Since the disastrous episode of the pixies, Professor Lockhart had not brought live creatures into class. Instead, he read passages from his books to them, and sometimes reenacted some of the more dramatic bits. Harry had tried to duck away from the man's interest, but he still ended up being called upon by Lockhart to help with the reenactments. Harry suffered a second time through being a simple Transylvanian villager whom Lockhart had cured of a Babbling Curse, a yeti with a head cold, and a vampire who had been unable to eat anything except lettuce since Lockhart had dealt with him.
Bugger all but I hate this man, Harry thought for the hundredth time as he was hauled to the front of the class during their very next Defense class. He was supposed to be a werewolf. Harry wanted to brain Lockhart instead.
"Nice loud howl, Harry, very good, and then, if you'll believe it, I pounced, like this, slammed him to the floor – thus – with one hand, I managed to hold him down – with my other, I put my wand to his throat – I then screwed up my remaining strength and performed the immensely complex Homorphus Charm – he let out a piteous moan, come on, Harry…"
Harry tuned the man out, laying limp under the man's hands. You know, he reflected, I never remembered Lockhart being this creepy, let alone touchy-feely. Was I just blocking it out or is this new? Either way, the man had better move his hand or I'll…
The bell rang and Lockhart's southward drift to his hands vanished. Lockhart got to his feet and clapped his hands. "Homework! To compose a poem about my defeat of the Wagga Wagga Werewolf! Signed copies of Magical Me to the author of the best one!"
Harry rolled his eyes at Neville, causing the other boy to grin and duck his head.
Harry turned to watch as Hermione pushed her way up to Lockhart's desk. Theo had stopped to watch, too, stalling Draco's escape out the door. Harry bit back the huge grin that was threatening to take over his face.
"Professor Lockhart!" Hermione had been quiet on the subject of the Restricted Section pass for a few days, even with Theo teasing her about it.
"Ah, Miss Granger! How are you today? I'll be looking forward to your poem!" Lockhart's smile was all shiny white teeth as he winked at her.
"Yes, sir. See, um," Harry raised his eyebrows as Hermione stammered convincingly. "I wanted to – to get this book out of the library. Just for background reading," she held out a piece of paper, hand trembling. Nice touch, Harry bit his lip. "But the thing is, it's in the Restricted Section of the library, so I need a teacher to sign for it – I'm sure it would help me understand what you say in Gadding with Ghouls so much the better."
"Ah, Gadding with Ghouls!" Lockhart took the note from her, still smiling. "Possibly my favorite book. You enjoyed it?"
"O-oh yes," Hermione bit her lip. "It was so clever, the way you trapped that last one with a tea strainer."
"Well, I'm sure no one will mind me giving the best student of the year a little extra help," Lockhart preened, pulling out an enormous peacock quill. "Lovely, isn't it? I use it for signings." He scrawled out an enormous loopy signature on the note and handed it back to Hermione.
"Thank you," Harry caught her smug tone as she slipped the note into her bag. He also caught sight of Theo's open-mouthed stare.
However, lingering to watch Hermione play Lockhart like a fiddle also meant there was time for the man's gaze to fall on Harry before he could flee through the door.
"Harry!" Lockhart stood. "Tomorrow's the big day, isn't it? First Quidditch match of the season. And young master Malfoy?" Lockhart's smile was wide and a touch manic. "You'll be there too, won't you? Gryffindor against Slytherin, is it not? Now this shall be a fun game to watch. You know, I was a Seeker, too. I was asked to play for the National Squad, but I preferred to dedicate my life to the eradication of the Dark Forces. Still, if either of you feel the need for a little private training, don't hesitate to ask!"
Harry ducked his head, grunted and scattered out of class. The Slytherins took off before he could say anything. He did see Theo glance back a few times at Hermione.
"We'll have to wait until later for their help, I suppose," Hermione sighed. "At least we have the pass, now."
"Pass for what?" Neville asked as they headed for the library.
"Everything," Hermione breezed past them. "There's an open research pass Madam Pince accepts. I checked the rules. It's all in order."
Harry had to laugh as he followed her into the library.
Saturday dawned bright and early. Harry ate with his miserable-looking teammates in silence, not sure if he should try to reassure them. In the end, he stayed quiet, using the calm moment before the storm to help center his thoughts.
At least Dobby won't be here to charm that Bludger, Harry took a deep breath as he suited. Stay positive, Harry. You can do this.
As eleven o'clock approached, the whole school started to make its way down to the Quidditch stadium. It was a muggy sort of day, with a hint of thunder in the air.
As they walked out onto the pitch, a roar of noise greeted them; mainly cheers because Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff were anxious to see Slytherin beaten, but the Slytherins in the crowd made their boos and whistles heard, too. Madam Hooch asked Flint and Wood to shake hands, which they did, giving each other threatening glares and gripping rather harder than was necessary.
"On my whistle," said Madam Hooch. "Three…two…one…"
With a roar from the crowd to speed them upward, the fourteen players rose toward the laden sky. Harry shot past all of them, eyes alight for the Snitch. He'd been unable to catch Draco's gaze before the match whistle – but Harry knew the other boy would try his best.
He caught sight of Draco tracing a careful search pattern through the pitch. Well done, Harry bit back the urge to call out. He's actually playing this time instead of sitting back and laughing at me. Very well done.
Of course, that made Harry's job both harder – and more fun. It was going to be a real challenge to snatch the Snitch away from an intent Draco, who had a better broom and was less likely to stop and rag Harry this time around.
Harry went high, in his usual haunts. He pushed his glasses up his nose and narrowed his eyes, scanning the area.
"Harry!" Fred's shout caused Harry to jump. He spotted the Bludger at the last second, avoiding it by inches as he rolled his broom.
"Sorry, mate!" Fred whipped past him, followed by a brutish Slytherin Beater.
Weird, was all Harry had time to muse as he sighted a glint of gold. He dove, shooting through the mad rush of the game, even as Slytherin scored again with the Quaffle.
He was almost on it when a body crashed into his. Harry sputtered as their brooms went spinning off.
"Draco!" he shouted.
"You idiot!" The blond howled back at him.
"You didn't even see the –"
Harry dove for the Slytherin. "Bludger!"
Draco shot off. Harry moved, but too late he spotted the malicious expression on a Slytherin seventh year, wand out and pointed at the Bludger.
Oh for crying out loud, Harry zipped away, the Bludger hot on his heels. Not this, too. I thought those blasted things were supposed to be spell-proof! How are they controlling the Bludger?
Harry shot around the park. Fred showed up at his elbow and with a tremendous crack sent the Bludger flying.
"Close one, Harry!" said George, streaking past him.
Harry rolled and dove, hoping that if he stayed in constant motion, the Slytherin-charmed Bludger would be unable to follow him.
No such luck. Once again, the Bludger swerved like a boomerang and shot for Harry's head.
Harry put on a burst of speed and zoomed toward the other end of the pitch. He could hear the Bludger whistling along behind him.
Fred was waiting for the Bludger at the far end of the park. Harry ducked as Fred swung at the Bludger with all his might; it was knocked off course.
"Gotcha!" Fred crowed, but too soon, since the Bludger's path veered around and headed straight back at Harry.
It started to rain. Harry felt heavy drops fall onto his face, splattering onto his glasses. He squinted through the distortion, still scanning for the Snitch.
Fred and George had taken up stations on either side of him. "Someone's had to have tampered with the thing!" Fred called as they knocked the rogue Bludger away once more. Harry couldn't find the breath to agree with him, nor point out the Slytherin seventh-year he'd spotted in the crowd.
"We need a time out," George yelled over the rush of wind.
"No," Harry cut in, suddenly furious. I have nearly had it with time and its tricks. "Fred, George, go help the team."
"Are you barmy? The Bludger will kill you!"
"With you two flying around me, I'll never find the Snitch. Once it's found, Hooch will call the game and the Bludger will come down."
"Don't be thick," said Fred. "It'll take your head off!"
"Don't you have any care about your own bloody health?"
"I will be fine. Just go help the team before we lose so many points that me catching the Snitch won't help!"
"Fred, please." Harry looked over to see both of the boys scowling.
"Fine," said George. "Be careful, Harry. I mean it."
Harry gave them a tight nod and they zoomed off, rejoining the fray.
The drizzle had become a downpour. Harry bent left, hearing the telltale whoosh of the Bludger behind him. Higher and higher Harry climbed; he looped and swooped, spiraled, zigzagged and rolled.
There was laughter from the crowd, but none from either team on the pitch. Once, Harry thought he saw Draco shouting at Flint, but had to look away. Madam Hooch had the master charms to the Bludgers. They would react to her alone. Or they should have.
The flash of gold caught his eye. It was hovering in the teacher's section, right next to Lockhart's ear as the man pointed and laughed at Harry.
Draco's call gave Harry enough warning to avoid the Bludger. Harry dove, feeling vaguely guilty that he hadn't clued Draco in to where the Snitch was hiding. Playing a legitimate game between us would have been nice.
There was a shocked gasp from the crowd. Harry heard it seconds before the Bludger slammed into his elbow. He heard the bone snap; even as the pain filled his mouth with saliva and the need to vomit.
The professors were on their feet. Harry clung to his broom as he dove for Lockhart, the driving need to get the Snitch and end the game the only clear thought in his mind.
He made a wild grab for the Snitch. He heard Lockhart shout and a spell hit Harry's other side. A weak form of a blasting curse. Figures, Harry thought as he tumbled from his broom. Lockhart really was useless in everything except Memory Charms.
With a splattering thud, he landed. His arm was hanging at a very strange angle and his side was on fire. As if at a distance, Harry could hear the roar of the crowd and people cheering. Harry held up the Snitch, "We've won," he croaked.
And then fainted.
He came around, rain falling on his face, still lying in the stands. He also seemed to be ground zero for a rather spectacular row between Snape and Lockhart.
"Useless, worthless hack who –"
"Really, Severus, such language…"
"A blasting charm on a student –"
"Nonsense, I would never…"
"Medic," Harry croaked. "And? That hurt."
"Ah, look who's come around!" Lockhart spun to Harry. "Spectacular dive, lad. What a start you've given us. Can't blame an experienced Defense Professor for an itchy wand, now can you lad?"
"Can I go to the hospital wing now?" Harry directed the question at Snape.
"Ah, now, now, I'll have you know I helped out in a hospital once, almost became a medi-wizard, I'll fix your arm up just right…"
"Please," Harry shot a look at Snape. I want to keep my bones in my arm, I want to…
"Stand back!" Lockhart announced.
"Lockhart," Snape turned to the man, but Lockhart's spell shot from his lips and hit Harry's arm.
A strange and unpleasant sensation started at Harry's shoulder and spread all the way down to his fingertips. It felt as though his arm was being deflated. Harry sank back onto the rough wood of the stands with a whimper. Bloody hell, he closed his eyes. Not again.
"Ah," said Lockhart. "Yes. Well. That can sometimes happen. But the point is, the bones are no longer broken! That's the thing to bear in mind. So, Harry, why don't you just trot up to the hospital wing like a good lad and…"
"Shut up, Lockhart," Snape snarled. The Potions Master snapped out a series of spells. Harry found himself on the way to the hospital wing before he could do more than open his eyes.
As they left, Harry was pretty sure he heard Hermione shout, "What do you mean he removed the bones!"
Madam Pomfrey was not pleased. "He should have been brought straight to me," she raged at Snape. "I can mend bones in a second – but growing them back…"
"You'll be able to, right?" Harry twisted a look up at her. Try to act like you don't know about Skele-Gro, Harry. You can't afford to tip them off.
"Of course, but it will be painful."
Harry shrugged. "That's okay."
Pomfrey blinked at him a few times.
"Will I have to stay here?" Harry prompted.
"Yes," Pomfrey exchanged a look with Snape that Harry couldn't read.
"Okay," Harry looked between them. "Shall I get changed?"
Pomfrey got him a set of pajamas and drew the curtain around the bed. Snape hadn't moved.
Oh, hell no. "Sir? I can manage. Thank you for the help to the hospital wing."
"How do you imagine you shall be able to change into the clothes Poppy has brought you, Potter? Don't be absurd. Hurry it up."
The hot flush of embarrassment crashed over Harry. I don't want to change in front of him, Harry turned his back to the man and fumbled with his robes.
Snape, to Harry's relief, was brief and professional with his assistance. The hardest part was getting Harry's rubbery arm into his pajama top. Harry scrambled into the bed before Snape could attempt to help. He tucked the strange-feeling appendage under the covers as Pomfrey returned with a large bottle of Skele-Gro.
"You're in for a rough night," she told him, pouring out a steaming beaker full and handing it over. "Down in one gulp, there's a lad. Don't try to smell it."
Harry gagged down the liquid under Snape's sharp gaze. Madam Pomfrey left, allowing Hermione and Neville to crowd in next to the silent professor. Harry hadn't seen them come in.
"All right, Harry?" Hermione put a hand on his ankle and then snatched it back.
Harry polished off the last of the water and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "My ankle's all right, Hermione. I'm fine. Madam Pomfrey's going to fix me up just like new."
Snape snorted, causing them all to look at him. "Gryffindors," was all the man said and stalked off.
"What's his problem, now?" Harry rubbed at his face.
"Well, we did just beat Slytherin," Neville pointed out.
"Are you sure you're all right?" Hermione cut in.
The door to the hospital wing burst open before Harry could reassure her. Filthy and soaking wet, the rest of the Gryffindor team had arrived to see Harry.
"Unbelievable flying," said George. They had brought cakes, sweets and bottles of pumpkin juice. The team had gathered around the bed, trapping Hermione and Neville into their impromptu party. Madam Pomfrey gave them half an hour before shooing everyone out. Harry asked Pomfrey for a sleep aid and was out like a light as the stabbing pains started to prick up and down his arm.
Hours later, Harry woke with a start. He had long ago perfected the art of waking without opening his eyes. He cracked open a lid to see a slumped form in the chair next to his bed.
"Draco?" He winced as he sat up. His arm felt full of large splinters trying their best to poke their way through his skin. The slumped form gave a start. Harry fumbled for his glasses. "That you?"
"Draco." Harry got his glasses on and peered at the other boy. Draco looked miserable. "What's wrong? Has something happened? Was someone hurt?"
That earned him a flat, disbelieving stare. "Was someone – yes, you twit, you were hurt! You broke your elbow and caught the Snitch and you could have died and –"
"But was there another attack?" Harry cut in. "Is everyone all right?"
The Slytherin squinted at him. "You make so little sense."
"Everyone is fine. Except you."
Harry let out a relieved breath that turned into a hiss. "I'm fine. Or I will be. Just never let Lockhart near me again."
Draco rolled his eyes at him, but Harry could see by the way Draco kept clenching his hands in his robes that something was still upsetting him.
"You did really well today," Harry picked his words with care.
Draco snorted. "No, I lost today."
"You were fine."
"I lost, Harry. Flint was all over me about it," he flushed. "You managed to find the Snitch, despite being under attack and with a broken arm!"
"You would have won if your Housemate hadn't charmed that Bludger," Harry countered. Draco glanced at him and then away. "You're good, Draco. Trust me. I know."
That got him a long, even stare. "You know," Draco echoed.
"I do," Harry nodded. "Flint's just mad because I'm sure Wood rubbed his face in the loss, that's all."
That earned him another snort and an eye roll. "Those two hate each other."
"Yes, they do."
"You…you really think I'll be a good Seeker, Harry?"
"I know you will be," Harry said firmly. "I can see it."
"Can you, Mr. Potter?"
Harry froze at the sound of Snape's voice. Draco's wide eyes stared back at him.
Oh for fuck's sake, Harry glanced beyond the other boy to see Snape advancing towards Harry's bed.
"Um," Harry cursed his ability to go blank at the most inappropriate times. "Professor," he got out before sucking in a sharp breath and clutching at his arm. I never thought I'd be grateful for a painful interruption.
"Your arm, Potter?"
"Yes, sir." Obviously, you twit, he didn't add.
"Mr. Malfoy, you will head back to the Slytherin dorms or I shall take points."
"Yes, sir," Draco shot from the chair and hurried out of the Infirmary. Harry waved with his good hand as the boy turned to glance at them from the door. Then Draco was gone.
Which left Harry alone with Snape. He glanced up at the man, avoiding the dark eyes and intent stare.
"Was there anything else, sir?" Harry rubbed at his arm, hoping that would relieve some of the ache.
"You say you have seen Mr. Malfoy becoming an excellent Seeker. Is that true?"
Panic made Harry breathless. I'm no Seer and don't want to be, he bit his lip. "I, uh, just meant. Draco – he really, really likes Quidditch, you know? He's sure to work at it until he's the best he can be. That's all."
"Yes, sir. That's all I meant."
Whatever Snape was about to say next was cut off by the arrival of Dumbledore and McGonagall. They backed into the Infirmary, levitating a body between them.
Snape spun away, heading for Madam Pomfrey's rooms. Harry clutched at his blankets as the professors maneuvered the Petrified body of Colin Creevey onto a bed.
"What's happened?" Madam Pomfrey came running.
Harry didn't have to wait for an answer. He knew it was Colin that was Petrified and that the professors were now certain that the Chamber of Secrets was open.
And that Harry had failed to keep his friends and housemates safe yet again.