Author's Note: Hey, I know it's taken a long time, but the new chapter is finally finished and I hope it was worth the wait. I also have a few deleted scenes you might be interested in, so check out my profile for the links.
And now, big thanks to hjamesp15, krynny, ravenclawseekergirl638 and rubberducky26 for reviewing! I couldn't answer them personally, but I appreciated them! Also you're the best guys! I got so many reviews and adds that I could barely believe it. Over 100 reviews for 8 chapters? You left me speechless, really. I love you guys and thank you! Now I can only hope you won't hate me for this chapter.
IX. Matter of Camaraderie
Strong fingers curled around his wrist, trying to prevent Harry from facing the owner of the voice, however he was having none of it.
"Mr. Crouch," Harry greeted the judo coach, inwardly shrinking back from the maniacal gleam that shone in the man's eyes. From what he had heard, Crouch was an absolute menace, but his borderline torturous methods had won the National Championship to the team for the last six year.
"I asked a question, Potter." The man licked his lips in a definitely creepy way, rolling the last "r" of Harry's name like an obscene caress, causing a shiver to run down Harry's spine. "Is this brainless cretin harassing you?"
"Michael and I were just leaving, sir" Harry managed to grit out, feeling violated even though Crouch made no move to get closer.
His skin crawled from the feeling of those dark eyes practically devouring his uniform clad body, yet he could do nothing and the feeling of absolute hatred, he felt when O'Meyer trapped him in the bathroom, came back full force. Michael's chest pressed against his back in silent support, but it only managed to fuel his rage. Still he did nothing to separate himself from the older boy and the small sheen of security his touch provided.
Crouch's eyes narrowed as he took in their new position, and he pushed himself away from the wall he had been leaning against until that moment. "And how comes Farchild is not in class like a good little boy like him should?" he asked smoothly, a grotesque smirk twisting his features into a horrific mask. "Maybe a good month of detention would teach him a lesson..."
Harry could barely withhold a wince as Michael's fingers tightened around his wrist; fortunately, the reaction was hidden by the blue uniform jacket he had forgotten to button up in the morning. It was obvious that Michael was beyond nervous, but Harry had no idea whether it was because of Crouch's near paralyzing craziness or because he had a history with the man.
Harry had never seen his fellow dancer anything but reserved or – when it came to Brad – downright hostile. Of course, now that he was constantly around Arnold and therefore Harry, he experienced a more open and playful side of the senior, but to see him afraid of someone; it was surreal.
Out of sudden, Harry's anger evaporated, leaving behind something forgotten, but at the same liberating and empowering; protectiveness. The feeling surprised him, yet gave him the power to raise his chin and ignore the perverse hunger in the judo coach's near black eyes.
He leant back into Michael's chest, giving him the support he was silently seeking and spoke up, "That is not going to be necessary, Mr. Crouch. I was called to Dr. Sinistra's office and I asked Michael to accompany me."
"Really now? And how is that an excuse for skipping classes?" Crouch countered, walking closer until he was practically invading Harry's personal space
"We are excused from our classes for the day. Director Cameron's orders," Harry replied as smoothly as he could while trying to get as far from the man before him as he could. Crouch didn't smell bad – he used some kind of spicy cologne that was quite pleasant and his breath carried the faint remembrance of mint and coffee – but the mere thought of having the crazed coach anywhere near his body almost sent Harry's brain overload with fear.
It was instinctual; Barty Crouch terrified him to his core without even trying. The rumours about him liking his partners young and less than willing didn't help either, although no one had been able to prove anything. At least Harry wasn't the only one affected, not that it made him feel better.
"Cameron is way too lenient with you lot," Crouch scoffed in disgust, licking his lips in that weird way once again. "Now if it was me..." He lifted one of his hands in an attempt to touch Harry's face, but before he could have touched his skin Michael grabbed the offending appendage in a vice-like grip.
"You don't want to do that, sir," he spat, barely concealed venom lacing his words.
Harry wanted to turn back and look at the other boy, however, with Crouch standing so close to him, he couldn't afford the distraction.
The heavily hooded, bottomless black-blue irises stared up at him with unsettling awareness, before they slid above his head and suddenly were filled with pure loathing. "You would do well unhanding me, boy," Crouch barked harshly, yanking his hand out of Michael's grip.
His pale fingers curled into fists as if he was readying himself to hit Harry's companion, but the sharp sound of someone clearing their throat prevented him from doing anything.
"Is there a problem, Barthemius?" Harry's attention was instantly drawn by the silky drawl of Rabastan Lestrange, who somehow managed to sneak upon them.
Crouch whirled around, earning a snake-like smile from the Head of the Arts Department. "Everything is just fine, Rabastan," he said evenly, although Harry noticed that his hands were still balled by his sides. "I was having a small chat with the boys."
An elegant eyebrow arched and violet eyes flittered over to Harry for a second before they settled back on the obviously uneasy sandy haired man. "Potter, Farchild, in my office, now. And close the door." Lestrange ordered not sparing a glance to the teens, his attention focused solely on Crouch.
Harry didn't question the Department Head's command. He waited until the other two disappeared behind another set of double doors before he dragged Michael into Lestrange's office and closed the door behind them as quietly as he could; he didn't want anyone to know they were there even if it was Rabastan Lestrange himself who gave them permission – or an order – to enter.
He was just about to turn around when a pair of arms twined around his stomach and pulled him snugly against Michael's front. Thick locks of auburn hair tickled the side of his face and his ear as the older boy buried his head into his neck, pulling a strangled sound from Harry's throat.
"M-Michael?" he stammered, cursing himself for his pathetic stutter and the hammering of his heart. "What are you doing?"
"Don't move please," Michael whispered weakly. "I just need a few minutes..."
Harry complied and didn't ask questions. He just stood there for endless minutes, existing in complete silence and detached harmony, and it robbed Harry of the willpower to fight the urge to melt into the strong, falsely safe embrace. Deep down, he knew it was him who should have give comfort, yet he felt small and lost and had no idea what he should do.
"Maybe we should sit down?" Harry suggested softly, breaking the silence, but Michael's only response was to pull him even closer, which in turn made Harry blush and wince at the same time.
It took everything in him not to start freaking out, because it was one thing to be close to Michael or anyone during a possibly dangerous situation, but it was an entirely different thing to do the same when no one was around. Harry could feel as his body started to stiffen; hazy memories of the last time anyone – anyone that wasn't Arnold who usually just jumped him and clung to him like some kind of ginger monkey – embraced him surfaced from the deepest, most hidden corners of his mind.
The images of jet black wavy hair that fell gracefully into broken grey eyes and the smell of cinnamon and musk pierced his heart. Harry refused to close his eyes, fearing he would remember more, but the memories came either way, causing him to shudder at the remembrance of large caressing hands and whispered promises that were always accompanied by desperate, sloppy kisses and oh so bitter tears...
Harry wrenched himself out of Michael's embrace and pressed his back against the door. He struggled to keep his impassionate facade, to hide the terror and nausea that slammed into his stomach, twisting and clenching it with a force that nearly sent him tumbling to the floor. It had been years since he had thought of those miserable months he had spent with his godfather after his father's death.
Back then, Sirius was driven by grief induced madness and was beyond delusional, not knowing where his hallucinations ended and where reality began. And Harry was too young to fight, too young to do anything but endure the sickening affections of the man who was supposed to take care of him...
"Harry?" Harry didn't look up, too shaken and still under the influence of memories, but he was aware enough to flinch back, when Michael reached out to touch his shoulder. "Talk to me, Harry."
"No," he breathed, his blunt fingernails drawing blood from the soft flesh of his palms. The pain helped to focus. He needed to focus and hide the evidence of his shame and humiliation. "Everything is fine."
"No, Michael." Haunted green eyes clashed with anxious charcoal coloured ones, leaving no space for argument. "It is nothing."
It had been his mantra for years, those three simple words were the only things that made him keep going on, made him endure the agony and despair his godfather had been pushing him into. A part of him wanted to draw comfort from Michael, but he couldn't bring himself to admit such weakness, because it would have meant he failed being strong, like he did when O'Meyer assaulted him. He just couldn't bear the thought of opening up, and show how vulnerable he really was.
So instead of accepting the offered kindness, he schooled his features and stepped away from the door; his spine straight and his head held high. In answer, Michael pressed his lips into a thin line and stalked over to the flashy black leather armchairs that stood in front of Lestrange's desk. "Are you coming?" he asked, looking over his shoulder, but even with his face closed off, it was obvious he was sulking.
"No one forces you to talk to me, you know," Harry sneered, but sat into the armchair next to Michael who looked less than impressed by the way Harry was acting.
"I'm not going to argue with you, but remember this, Harry," here Michael paused to take a deep breath as if he was about to make a confession, never broking the eye contact, "no matter how much you try to push me away, I'm not going anywhere."
"How sweet of you, Mr. Farchild," an amused voice purred from the doorway and the velvet covered steely tone sent chills down Harry's spine. "Witnessing such chivalry warms my unfeeling, cold little heart."
Harry watched as the man strode into the room, the door closing with a sharp click behind him. He was an impressive figure; tall, dark and handsome with glittering ice like eyes that tore into your very core upon meeting them. He was young – in his early thirties – but had a presence that made even the most stuck up students and arrogant teachers look like innocent little kittens upon meeting him.
Rabastan Lestrange was a nasty bastard and was proud of that fact, but Harry knew that the man was a fierce protector when it came to his family and that in spite of his borderline ruthless behaviour, he cared for Harry and always looked after him in the only way he could; from afar.
"I'll be short," the man started, his almost translucent eyes pinning Harry to his seat mercilessly. "You have no business with Barthemius Crouch and if I ever see either of you anywhere near him in the future, it'll be me who puts you into the detention hall."
"I'm not interested in your inane gibberish, Potter," Lestrange cut in, his glare even more intense, and Harry decided it would be wiser to shut up. "And now get out."
Harry's jaw clenched, but he was not insane enough to disobey Rastaban Lestrange's direct order. From the corner of his eye he saw as Michael stood up beside him; his whole frame vibrating with suppressed tension while his striking profile seemed even sharper and looked like it was carved from unyielding marble. He was one of the most attractive men, Harry had ever seen, and for a fleeting moment the all too familiar confusion was back again, questioning the older boy's motives and sanity for wanting to be friends with him.
The moment passed as it came; the office of the Head of the Arts Department was no place for musing about dysfunctional relationships. Returning to the present, Harry turned all his attention to Lestrange, meeting with the man's imploring yet undoubtedly amused gaze and said, "I had the most enlightening chat with Dr. Sinistra before we run into Mr. Crouch. Maybe you want to check a few things with her, before she gets ideas of her own."
"Ideas you say?" Lestrange hummed pleasantly, resting his chin on the top of his steepled fingers.
"Yes, sir, ideas." Harry didn't want to share his rather pitiful home life with Michael.
It wasn't even anything personal; no one, not even Arnold, knew why he lived on campus almost all year or why he never had visitors or at least phone calls from home. Knowing that neither his mother nor his godfather wanted him was humiliating enough in itself, but half-assed sympathy and full-blown pity coming from people who could never understand how it felt would have killed him.
Harry didn't need pity and pretty, soothing lies. He was used to taking care of himself, even if this past week and a half tried to prove him other wise. He shot a quick glance at Michael, but the senior was standing by one of the big French windows, politely giving him and Lestrange the illusion of privacy they needed. It was a thoughtful and very considerate gesture, and Harry couldn't help but smile at the back of the boy, who was slowly proving to be someone irreplaceable in Harry's life.
"Cut off the love-sick puppy eyes, Potter, and pay attention," Lestrange whispered acerbically, causing Harry's eyes to snap back at his glowering form. "What did that... woman say?"
"It's about the teacher-parents conference on next Thursday. Apparently, Sirius' PA once again cancelled," he replied equally lowly, not paying any mind to the invisible claws that dug into his heart. "I assume you know what that means."
"I have a pair of ears and a functioning brain thank you very much," came the sardonic response before Lestrange raised his voice to a normal level. "I'll look into it, Potter, but you'd do well if you took care of your own insignificant problems in the future. Now, get the hell out!"
"How gracious of you, Mr. Lestrange," Harry sneered, but he sounded almost sincere when he added, "Thank you for your help."
"Thank you," Harry said quietly, not looking at Michael. They were only a few corridors away from the practice hall and Harry couldn't stand the strained silence that fell between them anymore. "For everything."
He heard as Michael let out a small sigh before the familiar long fingers closed around his blazer clad left arm and stopped him in his tracks. "You're welcome," came the soft reply, dark grey eyes desperately trying to convey a message, Harry couldn't comprehend no matter how much he tried to. "I can't deny that I wish you would talk to me, but I can't pressure you and I'm sorry if I was overbearing in my haste to–"
"Maybe, this is not the best place to discuss our regrets and feelings," Harry interrupted, trying to control the fluttering of his heart and the blush that was dead set on staining his cheeks. "And Arnold must be impatient by now."
Confusion and a dash of hurt flashed over Michael's face, but after a moment he nodded in agreement. "You're right," he said, a rueful smile curling his lips as he changed the topic. "I hope you're looking forward to working with me."
"I'm sure you will look magnificent in your little swan costume." Harry countered, his green eyes glittering at the mock outraged expression on the other boy's face. "Because that's the only role you will get once you fail to lift me."
"Is that a challenge, Potter?" Michael quirked one of his brows in question, but his dark smirk was full of dangerous promises.
Harry suppressed a shiver and put on his best impassive mask. "That was a simple prediction based on the puny state of your arms," he deadpanned and quickened his steps to avoid any repercussion that might have come from the clearly unimpressed senior.
"Oh no, you didn't..." Michael growled, however, Harry already turned around a corner and didn't hear the rest.
The first person he saw upon entering the practice hall was Arnold who was leaning against the wall next to the door, keeping a good distance from clearly excited dancers who were scattered all around the room, chattering and sending not so subtle glances in his direction. He wore a pair of orange sunglasses that clashed horribly with his uniform, but they also hid half of his face from the inquiring gazes of the Ballet Club.
Fortunately for Harry, he'd known Arnold well enough to see the shadows of a very smug smirk, however, before he could have even thought about approaching his best friend, Michael caught up with him and put a heavy hand on his shoulder. The scent of musk and oriental spices filled Harry's nose, but he couldn't tore his eyes away from Arnold whose head snapped up and was staring directly at them, his satisfaction quickly turning into annoyance.
"Finally showed your pert little butts, did you?" Arnold drawled, his smile anything but happy as his dark glass covered gaze bored into the hand clutching Harry's shoulder. "Next time, send a fucking text or some smoke signals so I'll know not to wait two goddamned hours amongst this horde of raunchy vultures while you two have some alone time in one of the numerous janitor's closets."
"Stop with the dramatics, I'm sure you soaked up all the attention you got from these so called raunchy vultures," Harry shot back curtly, but he shot a warning look to the redhead.
He stepped away from Michael's hand disregarding the sudden flex of fingers that tried to keep him in place. Neither of them needed any more attention than Arnold's little comment had provided, especially mere minutes before the evil little bastard actually announced the winner of the audition.
"Sure did. I smiled prettily and thought about slitting their throats." Arnie's smile was beyond creepy, causing several freshmen to move closer to the other groups. "It would be fun, decorating these sacred but dead boring walls with some life, don't you think?"
"I can't believe I share DNA with a sicko like you," Alex butted in from a few steps away, his voice dripping with disdain. "Why don't you just announce that Brad won and go back to your Satanist cult to sacrifice a few more silly naive virgins on the altar of technology?"
"Nah, that's so last year. We switched to annoying and useless silly little boys who believe they're better than everyone around them," Arnold retorted waving his hand in a dismissive way. "As for announcing O'Meyer's victory? I'm afraid you have to wait a bit longer for that."
"You just admitted it, you moron, I–"
"That's enough, Montgomery!" Director Cameron cut in as he walked out of his office, effectively preventing Harry from panicking at the possibility of being forced to work with Bradley again. "You've been bitching at each other like a pair of classless harlots on the streets for hours, so do us a favour and shut the hell up, thank you." His tone was terse and lacked any of the sardonic humour that usually laced his harsher words. Then again if the twins had been bickering for hours, Harry couldn't really fault the man for venting his frustration on them.
"So, Arnold was about to tell us who got the role," Frank said from beside Sasha River, a sophomore who showed promising talent despite his disturbingly long torso and arms.
Harry's heart leapt into his throat even though he did his best to hide his nerves. It didn't matter that he felt like a nervous wreck, his future career depended on this competition and whoever got the role to play Siegfried, he had no choice but to grit his teeth and accept it. They needed to win and no one – especially not Bradley O'Meyer and the ghosts of a tragic past – could keep Harry from getting what he wanted this time.
He caught the naughty smirk Arnold sent him before his best friend pushed himself away from the wall and walked over to Director Cameron, pulling a neat, dark blue envelope with the crest of Dalton on it out of the pocket of his pants. "This is going to be fun," he declared, plucking his sunglasses from his nose and exposing the dark bruises that never seemed to fade from under his eyes no matter how much he slept. "May I have the honour, Director?"
"Be my guest," Cameron nodded in agreement.
"Splendid!" Arnold clapped his hands, drawing everyone's attention. He was grinning like a maniac, increasing Harry's anxiety even more.
His attention was so focused on his friend's maliciously gleeful face as Arnold opened the envelope and pulled out a small white card that he barely noticed when Michael slid up behind him and bumped their shoulders together. "It's going to be okay," he breathed, however, the small tremor in his voice told Harry otherwise.
"You think so?" Harry whispered back, not turning away from Arnold who was just opening his mouth to take a deep breath, teasing his audience mercilessly.
"I know so," Michael replied only to be proven wrong the next moment when Arnold finally decided to stop playing with them and announced the name of the winner.
"Bradley O'Meyer," he stated loudly, but his voice was almost immediately drowned out by the ravenous cheers of O'Meyer's fans.
Bradley himself was smiling broadly and had the gall to send Harry a salacious wink before he was swarmed by Alex and his posse who all wanted a piece of him and didn't care about propriety or the presence of their director anymore. The younger Montgomery brother even went as far as yanking Bradley's head down to kiss him on the mouth, giving an eyeful for their not so appreciative audience.
Harry found the whole show distasteful and cheap, but with his mind refused to cooperate any further, leaving him helpless and numb. He could still sense Michael's presence next to him as well as the arm that wound around his shoulders, holding him close to the older boy's strong chest, but Harry couldn't find the energy to care at the moment.
No, his eyes were glued to the silently laughing form of his best friend. He expected Arnold to be outraged or at least moderately annoyed, after all, he hated Bradley almost as much as he hated the Warblers, yet here he was laughing his ass off like he just heard the best joke of the year.
Harry felt his eyes narrow at Arnold's behaviour and he chanced a quick glance at Michael who was also watching the redhead with growing suspicion. "What are you playing at, Arnie?" Harry murmured to himself, willing the laughing teen to look at him without success.
Instead, Arnold turned to Director Cameron – who up till that moment had been glowering at Alex and Bradley's entwined hands – and gave him the envelope and the card, smirking at the man whose eyebrows shot up in surprise after reading the contents of the slice of paper. Arnold said something that was once again muffled by the celebrating dancers and the man nodded after a few seconds of consideration, a matching smirk twisting his lips.
Harry didn't understand what was going on, and if Michael and even Frank's expressions were anything to go by they were just as confused, but just looking at the complacently smiling pair made his apathy and hopeless detachment lessen with every passing seconds. He watched as Arnold touched Director Cameron's arm, the touch lingering and almost looking like a caress – Harry decided to think about that later –, then turned and walked to the door and opened it before anyone could have noticed his sudden disappearance.
However, instead of slipping away like Harry thought he would, he put two fingers in his mouth and let out a shrill whistle, effectively shutting up everyone in the room. "Bradley O'Meyer," he repeated his earlier words, but this time instead of allowing Bradley's little slaves to start another riot, he carried on. "Congratulations, you're going to make an adorable little swan."
The door slammed behind him before anyone could have completely deciphered his words, but Harry caught the quick wink his best friend sent his way. He let out a long breath he didn't know he was holding and rested his head against Michael's neck who was laughing softly into his ear.
"Your little ginger psycho is a genius," he whispered, his tone carrying an almost fond note. "But it's not going to stop me from killing him after the show today."
Harry's only answer was a breathless chuckle; an emotion like relief and happiness coursed through his entire body, leaving behind pleasant tingles and goose bumps. A part of him couldn't believe that Arnold would play such a cruel prank, yet beneath the shock of not having to be near to Bradley O'Meyer and his twisted ways to show his attraction he knew he shouldn't have expected anything less from his friend.
The seconds ticked in endless silence until a deep throaty laughter coming from the other end of the practice hall shattered it to pieces and suddenly all hell broke loose.