The whole nefarious pestilence could be traced back to Draco Malfoy (of course). Lockhart noticed him looking smirkingly bored early on in the year. "Well well, Mr Malfoy! Let's get you a little more involved in today's class." (If there were any dramatic justice in the world, a thunderclap would then have sounded.) "I have it – you can help me really make the book come alive for your classmates. We'll have you play the clan Rangfrid ghouls, what say you? Now, what was your favourite part of Gadding with Ghouls?"
"The end," drawled Malfoy.
"The nail-biter of an ending!" Lockhart was enthusiastic. "It was rather spectacular, was it not? Up you get now, Draco – "
Malfoy folded his arms, shook his head, and otherwise refused… which was pretty much the reaction of everyone else whenever Lockhart applied this method to his other classes. Third-year Cho Chang was highly indignant when Lockhart proposed she play a snuffling hag whose date with destiny involved Lockhart himself and something called an Atropos Jinx. Lee Jordan was pinned into pretending to be a troll whom Lockhart tricked over a handy cliff and only salvaged his pride halfway through by aping Marcus Flint, to the deep amusement of his friends. Flint suffered another indignity: Terence Higgs, in revenge for being shoved off the Slytherin Quidditch team, privately informed Lockhart that although poor old Flint was too shy to raise his hand he was simply dying to have a shot at the role of a nasty banshee who had proved fatally allergic to Lockhart's hair potion, and so Higgs, at least, thoroughly enjoyed that class. Luna Lovegood was more creative still, and declined the role of an inept yeti on grounds that imitating a yeti while Neptune was in the sixth house would doom you to thirty-three years' worth of bad luck (the yeti had their ways). Percy Weasley flat-out refused to play a female vampire Confounded into an ill-fated love for Lockhart (I have no idea why, it was a good role). And Harry Potter, fiercely red to the roots of his hair, went through his parts woodenly with set jaw, various friends trying not to laugh. If he hadn't been so tiresomely decent a person he would have been plotting Lockhart's murder. But heroes whose strength lies in their purity of heart just can't go around doing that, I'm afraid.
Give Lockhart credit. Despite these and many other discouragements, he never gave it up.
It was his last class that Friday – the first-year Gryffindors. Rowdy bunch. The moment the bell rang Colin Creevey leapt to his feet, straining to raise his hand in the air. "Ooh! Ooh! Ooh, Professor!"
Lockhart was just about to excuse the boy to the bathroom when Colin went on: "I heard – I heard from the Slytherins – " (Most of his classmates gave Colin exasperated looks; how Colin kept cheerily chatting with reticent older Slytherins without yet being hexed half to death was beyond them, but at any rate it was unGryffindorish.) " – that you were acting out this story during class!"
Lockhart beamed. "Yes, in fact. No one could stop talking about it, could they?"
"Great! Does this mean today you'll be showing us some of the spells you used?"
The beam faded. Lockhart said something rather less articulate than usual about it being inappropriate to show first-years such impressive magic. Colin was temporarily quenched, and flopped back down in his seat with an inconsolable air.
It lasted for five long minutes while Lockhart discussed some of the more memorable photoshoots from when Wanderings with Werewolves had hit the top of the bestsellers' list… against even such heavyweights as Eunice Wilkes's A Diricawl Love and Matilda Shortreed's Passion in a Puffapod (don't ask). Then Lockhart asked for a volunteer to play the Wagga Wagga werewolf during the following reenactment. Asked it quite confidently for someone who had before received nothing but the polite rebuffs detailed above.
But his confidence did seem justified when Colin's hand again shot into the air, though this time he refrained from standing.
"Oooh! Me, sir, I'll do it, let me!" he said, as if he were competing against a whole class of similarly excited would-be terrorisers of Wagga Wagga. Indeed, Lockhart carefully surveyed the rest of the incredulous class before announcing grandly that the devilishly lucky Mr Creevey would get to play the part.
Colin bounded up from his desk so fast that he knocked the seat down. He did not pick up the chair; he was too busy punching both fists into the air and skipping to the front of the classroom.
It was every English schoolboy's educational dreams come true, Hogwarts. Especially this course. Being encouraged to act like an animal in the middle of class!
"Now just hold on there! – yes, hold it. If you had carefully reread the book you would have remembered that the Wagga Wagga werewolf doesn't put in an appearance till the very end – builds up to quite a climax. Meanwhile, the part of Gilderoy Lockhart will be played by – "
Lockhart was just about to genially wink when Colin piped up.
"But what should I do meanwhile?"
Thus the wink became a blink. No one had ever taken the role seriously enough to ask him. "Ah. Well." Lockhart's gallantry returned. Marvellous that the boy was so enthusiastic. "Just act lycanthropic, Colin."
Colin had been waiting for that. He threw back his head.
Most of his classmates covered their ears. He had emitted more of a high-pitched shriek than the terrifying howl he had been going for.
"But, please! Act like a werewolf quietly." Lockhart added with considerable foresight, "You'll get to howl later, never fear."
"What do werewolves do when they're not howling?" Colin enquired earnestly.
A few of his classmates were thus stirred to offer suggestions, amid rolling their eyes.
"They bite people," said Cerinthus Bluntsword, with a "duh" in his tone.
Lockhart saw a certain gear in Colin's head going, and said hastily, "Yes, but we're not going to reenact that."
Colin's face fell. "Aww… "
"You can pretend to scratch fleas," said Jonas Chant, helpfully.
Colin looked indignant. "Scratch fleas? I'm a werewolf, not a poodle!"
"Creevey, you look like a poodle," said Cerinthus, to a classwide laugh, but a certain Ginerva Weasley turned sharply on him.
"What of it, at least he doesn't look like a trussed chicken."
"Oooooo," chorused the girls. Cerinthus had the great presence of mind to blush.
"All right, everyone, settle, settle! Colin, why not just… lope about a bit. Good, good…" And then Lockhart proceeded to a very dull part of the story where he arrived in Wagga Wagga on a dark and stormy night to find his quaint country hosts oddly jittery… if anyone stayed awake during the bit where Lockhart was having a very chivalrous conversation with the landlord's daughter, it was only because Colin, hearing his character darkly referenced at one point, leapt towards a desk in the front row and landed hard, inches from the faces of Ginny Weasley and Barbara Tripper, with a "RAAWHR!"
Ginny only startled, but Barbara shrieked loudly enough to satisfy both Colin and Lockhart.
"That's it," Lockhart said in hushed tones, the sombre effect rather ruined by the sparkle of his teeth. "Exactly the state of these poor villagers, living in terror… the next full moon always on their cloudy horizon… do you need the hospital wing, Miss Tripper?"
Miss Tripper blinked. "Um, no. I think I'll be okay."
And it was at this point that McGonagall stepped unobtrusively into the doorway. Nobody noticed her. Lockhart was much too caught up in his harrowing tale, and most of his class was too much on their guard lest Colin suddenly pounce in their direction. Just as well. McGonagall had a reputation to keep up, that might have been rather marred by the livid colours her complexion went through, her blank stare, and the shortness of breath as she tried to stop herself by sheer will from having a heart attack… or worse, laughing.
It was nearing the Wagga Wagga Werewolf's first appearance, and in spite of themselves and their zoned-out bleariness, his classmates peered at Colin. They had witnessed some of these performances already. Colin, attempting to get in character, tried for a swagger, but it promptly tripped him up.
"… when I heard what Miss Pennywort had most been dreading!"
"Mark you, I had no idea Miss Pennywort was about. I thought I could simply start firing at will. But when I entered the clearing, and saw the werewolf – "
Colin scrunched up his face and tried to make his hands look like claws (the result was rather like a kid at his first piano lesson).
" – ready to tear apart the throat of the beautiful defenceless villager – "
"Ooooo," said Colin, staring up at his professor with face shining. "Who's going to play the villager? Can it be Ginny?"
Ginny had been in a bit of a stupor all day, but at this she sat bolt upright. "No way!"
"Please, Mr Creevey," said Lockhart, exceedingly gracious, considering he did so hate to be interrupted. "Back to your flea-scratching. As I say, the werewolf was mere inches from poor Miss Pennywort's throat when I imitated the call of one of the beast's own!"
"Hey," Colin broke character, getting fully to his feet again, "was it better than my howl?"
"Rather." Lockhart added generously: "Not that you're not doing excellently… a little experience, a little practice…"
"Can you show it to me?"
"Now really, Mr Creevey, if you can't stop ruining the mood by these interruptions I'm sure one of your classmates would be thrilled to take your place."
There was a certain amount of commotion as people scrambled to hide behind their schoolbags or to shove their desks back a few blessed inches.
"All right," said Colin, with a long sigh, neck bent. "So do I get to chase you then, or what?"
"We'll skip that part. Don't want to miss demonstrating the Homorphus Charm, do we?"
"All right!" This in an entirely different tone. Colin instinctively knew that this scene would challenge the whole range of his thespian skill and threw himself into it. I'm afraid his ominous shaking looked more like he was doing some 60's dance, and doing it badly at that.
The last time Colin had so horrified anyone had been… well, two weeks ago at breakfast, when he had innocently rhapsodised to Neville Longbottom about how really brilliant Professor Snape's classes were. But that was two weeks ago. Now it was McGonagall, who was supposed to be made of sterner stuff. However, phrases like Hogwarts, finest school for witchcraft and wizardry in all the world and images such as Sylvanus Twiggletoe's famous stately portrait of the Founders Four kept flitting through her mind, so that they were grotesquely juxtaposed with the scene before her.
" – and then the piteous moan – excellent, Creevey, excellent! – "
But there was a longstanding tradition among the Hogwarts faculty to not open one's mouth against each other's methods. This had sometimes tested McGonagall's self-control in the past, but now she began to think it wise. What would she say? "Gilderoy, no offence meant, but you're certifiable. No, not for teaching – for a nice quiet ward on St Mungo's. And what on earth did you have that Creevey boy doing?"
Whatever exactly it was, and it looked terribly as though he was gnawing on the binding of someone else's book, it wasn't much helping his social status as "the weird one, to be avoided in favour of anyone (except perhaps Peeves in his zooier moods)".
Colin also got one last good howl in there before entirely human again. It was a marked improvement over his first attempt. Colin was a fast learner. Besides, he had won his whole building's howling contests about six years ago. It was like riding a flying motorcycle.
That was the last class of the day (thank heaven). McGonagall was in the staff room with her head buried. Sundry concerned colleagues could not tell if she were laughing or crying – they only knew that she waved them impatiently away when they tried to ask, muffledly saying something to the effect that it was something one couldn't explain, not in a million years.