to have words with McLaggen. He realised that it was getting on for breakfast-time when he saw a few students trickling into the castle’s drafty corridors making their way to the Great Hall.

Indeed, as he neared the portrait of the Fat Lady, Harry spied several Gryffindors emerging from the entrance of the Common Room. His jaw tightened when he saw who it was.

“Yeah, Granger’s my girl now,” he overheard McLaggen bragging to one of his friends. “You should’ve seen that little minx last night. She was all over me...” McLaggen trailed off and grinned when he spotted Harry, oblivious to Harry’s darkening features.

“Hey Potter! How was your date with Loony? Did you get a little action then?”

Harry stared at McLaggen, not trusting himself to say anything. McLaggen faltered, catching the dangerous look in Harry’s eye.

McLaggen snorted, assuming that Harry was jealous. “Hey, you snooze, you lose, Potter. It’s not my fault that you were too stupid to realise what a hot little number Granger is until it was too late.”

“Look who’s stupid!” Harry snarled, finding his voice. “If the only way you can get a girl to put out for you is to force yourself on her, that doesn’t say much for your brain-power...”

“What are you on about Potter?” said McLaggen, looking genuinely puzzled. “I didn’t force myself on her. Granger was begging me for it...” McLaggen grabbed at his crotch and leered to make his point.

The next thing that Harry knew, he was on top of McLaggen, pounding his fist into the older, much larger Gryffindor’s face.

“You RAPED her, you fucking prick!” Harry yelled as he furiously aimed another blow at McLaggen’s jaw. “You slipped her a love potion! She didn’t know what she was doing!”

“Get off me Potter! You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Dazed though he was, McLaggen summoned enough focus to jab his own fist into Harry’s gut and throw Harry off him.

Harry fell backwards and staggered quickly to his feet, gasping for air. He’d had worse than that from Dudley, and he was on top of McLaggen again in an instant. The two of them rolled around on the stone floor of the corridor, grappling and punching each other as more Gryffindors spilled out of the porthole.

McLaggen’s friends tried to grab at Harry and several girls started screaming for help until Ron finally emerged, looking on in shock.

“Don’t just stand there!” McLaggen shouted as he tried to put Harry in a headlock. “You’re a bloody Prefect! Do something. Your mate’s off his nut!”

Taking advantage of McLaggen’s distraction, Harry wriggled out of his grip and clouted McLaggen’s jaw again... and again, and again. Harry was so enraged that he didn’t hear Ron yelling at him to stop.

It took every ounce of Dean, Neville, and Ron’s strength to hold onto Harry as they pulled him off McLaggen. McLaggen lunged at Harry, only to be restrained by his own friends as two professors thundered onto the scene.

“You attention-seeking little bastard!” McLaggen bellowed. “You think just because you’re the famous Harry Potter everything belongs to you! Granger is MINE!”

Ron scowled at McLaggen, almost letting Harry go. But Snape and McGonagall began to take charge as students clamoured around them, saying that Harry had started the fight.

“ENOUGH!” McGonagall shouted. “What on earth is going on here? Weasley, Potter... What’s the meaning of all this?”

“Yes Potter!” sneered Snape, his black eyes glittering malevolently. “Please do enlighten us as to why you felt the need to engage in muggle combat rituals with a member of your own House.”

Harry stood sullenly in Ron and Neville’s clutches, blood dripping from his shaking fist.

“He raped Hermione!” Harry ground out through his teeth. “McLaggen raped her... last night after Slughorn’s party.”

McGonagall gasped in shock and glanced at McLaggen.

“RUBBISH!” McLaggen bellowed. “She wanted it! I asked her and she said yes!”

“That is quite the accusation, Potter,” said Snape coldly. “I don’t suppose you have any proof!”

“I’m not talking to you!” Harry spat. “You’ve got a lot of bloody nerve, acting like you’re above it all. I know what you and Malfoy are up to...”

“SILENCE, POTTER!” Snape roared, his face twisting into rage as he marched toward Harry as if to seize him. “You have no idea...”

“Severus!” said McGonagall sharply. “Please calm yourself! There’s enough teenage testosterone loose in the hallway as it is.” McGonagall turned her attention back to Harry and McLaggen. “Right then!” she snapped. “You two - hospital wing - NOW! We’ll sort things out there with the headmaster.”

Harry couldn’t help feeling a grim sense of satisfaction as he and McLaggen were marched through the hallways towards the infirmary. Snape wanted proof, did he? Well there was plenty waiting for him in the hospital wing.

Snape’s eyes narrowed when he spied the Granger girl sitting on one of the hospital beds.

Hermione paled slightly at the sight of McLaggen, then gasped at the state of his battered face and Harry’s still balled up fist dripping blood. She opened her mouth to ask Harry what he’d done, then shut it again quickly, unable to prevent the surge of gratitude she felt for Harry’s chivalry in defending her honour.

McLaggen swallowed nervously, suddenly realising that something had gone awry with his little plan.

“Good Heavens!” exclaimed Madam Pomfrey, eyeing the injured Gryffindors in horror. “What happened to you two?”

“That... is what we are here to determine,” said Snape, eyeing Hermione disdainfully. “According to Mr Potter, Mr McLaggen raped Miss Granger. Though the whole thing seems highly dubious to me.”

Hermione flushed angrily at the hateful expression on Snape’s features. “It’s true!” she hissed, wondering if Harry was right about Snape after all. “He dosed me with a love potion...”

“That hardly constitutes rape, even if it were true,” the Potions Master snapped.

“OF COURSE IT’S RAPE!” Harry thundered. “Hermione didn’t choose to be dosed with a love potion! Anything she did under the influence wasn’t by her real choice!”

Profesor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey both shot vicious glares at Snape, and Pomfrey opened her mouth to strenuously object, only to be cut off by the deputy headmistress.

“Potter is absolutely right, Professor Snape!” McGonagall said icily. “If you don’t have anything meaningful to contribute, you should just leave at once.”

Snape didn’t even have the courtesy to look at all abashed at the admonition. He glowered venomously at Harry and Hermione.

“Regardless, no doubt Potter thought it would be amusing to play games with Mr McLaggen’s reputation and has roped Granger into setting him up. This wouldn’t be the first time that Potter has made unfounded accusations! He seems to be making a habit of it.”

“I... you...” Harry began to sputter incomprehensibly, infuriated that Snape would have the gall to accuse him of making things up when Snape knew that Malfoy was responsible for nearly murdering Katie Bell.

“Be that as it may,” snapped Madam Pomfrey, “It seems that you yourself are not above making insupportable accusations Severus. Mr Potter and Miss Granger are both quite correct... My examination of the remnants in the vial of the potion in question revealed that it contained elements of both Miss Granger’s and Mr McLaggen’s essence - indicating that Mr McLaggen did indeed dose Miss Granger...”

“Is that so?” said a new voice in the ward.

Everyone turned to look at Professor Dumbledore. The headmaster’s clear blue eyes held none of their usual warmth or twinkles as they swiveled to peer into Cormac McLaggen’s eyes. McLaggen groaned, knowing that he’d been caught dead-to-rights.

“Look... I... I wasn’t trying to hurt Hermione,” he mumbled fearfully. “I like her! I just wanted her to be my girlfriend...”

“Rubbish!” Harry snarled. “You were gloating with your mates about it! You just wanted to have sex with her and you thought you could get away with it if you could convince her to be your girlfriend with that memory charm.”

Dumbledore sighed heavily. “Unfortunately for you Mr McLaggen, the use of love potions are banned here at Hogwarts for a reason. In and of itself, the attempted employment of a love potion is not necessarily cause for automatic expulsion. However, in conjunction with your appalling conduct - obtaining sex from a non-consenting partner - you have left me with no other option but to expel you...”

McLaggen looked aghast. “But... You can’t do that! My parents...”

“I can, and I will, Mr McLaggen,” said Dumbledore coldly. “Whether or not your wand is snapped, however, I will leave up to the judgment of the DMLE - in whose custody you will be leaving Hogwarts today. The only reason I hesitate to do so myself, is that I am reluctant to leave any wizard without a means to defend themselves while Voldemort is at large.”

Everyone in the room - except for Harry, Hermione, and Snape - winced at hearing Voldemort’s name spoken aloud.

“What about Potter!” McLaggen growled, shooting Harry a savage look. “He attacked me! He should be expelled too...”

“I quite agree with Mr McLaggen’s sentiments.” Snape nodded, peering nastily down his hooked nose at Harry.

“Of course you do, Severus,” Dumbledore sighed wearily. “However, you know very well that is not an option. Under the circumstances, I think I will leave arranging Harry’s detentions and points losses to Minerva...”

“What?” shrieked Hermione. “But that’s not fair! Why should Harry be punished for defending me?”

“Because Harry wasn’t defending you, Miss Granger,” said Dumbledore patiently. “He assaulted another student when it was clear that you were no longer in any immediate danger. Harry needs to learn that such behaviour is unacceptable in a civilised society.”

Harry quietly fumed as he listened to Dumbledore. Under other circumstances he would have ordinarily accepted the consequences of his actions without question. But given the situation with Snape and Malfoy, the injustice of it all was simply too much to bear.

“So why are you letting Malfoy get away with nearly murdering Katie Bell then?” Harry angrily retorted.

“Harry, this is neither the time nor the place,” said Dumbledore, his voice hardening.

“Why not?” Harry gave Dumbledore a mutinous look. “I’m sick of being dumped on while others get off scot-free. You think I don’t know that I shouldn’t have beat up McLaggen - even though he had it coming? If Malfoy was getting what he deserved, I’d happily take my lumps...”

“Harry! You don’t know all the facts. I’m warning you...”

“Or what? You’ll expel me?” Harry snorted mirthlessly, beginning to shake with anger. “We both know you’re not going to do that. And I know Malfoy was behind it, and so does Snape - I overheard them both last night...”

Snape’s already sallow skin paled considerably as his eyes widened. Hermione gasped, staring at Harry.

“Enough! I see that you are not to be dissuaded Harry. Very well then... Poppy, if you would please remove Mr McLaggen, and Minerva, please escort Miss Granger back to Gryffindor Tower...”

“NO! Hermione stays!” said Harry forcefully. “She can hear whatever we’ve got to say to each other. She’s the only one I trust right now! I don’t trust Snape, and I don’t trust you... I don’t even trust myself at the moment because I’m so angry!”

Professor McGonagall peered worriedly at Harry and then the headmaster. Dumbledore nodded at her.

“It’s alright Minerva. Harry’s point is reasonable... Miss Granger will be staying. ”

There was an awkward silence while Madam Pomfrey escorted McLaggen to her office and shut the door, and Professor McGonagall departed for the Great Hall. Snape shuffled uncomfortably, his dark glittering eye narrowed at Harry, his mouth curling into a grimace of hate.

“You see headmaster!” Snape sneered, the moment the hospital wing was clear. “Sheer insolence! He is as arrogant and self-righteous as his father, given to bouts of violence...”

“SHUT UP!” Harry yelled. “I’M NOT MY FATHER!”

“Severus, Harry, please...” said Dumbledore gently, as if trying to referee between two angry little children.

“No! I’ve had enough! He’s always treated me like rubbish! He treats Hermione and Neville like dirt too... I want to say my piece once and for all, without being dismissed out of hand, or getting detention just because he hates me. After all I’ve been through, I think I deserve at least that much!”

“By all means, Potter, continue your childish tirade...” Snape caught Dumbledore’s withering look and quieted.

“Please, go on Harry.” Dumbledore looked at him sadly over the top of his half-moon spectacles. “I must concede that you do at the very least deserve to voice your feelings and be heard without interruption and repercussion. But please try and control your temper, and remember, Professor Snape is a teacher who deserves your respect.”

“He should bloody act like it then! And I’ll respect him the day he starts treating me and Hermione with a bit of respect - until then, forget it! He calls me childish... well what do you call someone who treats someone else like a pile of dung just because he hated their father? ... since the very first day I came to Hogwarts when I was only eleven! What sort of grown up teacher treats kids like that?”

Snape let out a furious huff.

“Harry has a very fair point, Severus,” said Dumbledore. “Please contain yourself and hear him out.”

Harry gave Dumbledore a begrudgingly grateful look and went on, this time directly addressing Snape.

“Look, I’m sorry I saw your memory! I’m sorry for what my father did to you! But that wasn’t me - that was him! You think it was bad for you that I saw your memory - but it was worse for me! It was horrible watching my dad bully you!

“I’ll always feel like crap about that - because he’s dead, and I’ll never be able to ask him to explain how he could be such an arsehole, and how he managed grow out of it. And I’ll always wonder what my mum ever saw in him! ... You can’t possibly know how much that hurts me inside...”

Harry paused, heaving a deep breath as his nostrils flared with emotion, his eyes stinging. Hermione bit her lip and took Harry’s hand, giving it a comforting squeeze as Harry pushed up his glasses with his other hand and rubbed his eyes.

Snape’s features briefly flickered.

Struggling to pull himself together, Harry continued. “But you know what? As awful as what my dad did to you was, at least he knew the right side to be on during the war! He fought against Voldemort! What did you do? You went and joined him!

“You hated muggleborns as much as Voldemort did. You called my mother a Mudblood when she was defending you! How many people besides my parents did you watch Voldemort and the rest of his gang murder before you switched sides?

“You accused me of being violent when I’ve only ever stood up against people who treated other people horribly. But how many people did you murder yourself before you knew you were on the wrong side?”

Snape flushed angrily again and opened his mouth. Dumbledore gave Snape a look of warning and the Potions Master thought better of responding.

“And last night I saw you offering to help Malfoy murder someone when he as good as admitted that he nearly killed Katie,” said Harry, trembling, desperately trying not to fly off the handle again. “He pretended it wasn't him at first, but the way you two were arguing, it was obvious that you both knew he'd done it and that he had plans to kill someone ...maybe even me or Hermione for all I know! So how am I ever supposed to believe that you really switched sides?”

Harry took off his steamed-up glasses and rubbed his eyes again, unable to stop the tears of rage and grief which were leaking from the corners. He peered at Snape almost pleadingly.

“How? How am I supposed to believe you?”

Snape swallowed uncomfortably, unable to tear his glittering gaze away from Harry’s glistening green eyes, seeing something in them for the first time - something which he had refused to allow himself to see ever since Harry had first entered Hogwarts.

“Potter! You have no idea...” he croaked, unable to bring himself to say anything more.

Seeing Snape’s features look almost remorseful for the first time ever, Harry turned his churning cauldron of emotions and fury back on Dumbledore.

“And you! ... You told me at the end of last year that it was really your fault that Sirius had died, because you had refused to talk to me all year and tell me anything about what was really going on! You even apologised for not telling me about the prophecy when I first got to Hogwarts!

“And I tried... I’ve been trying to believe you ever since. I want to believe you! And in my head, I know it’s true, but it still feels like my fault to me. And... and when I see you letting Malfoy run around half-cocked trying to kill someone - probably me or Hermione - it makes me feel really stupid for ever trusting you!

“Katie would’ve died if I hadn’t got Hagrid in time! How many people does Malfoy have to murder before you stop him?”

For a moment Dumbledore looked his age, old and haggard. Harry caught the flicker of shame in Dumbledore’s eyes and pressed on relentlessly.

“D’you know what Malfoy told me in second year? He said that he hoped Hermione would be killed by Slytherin’s monster! He didn’t make a big secret out of it either. And... and it’s because of Malfoy’s dad that Ginny was nearly killed and... and Hermione nearlywas killed by Slytherin’s monster...”

Harry’s breath caught in a near-sob again and he glanced at Hermione - who was in tears herself - before returning his attention to Dumbledore.

“So why... why are you letting him get away with it?” Harry implored as more bitter tears trickled down his flushed cheeks. “Why are you protecting someone evil like Malfoy? Doesn’t anyone else in this school matter to you?

“How can I trust you anymore? I need to trust you, but I can’t! I’m willing to do whatever it takes to fight Voldemort! ... I’ve been fighting him my whole life really! Every bloody year! ... But you never tell me anything that I really need to know to be able to deal with things properly! I always have to try and work everything out for myself - with Ron and Hermione’s help, and... and I’malways getting in trouble for just doing what I have t’do to survive...”

Harry shot another dirty look at Snape - who quickly averted his eyes - and peered at Dumbledore again.

“I thought this year was going to be different after last year. But it’s not really, is it? You still won’t tell me anything reallyimportant, even though I’m the one who needs to know it more than anyone else... because I’M Voldemort’s number one target, and I’M the one who always has to deal with him and his followers. And I’m sorry - looking at a few memories in a pensieve isn’t bloody good enough!

“Please! Help me trust you! Tell me what to do! ... I’ll do whatever takes to fight Voldemort. I’ll... I’ll give up quidditch and just study magic all the time! I’ll do whatever I have t’do to make you trust me - but I need to be able to trust you first! And right now, that... that’s just really hard for me to do anymore.

“I just feel like running away with Hermione right now! Maybe we’d go to Beauxbatons - I dunno... But I’d rather not. I’d rather stay and fight Voldemort - finish him for good! But I need to believe in you... I need a reason to believe! ...”

Harry trailed off, letting out several more sobs as Hermione wrapped her arms around him and stared coldly at Dumbledore and Snape.

Snape just stared at his own feet as his carefully built walls crumbled, the shards littering the canyons of desolation in his soul, feeling more abject than he had in fifteen years.

Dumbledore pulled a paisley hanky from his robes and pushed up his spectacles, dabbing at his eyes, wondering how he had managed to fail Harry so spectacularly... again. He took a moment to compose himself before addressing Snape.

“Severus, it would appear that we shall have to reconsider everything - and I do mean everything! Can I trust that you shall no longer seek reprisal against Harry for imagined slights from this moment forward? ... And that you will afford Miss Granger the courtesy and dignity of which she is most deserving?”

“Of... of course headmaster!” Snape nodded, flushing guiltily.

“Very good! Please let us be then, for the time being. And please keep a much closer eye on Mr Malfoy - put some house-elves on his tail if need be - until we have an opportunity to discuss the most appropriate way to end his path of destruction as quickly as possible, before any more students are harmed. For the moment, I have some severely damaged bridges to mend with Harry and Miss Granger...”



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