Chapter 04

Fifteen minutes after Malfoy left, Harry was gripping the table for dear life. He was afraid that if he let go, he would fall out of his chair and hit his head on the wooden floor. As soon as he had copied the translation for Malfoy and let go of the intense concentration needed to translate written Parseltongue into spoken Parseltongue into spoken English into written English, his vision had blurred, and he had no sense of his own up-down or right-left orientation. He was barely aware of his hands gripping the table – he had just enough conscious thought not to let go of the table because everything inside him was screaming that if he let go, he would fall.

“Harry, I’m here,” Hermione said, and she placed a warm hand on top of his right hand. “You can let go now. I’ll catch you.”

It was only the trust that Harry had in Hermione that allowed him to loosen his grip on the table. As he loosened his grip, he began to fall towards the floor, but Hermione caught him in her arms. “Can you walk?” she asked.

“No,” Harry said, surprised he had enough coherence left to form words.

“Okay. I’m going to cast a feather charm, then I’m going to guide you towards your bed so you can lay down. All right?”

Harry felt a rush of warm affection for his friend. Hermione knew how much he hated having spells cast on him, and she knew that the only way he could handle another person’s magic on him was if they asked permission first. Over the years, he’d learned that spells cast on him by people he didn’t give the right to cast spells on him felt like ice water being dumped on his head. But a permissive spell always enveloped him like a warm glove. He loved the way it felt. But he hated how he always had to give permission first. Sometimes, he wished that there was someone out there who could cast magic on him without permission and have that magic feel safe. That seemed like a faraway dream right now, though. He was barely able to hold his head up, let alone daydream. “Fine,” he said.

As soon as Harry gave his permission, Hermione cast a feather charm on him, which caused him to float along behind her as she carefully and skillfully guided him to his room, her left hand wrapped firmly around his right upper arm. “Do you need a potion?” she asked, tone calm, as she helped him lay down in his bed and pulled his covers up over him.

Harry tried to grin and failed. It always amused him how clinical Hermione could be in situations like this. “Pepper-up,” he said. “Can’t think.”

Hermione snorted. “I don’t think a potion is going to cure that,” she said, but she went into his bathroom and grabbed the Pepper-up potion out of his cupboard. She twisted the lid off the vial as she walked back to the bed. She cupped Harry’s head, tilting it up far enough that she could get the liquid down his throat.

The potion worked within seconds, and Harry scooted back in the bed, leaning against the headboard as the confusion cleared. “Thanks, ‘Mione,” he said. “And that was a crack shot.” He grinned at her.

She frowned at him. “I still don’t understand why you’re translating these scrolls for Malfoy. Especially when you know the consequences of translating them.”

Harry flushed under her stern gaze. “I know, ‘Mione. It’s just… Malfoy was desperate.” Harry glanced at Hermione’s face, then focused his gaze on his bedspread. “I’ve never seen Malfoy desperate before. I didn’t know what to say to him.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “How about ‘No, Malfoy, I won’t translate the scrolls for you.’ That seems like it would have worked pretty well.”

Harry scowled, then sighed. “I told him no, at first. And I was even adamant about it,” he said. That was in response to the way her eyes narrowed. “But then I asked him why he cared about translating them so much, and he told me that he wants to make up for some of the bad things that his parents did during the war. It seems like he’s trying to change.”

Hermione sighed. “People don’t change that easily, you know that. Just look at Ron.”

Harry snorted. Over the years, Ron’s jealousy of Harry’s fame had died down, and he was no longer quick to jump to conclusions when weird shit happened. But he was still stubborn, still liked the same Quidditch team, and he still harbored suspicions of anyone remotely dark. All things considered, he had the perfect personality to be an Auror. Unlike Harry, who had a tendency to question everything around him and also tried to see the good in everyone.

Hermione knew it, too. “I know you want to think that Malfoy’s changed,” she said. She drew her bangs behind her ear, a giveaway tell that she was being thoughtful. “But don’t go into this situation with him with blind optimism. He’s still Malfoy, and he’s still a Slytherin.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “There’s nothing wrong with Slytherins as a whole, you know,” he said. His voice took on a lower octave. “I was almost a Slytherin myself, so I know how to be careful. I wouldn’t have survived Voldemort if I didn’t have a little cunning of my own.” He smiled at her.

Hermione nodded. “I know, Harry. I just don’t know how to read Malfoy. I don’t know what his intentions are, and I don’t want to see you get dragged into his world.”

Harry sighed. “He’s far more likely to get dragged into my world than I am to get dragged into his. I’m sure the press will get wind of the fact we’re working together at some point, and then he’ll have to deal with the insanity that ensues.”

“Are you sure he won’t go to the press himself?” Hermione asked.

Harry snorted. “He’d have to be insane to go to the press on his own,” he said. “Most of the wizarding world still views Malfoy as a spitting image of his father, so the press tends to criticize him. No, Malfoy won’t go to the press.”

“If you don’t tell them, and he doesn’t tell them, and me and Ron keep quiet, who is going to tell them?” Hermione asked. “There’s no reason the press needs to find out at all.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Wow, ‘Mione. For someone so smart, you can be stupid sometimes.”

“Hey!” She grabbed a pillow and thwapped him with it.

Harry held up his hands in mock surrender. “Sorry, sorry. But, really. I don’t know how the press finds out what they find out about my private life. You know, they found out about the last relationship I had, the one with Tavin, and he couldn’t handle the pressure. None of the men I’ve been with have been able to deal with the fame that comes with my name.”

Hermione patted his knee. “You’ll find someone, Harry. Maybe not today, and maybe not soon, but someday, you will find someone who can handle the pressure of your fame. Don’t give up.”

Harry sighed. “I won’t,” he said. “But it is pretty hard to find a good date. Do you think I should try that blind dating service again?”

Hermione scowled. “Absolutely not. The last time you went there, everyone recognized you immediately, and they forgot what they were there to do. It turned into an autograph session for you rather than a matchmaking session, so that’s a terrible idea.”

“I could Polyjuice myself,” Harry reasoned. “Go in there as someone else, and –

“And live a lie for the rest of your life?” Hermione asked, voice cool. “Walk into the matchmaking session with another man’s skin, denying your own identity, and then pretending to have a different life for a little while? You realize, if you do that, the man will find out eventually, and then there will be a huge scandal. It’s a stupid idea.”

Harry sighed. “Maybe so,” he said. “But it would be nice to have someone to talk to.”

“You know that you can always talk to me and Ron,” Hermione said. “We’ll always be here when you need us.”

Harry smiled. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “But it’s just not the same, you know?”

Hermione nodded. “Yeah,” she said, voice soft. “Yeah, I know.”

Harry slid down under the covers. “Thanks for making sure I got to bed okay,” he said. “I’m going to sleep the rest of this off.”

“You’re welcome,” Hermione said. “Good night, Harry.”

“Night, ‘Mione.” Harry waited until he felt the floo activate and deactivate before he let himself cry. The real risk of translating Parseltongue was the emotional aftermath, and that was something he never let anyone see, not even Ron and Hermione. Because Parseltongue was a language of multiples. Snakes nested, and they were never lonely. The language was a language of community, of togetherness, and English lacked that warmth. English was a cold language, a solitary language, and Harry always felt emotionally exhausted and alone after translating Parseltongue.

What he really wanted to do was curl up around someone and let the presence of another person take his mind off the terrible loneliness he always felt after translating the language. While Hermione had helped to alleviate some of that loneliness, just by being present, the sheer loneliness he felt couldn’t be alleviated by a friend. It reached too far inwards, almost like he was a snake within a cave that had no exits. It was in these moments that he felt the most human and yet the most like a monster. Because if he was human, why couldn’t he find someone who would love him? Why couldn’t he find a mate?

That was the real reason that Parseltongue was never meant to be written down. Snakes mated for life. Humans didn’t. A snake without a mate was an incomplete soul, and translating that incompleteness into words was more painful than any other torment Harry had ever faced. Yet, he had voluntarily decided to take this pain on because he had agreed to translate the scrolls for Malfoy. And while Harry wanted to see the good in Malfoy, while he wanted to discover that translating these scrolls was for the greater good, that Malfoy had actually changed, Harry was terrified that he would discover the opposite. He was terrified that he would discover that Malfoy was every bit as evil as his father, and the pain Harry was inflicting on himself would be for naught. That was Harry’s worst fear, and he didn’t want Hermione or Ron to see just how deeply his nightmares ran.

Chapter Three      Index     Chapter Five

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