Chapter 11

No Pain, No Gain

Someone was screaming.

Hope fought through the thick fog that surrounded her, wondering how she could help. The screaming was becoming louder now, with a whimpering, keening note to it telling her that the person was hurt. If only she could find her way out of the mist. It was starting to lift slightly, becoming hazier in patches.

"Gently! Lower her onto the bed!" a voice she definitely recognised instructed. She didn't have time to place it. Pain rent through her, ripping at her flesh; iron bands tightened their grip on her body and hot, stinging agony consumed her, showing no mercy.

She felt as if she was falling and she clawed at the empty air, trying to survive. She wasn't going to give up. She'd find her way through this. The screaming was getting louder and louder, ringing through her own ears, and she became aware that she was yelling too. Those were her screams. She tried to force her eyelids open. What had happened?

"It was all my fault," the gruff voice of Hagrid sobbed. "I should'a kept a bett'r eye on 'er. I knew that other gir' weren't pullin' 'er weight."

"She'll be fine, Hagrid," Madam Pomfrey's brisk voice sounded professional and certain. "The burns are nasty, no doubt about it, but if you can wait outside, I can start working on them."

A noise like an elephant trumpeting and a large sniff told Hope that Hagrid had blown his nose.

"I'd bett'r go an' see Snape. Let 'im know..."

She was left with the sounds of Madam Pomfrey's business-like feet clattering on the wooden floor, and then a screen was pulled around them, protecting them from any curious visitors. Hope managed to get her eyes opened at last and blinked feebly at Madam Pomfrey.

"Good, I'm glad you're back with us," the nurse said briskly. "I'm going to have to see how extensive the burns are, and then we can set about healing them. This might hurt a little."

If that was what Madam Pomfrey called hurting a little, Hope made a mental note never to find out what hurting a lot would be like. She howled out loud as fabric stuck on burnt flesh and was swiftly peeled away by busy hands. There was a lot of tutting from the nurse as she lifted limbs, inspecting the extent of the damage.

"Right then!" Madam Pomfrey opened a jar of an orange jelly-like substance. She began to apply it to Hope's shoulder and left arm, trying to keep her touch as light as possible. "This will clear up the superficial burns in the next hour or so, and then we can concentrate on the areas that have been seriously damaged. If it's not too bad, then you might be able to go back to classes tomorrow. We'll know soon enough."

Hope couldn't stop a cry escaping as Madam Pomfrey hit on a particularly sore patch of skin.

"Sorry," the nurse commented. "Almost done."

Hope closed her eyes again and let her head fall backwards into her pillow, trying to concentrate on something else. Memories scorched pictures in her brain. Rachel MacNair letting go of the rope. A huge, billowing cloud of fire erupting from the Skrewt and she was falling in nightmarish slow motion, straight into the flames, hands outstretched and with no way of stopping. She flinched from the pictures and then flinched again, this time from the stinging in her hands where Madam Pomfrey was now working.

At last, the nurse was done, and stood back to observe her patient.

"I'll be back in an hour," she said. "You're going to have to just lie there, I'm afraid. You can't do much with that ointment daubed all over you."

Hope nodded her head slightly to show that she understood, and tried to relax. Her burns were still stinging ferociously, and she kept her eyes resolutely on the ceiling. She didn't want to relive what had just happened. She didn't want to think about her injuries, or the girl who had caused them so deliberately.

There was a nasty throb from somewhere near her right collarbone, and Hope began to count the number of little wooden panels that made up the ceiling and making mental patterns out of them. She wondered briefly if her mum had done the same thing when she'd been stuck in the hospital wing looking after her as a baby, but then realised that the place where she'd been born had been destroyed less than a week afterwards.

An old-fashioned witch with a white mop of a hat wandered into the painting of a forest and twinkling stream beside her bed and clucked with horror.

"Thanks!" Hope said through gritted teeth. "Makes me feel so much better!"

There was movement from the bed to the right, and Hope heard Madam Pomfrey's footsteps hurrying into the next cubicle.

"I don't think you ought to be trying to get out of bed yet," she warned.

"Who's been brought in?"

Hope inwardly rolled her eyes. It was Rose Lambert in the next bed all right, fussing as much as ever.

"No one you need to worry about. You just have to rest and let the potion do its work. There's been some improvement already."

"I-I don't want anyone to know."

Hope's ears pricked with interest, her own aches and pains momentarily forgotten. What was wrong with Rose Lambert?

"Of course they won't know," Madam Pomfrey chided her patient. "Really dear, you're worrying about nothing. Would you like some copies of /i to read to take your mind off things? You don't seem to be making much headway with your classwork."

Hope sighed to herself, wondering how much work she was missing in class. She'd only just started to catch up and then all this had happened. Stebbins would be tearing his hair out if she didn't make it down to Quidditch practise tonight. There had to be a way to persuade Madam Pomfrey to let her out of the hospital wing.

If only her hands would stop hurting!

The hour dragged past agonisingly slowly, but Madam Pomfrey eventually returned with a large metal basin full of water and a second jar full of purplish slime. She helped Hope to a sitting position and carefully began to clean her wounds. Hope was relieved to see that a lot of the oozing sores had virtually vanished already, and her skin was nowhere near as sensitive as it had been earlier that morning.

Madam Pomfrey, however, was frowning at the area near her collarbone. There was a weeping burn still blazing across the pale skin, and Hope's hands and forearms were equally stiff and sore. It felt like she was wearing a type of thick rubber glove that gave her little electric shocks every time she moved.

The nurse worked swiftly, applying the new potion and binding the remaining wounds in clean white bandages. Hope stared at her hands, bound like an ancient Egyptian mummy, and sighed heavily when Madam Pomfrey had to help her to dress again. This was humiliating. She should have realised that Rachel would seize any opportunity to hurt her for what she believed Hope had done to her father. Why hadn't she been on her guard?

By the time lunch came around, Hope was in a thoroughly foul mood. She'd accepted Madam Pomfrey's offer of TeenWitch and been incandescent with irritation when she discovered that she couldn't turn over the flimsy pages of the magazine. Her skin felt as if it were being tightened on a torture rack and there was certainly no way she was going to be able to escape to play Quidditch. Madam Pomfrey had scoffed at the very question.

The hospital wing door flew open, and Severus Snape stalked in, his sallow face somewhat paler than usual, but his black robes billowing out behind him as they always did. His dark eyes alighted on Hope and he nodded briefly at her, before disappearing into Madam Pomfrey's office and closing the door behind him.

Through the glass partition, Hope could see the two adults talking, both wearing grave expressions. Snape paced restlessly around the room, turned back to the nurse and said something angrily to her. Madam Pomfrey nodded and Snape turned abruptly to leave her office.

Hope had expected him to stride straight back out of the hospital wing, but to her surprise, Snape headed straight for the chair beside her bed and settled himself in it. He cleared his throat.

"Potter, it seems that you have a propensity to take after your father. He wasted a considerable amount of school time in here as well. There are easier ways of missing lessons!"

"It wasn't my fault this time!" Hope objected.

"No?" Snape said smoothly. "Perhaps you'd better tell me what happened."

The words were said so silkily smoothly that Hope almost blurted the truth out at once, yet she held herself back. Deliberately injuring another student would undoubtedly put Rachel MacNair in danger of being expelled, and much as Hope was furious with the other girl, she couldn't bring herself to do it. Somehow she would sort MacNair out in her own time, her way.

"Nothing," she said.

"Nothing? Then please tell me what has happened to your hands."

"Blast-ended Skrewt," Hope explained briefly. "It was too strong for me, and I got hurt. That's all."

"And MacNair?" Snape said, a glint in his eye showing a keen understanding of the situation. "She was intended to be sharing the detention with you, and had she been doing as she was told, then she would have shared your injuries."

Hope said nothing. There seemed to be nothing she could say.

"Hagrid informs me that MacNair appeared to let go of the leash to cause you harm," Snape continued. "Even allowing for Hagrid's natural bias towards you and your family, it seems to be a reasonable assumption to make in the circumstances."

"I wouldn't know," Hope replied, wondering why on earth she was trying to cover up for Rachel MacNair. Inwardly she was berating herself for her silence. "Perhaps you should ask her what happened."

Snape stood up and looked at her in such a way that Hope wondered if he could possibly know what was going on in her mind. "That has already been done, Potter," he said softly. "Believe me, irritating as you undoubtedly are, I had no intention for your punishment to turn out this way."

He left as suddenly as he had arrived, leaving Hope to wonder what had been going on in the rest of the school. She didn't have long to wait until a breathless Cora and Matthew barged into the room just before lunchtime was over. Cora's dark hair was curling wildly about her face and Matthew looked every bit as dishevelled as she did. Madam Pomfrey glared disapprovingly at the pair of them.

"No visitors!" she said crossly. "You can come back and see Miss Potter after dinner this evening." Cora's face fell with disappointment and she turned to Matthew, seeking some support.

"Please, Madam Pomfrey?" Hope begged. "I'm bored. I can't read or play cards or anything with my hands like this." She lifted her two bandaged fists to illustrate her point, looking woefully pathetic.

Madam Pomfrey chuckled. "You reminded me of your mother just then. She did the wounded innocent expression far too well when she was here. All right, then. Ten minutes, but no getting up to any mischief!"

Hope wriggled up in her bed, crossing her legs so that she was sitting up properly and then beamed at her friends.

"What's been happening?" she demanded, even before they'd settled into chairs by her bed. "Snape was in here a few minutes ago being really cryptic."

Cora gave a muffled exclamation of horror as she saw the full extent of Hope's bandaging. "Your poor hands! What did she do?"

"It's not as bad as it looks," Hope tried to dismiss the concern. "Pomfrey's got this stuff all over me. Maybe she gets a discount for buying it in bulk."

Matthew looked worried. He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand whilst he looked at Hope's bandages. "MacNair did this to you?" he said with quiet fury. He glanced straight at Hope, colouring furiously, but never letting his eyes fall. She noticed then that his fists were clenched in his lap.

"Don't!" Hope protested, and rubbed a bandaged hand on his angry fist in an attempt to calm him down. He jumped, and quickly shuffled back in his seat, his face glowing like the setting sun. "It's done now, and there's nothing you can do. Leave it for now, and I'll think of a way to sort out our lovely Miss MacNair without us all getting expelled for it."

"Did she really deliberately do this to you?" Cora asked, aghast.

Hope hesitated, then nodded slowly. "She might not have thought about what would happen..."

"Might not have thought about it!" Matthew scoffed. "The Skrewt was shooting flames and she decided to let go of the only thing keeping you from being burnt. What do you think she expected to happen? Do you honestly think she expected the Skrewt to give you a bunch of flowers?"

Hope chuckled weakly. "Is she in a lot of trouble? Snape wasn't giving anything away earlier."

"Snape was livid when he hauled her out of History of Magic," Cora breathed. "I've never seen him as mad as that before. He just strode right in and MacNair went totally white. I thought she was going to faint. Snape marched her out of the room so fast, literally dragging her by her arm and didn't say a single word the whole time he was in there. We heard him ranting at her outside, before he took her off to Circinus' office. I thought he was going to burst a blood vessel."

"Circinus?" Hope's eyes widened. So the headmaster had become involved in all of this. "She's not going to be expelled, is she? I mean, I'll be all right in a day or two and I can't see her trying it again."

"She deserves it!" Matthew said staunchly.

"She made a mistake," Hope argued with him. "I've stuffed it up plenty of times in the past."

"You never mean to hurt anybody else," Cora pointed out tartly. "Don't go wasting your sympathies on the likes of Rachel MacNair."

"I don't like her," Hope said. "It's not that. Cora... how would you feel if you ever came face to face with the person who killed your dad in the war?"

There was a long pause, and Hope's heart twisted at the expression on her friend's face. Cora's life would have been so different if her father hadn't been killed, just like Rachel would be such a different person if her father had not been imprisoned in Azkaban.

"I-I'd feel like killing them too," Cora admitted, her voice trembling. Her eyes lifted fearfully to look at Hope.

"And Rachel blames me for her dad being taken away."

"Yes, but it wasn't your fault," Belford interjected. "Whoever killed Cora's dad actually did do it. MacNair's dad was the one who chose to be a follower of that evil wizard bloke and he would have known what would have happened if they failed. She should be blaming him for being stupid, not you because Dumbledore used your powers. Apart from your magic, you didn't have anything to do with any of it!"

"I know that and you know that, but, sure as anything, Rachel won't see it that way."

"Then she's going to have to learn!" Matthew insisted. Hope smiled at him and he turned crimson.

Madam Pomfrey appeared through the gap in the curtains and glanced meaningfully at her watch.

"You two are going to be late, and I need to change Miss Potter's dressings. Run along. You may visit for a little while after dinner this evening."

Hope watched sadly as her two friends scuttled off, and then lay down again, bracing herself for another painful session with the nurse.

Saturday morning dawned, bright and fresh. A slight frost had breathed across the Hogwarts lawns, making Hope itch to grab her broom and go flying. Her Silver Lightning had arrived from home two whole days ago, and was annoyingly still lying unused in her dormitory. Stebbins had dropped in to visit, and had been surprisingly sympathetic to her plight.

"Rotten luck," he'd said, snaffling a handful of her Every Flavour Beans and tossing them upwards, one at a time to catch them in his mouth. He had choked momentarily. "Liver!" he 'd complained. "All the same, Potter, bloody well get better, all right? Quimby's on detention for McGonagall all next week for snogging a girl in the Charms corridor, and I wouldn't like to be in his shoes when he flies again. Worst of all, Dryadne Littleton wasn't the girl he had his hands all over when McGonagall caught him. One thing to remember, Hope, whatever you do in your life, never ever be unfaithful to the Beater on your Quidditch team."

Leaving Hope to commit this sage piece of relationship advice to memory, Stebbins had nicked a couple of her chocolate frogs on his way out of the door.

Madam Pomfrey had promised that Hope could leave the hospital wing that morning. Her arms and fingers had been mended, and apart from the wound over by her collarbone, she was as fit as ever and desperate to get back into school life. Having nothing but the screen that concealed Rose Lambert for company wasn't Hope's idea of fun. She'd even tried to strike up a few conversations with the screen, but had been met with a stony silence.

Robert, Cora and Matthew had visited as much as they had been allowed to, bringing with them shreds of gossip. Rachel MacNair hadn't been seen at all for two whole days after she had been removed from the History of Magic lesson. Rumours had instantly flown around the school that she'd been expelled or taken away to study at Durmstrang. Other houses had muttered that this sort of behaviour was typical of all Slytherins and only to be expected; a comment that surprised Hope by how much it annoyed her.

However, Robert had caught sight of Rachel in Snape's little office during the last Potions lesson, and after much discussion, the four friends had concluded that MacNair must be working and sleeping in isolation from the rest of the school whilst the staff fathomed what they were going to do with her. If MacNair was still within the school walls, then it seemed unlikely that she still faced expulsion.

At long last, Madam Pomfrey came into the ward itself and beamed at Hope.

"One last check, and then you can go to breakfast, young lady," she said. Hope wriggled obligingly out of her shirt, and stood patiently whilst the witch inspected her last remaining injury. There was a long, non-committal, 'Hmmmm,' and Madam Pomfrey applied the purplish liquid on the burn once more. It smelt nice, of almonds and flowers, but stung bitterly. She was bandaged up again, and got ready to go.

"That dressing must be changed daily," Madam Pomfrey insisted, wagging a stern finger at her charge. "Don't forget, or I'll have you back in here before you can say Peruvian Vipertooth!"

Hope giggled and hurried down to the Great Hall. It felt wonderful to be back amongst the chattering students again. She saw Cora and Matthew nudge each other, and beckon her over to them, grins as wide as her own. She slid onto the seat opposite them and helped herself to a large bowl of cereal.

"Seven tonight, Potter!" Stebbins yelled down the table.

Hope nodded, her mouth too full to be able to shout anything in reply. Cora frowned.

"Should you be flying already?"

"Dunno," Hope mumbled through a mouthful of food. "Pomfrey didn't say I couldn't. Besides, I've only got a week left to teach Matthew how to fly before our lessons start."

The boy in question choked violently on his breakfast, and Cora reached over and obligingly banged him on the back. He whooped in a breath and coughed again.

"You don't have to," he wheezed. "Their teasing won't be much worse than it is already if I fall off."

"They shouldn't be teasing you at all," Hope said severely, and helped herself to some toast.

There was a shout of pure horror lower down the Slytherin table and all heads immediately craned to see what was going on. Quimby pushed his chair back and stood, looking down at himself in abject horror. Hope burst out laughing.

The Quidditch player's hair had lengthened into ringlets of brash gold, tied back with a sparkling pink bow and daubs of make-up covered his face. His usual affectation of casual poise had gone, and he was now wobbling violently to keep his balance on teetering stiletto heels, his hairy legs bare until they reached the tiny leather mini-skirt that clung to him like a second skin. Wolf-whistles broke out around the hall. Quimby clutched his hands desperately to his chest.

"You've given me breasts, you complete and utter co-"

His words were lost in the tearful hilarity of those around him. Snape's eyebrows shot up at the staff table, and he looked suspiciously at Hope. She shook her head. It hadn't been her this time.

A tall figure brushed past, and Hope saw Dryadne Littleton grinning wickedly down at her. "Excellent idea for a spell, Potter."

Quimby tried to twist round to chase after his former girlfriend and give her a piece of his mind but he never quite made it. There was a loud crash as he overbalanced and landed flat on his back.

Snape stalked down to the Slytherin table amidst the howls of laughter and hoisted Quimby back to his feet.

"You two," he commanded, pointing to Stebbins and another seventh year boy, "get him back to his dormitory and make him stay there until I have time to deal with him."

"S-sir?" the puce-faced Quimby stuttered. "How long is this going to last? I mean, I'm not a... I can't... not like this..."

Snape pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows. "You upset Littleton?" he said thoughtfully, as if trying to do a massive calculation. "She's likely to get an Outstanding for Charms, I believe. You'll be lucky if you're back to normal this side of Christmas, Quimby. Perhaps it will help you to keep your mind off the fairer sex and on your studies for a while."

Quimby groaned, and was helped out by the other two boys, his legs sliding dramatically from beneath him as he went. Snape watched him go, frowning heavily at his retreating back. The laughter was dying away in the Great Hall, and post began to flutter in, distracting everyone's attention elsewhere.

Snape moved a little so he was right next to the three friends. "Two things, Potter," he said silkily. "First of all, I would appreciate it if that particular spell could be confined to your own repertoire, and not shared with hormonal fifth years bent on revenge. Secondly, once you have finished your breakfast, I would like your presence in my office. We have some business that must be discussed."